A European Commission-funded research program aims to simplify the planning and set-up of remote-laser welding (RLW) processes, to overcome some of the inherent inefficiencies of spot-welding operations. Budgeted at more that $5 million from the European Commission Framework 7 Programme (a pan-European initiative to develop and support technological and industrial research), the “Remote Laser Welding System Navigator for Eco-and-Resilient Automotive Factories” is being carried out in England at the University of Warwick’s WMG industrial research center.

The research is expected to give manufacturers the ability to create assembly systems easily using technology that will realize the savings and efficiencies promised by RLW technology.

RLW is a non-contact process that deploys a high-powered laser to initiate a joint between two disparate parts. Using a robot with integrated laser optics and a scanning mirror head as the end effector, RLW can create joints at different locations as quickly as the robot arm can be positioned and the laser beam redirected from its remote source.

“Our project will integrate universal simulation engine and experimental models to precisely model, configure, (and) optimize complex control laser welding in complex multistage assembly processes,” explained WMG Professor Darek Ceglarek, the leader of the three-year research study. “The project will take advantage of the three main characteristics of laser welding: non-contact, single-side joining technology, and high-power beam capable of creating a joint in fractions of a second.”

Among the advantages of RLW that Ceglarek’s researchers hope to establish are RLW’s faster processing speed spot welding, to achieve comparable weld strengths; reduced space requirements; lower total investment costs, thanks to fewer robots and tooling stations needed; and lower operation costs.

They also hope to document that effectiveness of single-side access for the RLW robot at achieving higher process efficiency; significant reductions in energy consumption and lower environmental impact than a standard robotic spot welding station; and improved dimensional accuracy and lower assembly distortion, as a result of reduced joining process related heating.

Finally, the WMG researchers aim to demonstrate new design opportunities that would not be feasible with the space and equipment requirements of more established joining technologies.