Imagine being able to weld metal or plastic components up to speeds of 50 cm per second. That is one of the possibilities that using a laser welder offers. Laser welding is a process using a laser beam to join metal or plastic components together. Using a highly concentrated heat source from a laser beam makes it possible to weld in high volumes with speed and precision and improve weld quality.
Is laser welding something new for you? Do you want to find out more about using a laser welder and the benefits of welding using a laser beam? This article will tell you all you need to know about laser welding.
What Is a Laser Welder?
A laser welder (also called a laser beam welder) looks like a traditional welding machine. However, instead of a welding gun that creates an electrical arc, the gun produces a laser that creates a highly concentrated heat source. This allows you to weld up to four times faster than MIG or TIG welding and work on a wide range of materials.
Laser welders are typically automated machines or robots because of the precision involved. However, some handheld welders are hitting the market, designed for use in a home workshop.
How Does a Laser Welder Work?
A laser welder works by creating heat in a joint with an intense laser beam. The metal or plastic parts melt and fuse when the molten metal cools and solidifies. This process creates a precise laser weld. The optics in the laser welder focus on the base material, penetrating the metal to the required depth.
The process of how the light waves are refined and organized in the optical gun is relatively complex. In essence, the laser welder creates a narrow beam of light using several light waves with similar wavelengths. This allows the welding laser beam to create intense heat focused on a tiny spot.
A laser welder applies heat energy in an exceptionally fast time, resulting in deep welds and high welding rates. This means you can pulse weld using beams that last a few milliseconds to avoid damaging thin metal. Or, you can use a continuous laser beam to create welds lasting several meters.
What Is a Laser Welder Used For?
A laser welder has many applications in several industries. Because the laser welding process creates clean, smooth, good-looking welds with fast travel speeds, it is useful in construction and manufacturing applications.
For example, you can use a laser welder for welding or cutting metals such as steel, aluminum, copper, brass, stainless steel, and titanium. Due to the high precision of the laser beam, laser welding is also useful for welding thin metals at high speeds.
Because of the precision and speed of laser beam welding, this process is used in vehicle manufacturing, making hydraulic parts, jewelry, medical instruments, stainless steel HVAC parts, tubing, and thin shell assemblies.
Pros and Cons of a Laser Welder
The two most significant pros of laser welding are time and precision. But, this new technology comes at a cost, making purchasing a laser welder machine a considerable investment. However, many industries experience the benefits of welding using laser beams.
Using laser technology is relatively new in the welding industry. Although there are laser welders for sale for home use, laser welding is generally only used in large industries. However, the concept is the same — the welding gun generates intense heat to melt and fuse metal parts.
What are the advantages of using a laser welder compared to traditional welding processes? Are there any drawbacks to laser welding? Here are a few things to consider.
Laser Welding Pros
- Speed: Compared to MIG and TIG welding, laser beam welding is much faster. Under ideal circumstances, it’s possible to create straight welds with a speed of up to 60 meters per minute. In addition, because you can weld more metal parts in less time, it’s more cost-effective because it uses less energy and fuel.
- High-quality welds: The weld accuracy you can achieve with a laser welder is superior to other welding techniques. It is possible to weld tiny metal parts without impacting the integrity of the material. Additionally, the weld quality is typically higher and stronger.
- Lower post-processing costs: The laser welding procedure doesn’t create spatter or a large weld pool like other welding processes. This means there is less clean-up after welding if you want to achieve clean, beautiful welds.
- Create complex welds: Due to the precision of laser welding, it’s possible to weld pieces of metal with complex geometries. For example, the laser tip can weld up to a distance of 500 mm away from the base material with a minimum spot of 0.1 mm.
- Low thermal distortion: Laser welding only generates localized heating, creating less impact on the surrounding metal. Although a laser welder has a high power density, it melts a wide range of metals faster than an electric arc. This also allows for deep penetration to create strong welds.
- Cavity-free welds: Because laser welding doesn’t require filler material, there is no cavity created by the laser beam. Additionally, the laser beam creates less stress on the joint, even when welding different or dissimilar metals together.
Laser Welding Cons
- Costs: Laser welding equipment is expensive, and there is a significant initial investment to get going. Therefore, it will take longer to get a return on investment. Additionally, filler materials — if required — are extremely expensive.
- Highly skilled process: To weld using a laser welder takes more skill and precision. For example, the metal parts require a perfect fit-up, and the laser welder must be properly aligned. However, for experienced welders, the learning curve of a laser welding system isn’t too steep.
- Some metals can crack: Although rapid cooling can be an advantage of laser welding, it can cause cracking. For example, carbon steel tends to crack when it cools too quickly.
Benefits of Laser Welding
Industries that benefit from laser welding find it possible to manufacture or construct a wide range of metal parts to a higher degree of strength. Although laser welding isn’t ideal for every welding application, it has tremendous benefits, especially for critical applications.
For example, laser welding is ideal in industries that use automated manufacturing processes. It is relatively straightforward to set up to achieve consistent, precise results. This makes laser welding perfect for use in critical, high-volume industries.
Another benefit of laser welding is that it can weld different types of metals. For example, with electrical arc or flame welding, it’s necessary to change materials and intensity of the arc. However, a laser welder has preset settings for different materials. This makes welding dissimilar materials more straightforward.
When constructing critical applications, laser beam welding has tremendous benefits. For example, laser welding generates faster weld speeds and contorts thin metal less than traditional welding.
Are Laser Welds Strong?
Laser beam welds are more robust than MIG or TIG welding. Laser welds are stronger because they can use keyhole welding, creating a narrow tunnel into the joint. Also, steel loses some of its strength when it melts and solidifies. However, laser welding helps to protect the original strength of the metal.
Laser welds are also stronger because they create an excellent depth-to-width ratio, and the surrounding material isn’t affected by heat.
Does Laser Welding Use Filler?
Laser welding typically doesn’t use any filler material. The strong welds are created by melting the two surfaces of the metal, and they fuse when cool. However, according to the journal Welding International, using filler material with laser welding is necessary for some circumstances.
The reasons for using filler material in laser welding are to improve the joint fit-up tolerance, eliminate air gaps, or join mismatched parts. In addition, a filler is necessary when laser welding some aluminum alloys to prevent cracking and improve the strength of the alloys.
Laser Welding — In Conclusion
Laser welding has tremendous benefits compared to traditional MIG or TIG welding processes.
The laser beam has fast welding speeds, and this type of welding is perfect where high production is the primary goal. In addition, it has a limited Heat Affected Zone (HAZ), producing strong, clean, and aesthetically attractive welds with no spatter. And because it creates less heat, a laser welding machine is useful for using on metallic foils and fragile pieces.