Plymouth, MI-The 14th convening of ALAW (Automotive Laser Applications Workshop) was a bittersweet experience for the founder of this annual event Frank DiPietro, who announced, to about 200 attendees, that he was relinquishing control of this popular meeting to a joint venture between the Fabricating Manufacturers Association and the Laser Institute of America.
After the first meeting-at which about 75 attendees braved an eight-inch snowfall on the campus of the University if Michigan-ALAW grew almost exponentially in its early years, driven by the pure energy and sometimes muscles of the then recently retired General Motors Director of Manufacturing, to a peak of 400 attendees at a session in Dearborn. In recent years attendance has leveled off around the 200 mark as the Detroit auto industry has undergone a series of retrenchments that have impacted local attendance. But make no mistake, ALAW has always been Frank’s show and he ran it with a deep belief of, and some say passion for, the opportunities for laser processing in the auto industry.
Much to his personal chagrin, at the lack of support from the domestic auto industry, he turned to Europe’s auto industry for presentation support that he hoped would inspire the Big Three to fuller acceptance of the technology. He twisted arms, cajoled, pleaded with, and yes, sometimes even threatened the domestic OEMs and Tier One suppliers for support of ALAW and its goal of educating the auto industry to the advantages of the laser. A strong believer that design engineers were the audience to convey this message, he at one point even offered a free admission to any designer accompanying another attendee. This message never resonated well in Detroit, as evidenced by only one design engineer attending this year’s event. However the Europeans not only bought into Frank’s arguments but embraced the ALAW concept fully, even emulating it in their own event held each January and now starting in Japan with a new conference that started last June.
It took a lot of Frank’s energy, and now, as he enjoys the golden years of his life, he is prepared to step aside. Although, he will consult to the new entity and assist them in future ALAW meetings as needed.
In his honor TRUMPF Inc. selected Frank to be the first recipient of its Laser Champion Award, which was presented at the company’s Laser Technology Center. A handsome plaque, suitably laser processed, was presented to Frank by Richard Chow-Wah, vice president- Powertain Manufacturing at Daimler Chrysler. Chow-Wah cited Frank’s three decades of interest in and promotion of laser technology within the auto industry, from his overseeing the first laser roof welding at GM’s Linden New Jersey plant to the first laser/robot system with simple beam delivery used for floor panel cutting in Mansfield, Ohio. He specifically identified Frank’s founding of ALAW as the sure sign of a man whose passion for a technology manifests itself in real action.
Accepting the award for, as he said, his innumerable friends and supporters, Frank, never a shrinking violet but at this event very humbled, warmed to the subject by delivering one of his classic grandiloquent challenges to the industry urging them to build on legacy and to more fully accept the powerful laser tools to improve auto manufacturing and assembly.
ILS joins his multitude of friends and associates in thanking Frank for his devotion to industrial laser processing.-DAB