Advanced laser welding technologies strengthen Chinese auto-parts maker
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Industrial Laser Solutions China (August 2007; www.industrycourcing.com).
The development of the mechanical-manufacturing, communications-electronics, and automobile industries in mainland China has stimulated the fast-growing metal-forming industry, which includes sheet-metal punching and welding. Currently, metal-forming industry groups are developing in regions with fast-growing economies and a mature fabricating industry. There are tens, even hundreds, of industry groups mainly focusing on sheet-metal fabricating in the Pearl River and Yangzi River Delta, parts of which have formed industrial chains, especially automobile-manufacturing industrial chains.
Many automobile manufacturers enlarge their own scale of production while outsourcing some non-core operations. For example, they outsource some auto parts to competitive sheet-metal manufacturing companies that will be responsible for product processing and distribution. Therefore, companies with a strong technical background, high throughput, and standard management will stand out because of their advantages in techniques and pricing.
Amtek Metalforming (Shanghai) Ltd. is a large-scale auto-parts manufacturer founded by Amtek Engineering Ltd. in Singapore. The company uses advanced laser-welding techniques in its fabricating process, which attracts wide attention in this industry. Johnson Chan, manager of Automotive Engineering, Amtek Metalforming, shares the company’s experiences in fabricating high-quality products using laser techniques.
Amtek Engineering Ltd. (Singapore) boasts 30 years of experience in punching techniques and ranks among the top companies in this industry. Could you please share some company history with us?
Chan:Before 1970, Amtek was just a little factory in Singapore with only about 10 employees. Over the past 30 years, the company has grown quite large with factories in 13 countries all over the world. The number of employees is up to 15,000. The company headquarters in Singapore has a very good reputation in the metal-forming industry in Southeast Asia and worldwide. Currently, in mainland China, we have five branches. Among these, Amtek Metalforming (Shanghai) Ltd. is mainly working on precise metal punching with advanced punching setup, welding devices, assembly line, and mold fabrication center. Amtek’s (Shanghai) quality system, QS9000/ISO9002/TS16949, has gained DNV authentication.
The company has purchased a TLC1005 3D laser system from trumpf. Why did you choose this system? What kinds of processing challenges were you facing?
Chan:We introduced the laser system from in 2005. This system represents the highest level of innovation in our technique. At that time we received an order from a German company for steering-system parts that required the use of laser welding. Therefore, we decided to negotiate with trumpf to buy this TLC1005 laser system. This setup, a multiaxis laser-processing center that includes a 2700W CO2 laser, can melt through carbon steel sheet that has a thickness of 3-4 mm and weld 3D parts. Additionally, it has a double-station working platform. The setup shows excellent processing efficiency and precision.
There are some challenges with laser welding. One is the requirement of product precision, which is around 0.05-0.1 mm. In fabricating steering-system parts, for example, the welding process starts with transporting the punched parts to the machine for laser welding. In a single part, there could be 200 parameters that require the same precision. We must consider, for example, laser power and the incident angle of the laser beam, in that parts will be distorted under high power, and processing quality will be affected under different incident angles of the laser beam.
To solve this problem, we spent almost a year in the factory located in Wai Gao Qiao, repeating the welding tests. We refined our laser welding technique to the point where our product rate has reached 85%-90%. Of course, this accomplishment benefited tremendously from the assistance of , which supported us in many ways. For example, the company provided welding files, machine maintenance, and so on. The laser system is very complicated, and a single mirror can cost up to several thousand dollars. Therefore, it is necessary to receive training and support from the company. We are very satisfied with the high-quality customer service and support we received.
How were you introduced to laser welding? In which aspects do you think Amtek is superior?
Chan:I have been working here in Nanhui since Amtek established here. I was in charge of introducing laser welding. To develop our process for laser welding the steering-system parts, I spent three months studying laser welding at headquarters in Germany. Amtek mailed the punching parts to Germany, and I performed the laser welding. After the welding quality was confirmed by German experts, I came back to the Shanghai factory and again took charge of this project.
Amtek works hard to keep a leading position in technical innovation with its group of experienced engineers. It has been working in punching processes for decades and has manufactured many kinds of punch products. Moreover, the company is ready to try new techniques. Within a few years we introduced a multiaxis laser processing center (laser welding) and a welding mechanical arm (gas shielded arc welding and argon arc welding). Also, in cold forging, we use the technique of progressive combined dies to fabricate roll materials directly into shaped parts without any cutting. This revolutionary technique not only enables us to make a complex designed structure in metals after their cold forging and punching, but also ensures the rigidity of materials. And the period and cost of product delivery are greatly reduced.
Your company is invested by a Singaporean corporation. What do you think about the investment environment or industrial status in China?
Chan:Amtek headquarters is sharp in determining the opportunity in China.
Three years ago, Amtek grabbed a chance and immediately came here to meet the executives of some auto manufacturers. Amtek is always optimistic about the Chinese market. There are many punching factories in China, and intense competition is present in the metal-forming field; we are confident about our future competition. Amtek will have a brighter future in mainland China.
What do you think about the application of lasers in the field of auto manufacture and its future development?
Chan:I believe that laser techniques will have wide application in auto manufacture in China, which will improve the competitiveness of factories. The multiaxis laser system from helps us to attract more clients from Europe and North America; also they trust our ability in our long-term cooperation.
What advantages do you think Amtek has in terms of the scale of production and personal training?
Chan:Amtek set up branches in five factories in mainland China: Huizhou, Shenzhen, Zhongshan, Shanghai, and Suzhou. Other branches are in Malaysia and headquarters is in Singapore. These factories become a network. No matter where we are, there will be staff from headquarters to support technical needs.
The company invested quite a lot in new staff training while taking good care of old employees. Therefore, there is great unity among employees. Today, many old employees from Amtek headquarters serve in the company’s factories all over the world; they continue to make great contributions to the local factories. I believe that excellent personal training, sharp decision-making ability in business, and high throughput enable the company to enjoy healthy and fast growth. This convinces me that Amtek will have a bright future in this field.
What is the short-term plan for your company?
Chan:For the factories in Shanghai, our short-term goal is to keep our customers in the auto industry, and we hope to increase the fabrication of steering- system parts, safety airbag shells, and braking systems. We hope to become more professional and specialized in metal forming for auto manufacturing.
Johnson Chan graduated from National University of Singapore in 2003 with a major in materials; his research direction is mechanical property analysis of carbon steel. After graduating and working in an institute, he served with Amtek, Shanghai. At Amtek Metalforming (Shanghai) Ltd. he is now responsible for all the projects in automotive engineering, including laser welding. Opportunities at Amtek have enabled him to become familiar with different techniques and aspects throughout the whole process. Contact Amtek Metalforming (Shanghai) Ltd., tel: +86-21 3828 6688 or visit www.amtek.com.sg for more information.