July 12, 2005
Prototyping parts for projects with shorter lead times and meeting the automotive industry's mass production needs were two large goals for Amtek more than a year ago. Amtek turned to laser welding to meet its goals.
|Amtek uses this 3-kW, high-power CO2 laser welding system to join steering column casings. The system is equipped with five-axis beam manipulation and robotic part loading and unloading.|
Prototyping parts for projects with shorter lead-times and meeting the automotive industry's mass-production needs were two large goals for Amtek more than a year ago.
A Singapore-based manufacturer of components and assemblies, Amtek has a global network of manufacturing facilities and R&D offices in 10 countries.
But even with its extensive network, the company needed an edge to meet its manufacturing technology and equipment goals.
Amtek historically has focused on stamping and forging technologies, mainly serving the electronics, computer, and automotive industries. The company has been evaluating other market opportunities to help diversify and add value to its existing technology.
Striving to be a vital global supplier to the automotive industry, the company thought it would be beneficial to teach its engineers and technical staff about and offer them the opportunity to use the most modern technological advances. This led the company to pursue laser welding, not only because of its reputation as a high-precision process that achieves good weld quality, but also because of its automation potential.
A few years ago the company had reviewed laser technology, and recently the company's technical team put its findings to the test by laser welding a column jacket.
"We have planted various forms of laser techniques in-house, and our recent investments in laser welding further strengthened our technology deliberation," said Dr. Choy Chee Mun, chief operating officer of Amtek MetalForming, Shanghai.
Amtek didn't have to look far to find a technology partner. The company had been partnering with the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech, formerly known as the Gintic Institute of Manufacturing Technology) since the late 1990s.
"With SIMTech's capability and expertise in laser materials processing, ranging from high-power laser processing to laser machining to laser microfabrication, we were confident that steadfast results and technical excellence could be achieved," Chee Mun said.
In particular, Amtek considered laser welding because it gave the company what it considered advantages in meeting shorter lead-time and mass-production requirements in the automotive industry.
Right away the company understood that investing in laser welding meant a requirement for welders who understood welding, as well as technologies used in laser welding.
"Laser welding needs not only a well-rounded welder who knows welding metallurgy in-depth, [but also] a firm know-how with the complicated programming system and parameters settings within the laser machine," Chee Mun said.
From there the company worked with SIMTech to develop the laser welding technology the company would use. With SIMTech walking the company through processes and possible prototypes, Chee Mun said the company would be better able to grasp the use of laser welding, which hasn't been used extensively in Southeast Asia, where the company is based.
"Laser welding is a complicated yet heavily utilized industrial application," Chee Mun said. "However, this area is not optimized in Southeast Asia. Amtek has plans, together with a group of engineers, to research and develop this specialty. With SIMTech's technical know-how in laser welding, a firm technical linkage has been created to allow Amtek to develop the laser welding technology."
Amtek chose a 3-kW laser system from TRUMPF Pte. Ltd., Singapore, that features five-axis beam manipulation for three-dimensional welding. In the past TRUMPF had provided the company with laser equipment, rapid prototyping, and special high-precision laser cutting machines.
Starting in early 2004, Amtek Engineering started working with SIMTech on short development projects in laser welding of prototype metal casings, including steering column casings for a production car.
Through these prototypes, SIMTech researchers helped Amtek overcome the problems associated with laser welding by selecting the right process parameters to achieve the specified weld characteristics.
"This is a great example of how research institutes like SIMTech, geared with the right equipment and technical know-how, can help companies in providing rapid development to secure new businesses in a value-added technology such as laser welding, without the company having to make an uncertain high-capital equipment investment initially," said Dr. David Low, senior research engineer at SIMTech.
The welded prototype projects included wiper systems, door lock mechanisms, brake assemblies, and portions of steering columns, all of which are areas Amtek specializes in.
The welds in these types of parts must have high accuracy and high localized weld strength. These parts, usually made by traditional stamping or cold forging, then require accurate assembly to join them by laser welding.
"Welding metallurgy also was important for these prototypes," Chee Mun said.
"The ability to understand fully this joining technology requires various exposure, such as knowing heat fusion characteristics for different materials after welding; application of welding parameters such as laser issues, beam focusing conditions, welding direction, and speed; and metallurgical behavior of different materials," he said.
To incorporate laser welding into Amtek's production line, a group of engineers constantly evaluated both the process and design failure mode analysis for the welding operation.
In addition, assembly fixtures and configurations were further tightened and upgraded to improve the dimensional aspects for welded products and to ensure maximum weld strength. Safety issues regarding material handling also were addressed.
Eventually the laser welded prototypes were used for Amtek's bid to get a contract with ThyssenKrupp, a system and development supplier to the automotive industry.
Amtek plans to train a group of engineers to operate laser welding equipment.
"Technology competency is one of the key solutions to new and unique businesses," Chee Mun said. "In view of today's competitive markets, being at a single forefront is barely sufficient; we are looking at numerous [forefronts] instead."
Amtek Engineering Ltd., 1 Kian Teck Drive, Singapore 628818, 65-6264-0033, fax 65-6265-2510, www.amtek.com.sg
Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), 71 Nanyang Drive, Singapore 638075, 65-6793-8383, www.simtech.a-star.edu.dg
TRUMPF Inc., www.us.trumpf.com