In modern aerospace manufacturing the focus is on decreasing weight. As fuel costs increase more, aerospace manufacturers are moving away from using flat-rolled steel and embracing more aluminum in production. Using aluminum allows domestic aerospace manufacturers to remain more competitive globally and has reduced the cost of products overall. And as aluminum and aluminum alloys become more popular in aerospace manufacturing, so has the use of laser welding.
Laser welding is the best method for riveting and is the preferred jointing method. Because airframe structures use thin-gauge alloys, the welding allows for bonds to be made without much distortion. It also provides bonds to be formed at a high speed using low heat input, but the process still provides a strong weld quality and overall flexibility.
Companies like Boeing and Airbus have been exploring uses for laser welding in aerospace manufacturing for the last decade. Compared to the traditional method of riveting, this type of welding is much faster. With traditional riveting, 200 to 400 millimeters can be joined each minute and by comparison, laser welding can bond six meters per minute. When choosing laser over riveting, it also eliminates the need for the use of a filler metal between the riveted parts, once again lowering the weight of the aircraft by another five percent. Another benefit of this type of welding is that it makes the aircraft less susceptible to corrosion.
Additionally, this style of welding allows for simpler designs that ultimately reduce the weight significantly. This is done through the use of aluminum alloys as well as other material required to seal the metal and welding. It’s not just the aircraft itself that is made more efficient through the use of laser welding; it increases the automation rate by a factor of ten. The decrease in materials and logistic needs combined result in a significant lowering of manufacturing costs.
Using laser welding process for aluminum alloys reduces the overall risk of hot strains and thermal cracking compared other methods. The laser beam allows for control and the high energy density provides narrow welds with narrow heat affected zones that retain the inherit properties of the metal well.
As this welding technology progresses it will remain at the forefront of welding technology. Technologies continue to improve as the possibilities expand for the thickness of metals that can be welded. As the quality increases, these machining devices will prove to be an efficient manufacturing alternative for the next phase of the aerospace industry. While steel’s time has come and gone, aluminum is seeing an expansion of its use. As the material becomes more prevalent, so too will laser welding.
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