Six European partners are working to develop a laser-stabilized plasma process for welding thin metal sheets. Noting “a clear trend” in the automotive and other transport industries toward light-weight construction using high-strength sheets of stainless steel and aluminum, Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) explained that small and mid-sized enterprises need faster manufacturing processes that will allow them to remain competitive with larger suppliers, without compromising finished product quality. That possibility defines the goal of the CLAiM (Customized Laser-Aided Plasma Arc Welding of Light Alloys and Steels) consortium, which seeks to shorten processing time for established plasma welding processes — and “significantly increase” the quality of welded seams.

LZH conducts laser technology R&D with support from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labour and Transport of the State of Lower Saxony, in Germany. Along with its CLAiM consortium partners, it brought together 50 or so interested enterprises recently for a one-day, start-up workshop, in Turkey. Prof. Arif Demir, vice president of the Turkey’s University of Kocaeli, hosted the workshop.

An important goal of CLAiM is to enhance the marketing capabilities of the small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) by providing a better sheet welding process, with low investment costs. “The high number of SMEs participating in the workshop was great for a kick-off meeting,” stated LZH’s Jörg Hermsdorf. “By starting with close cooperation with small and middle-sized enterprises, we can expect a quicker transfer of the project results to the target group.”

The CLAiM project involves two European research institutes and four manufacturing groups, working together through September, 2012. The central idea involves using a 400-W laser in combination with a plasma source to bring about a 50% increase in the maximum welding speed. “This would not only reduce the heat input into the metal sheet, but also significantly improve the weld seam quality,” according to a statement by LZH.

A further goal of the project is to achieve a 30% increase in welding depth.

At the workshop, the welding equipment manufacturer Merkle (a CLAiM consortium partner) demonstrated the appropriate welding system. LZH explained how the process will work; and Technalia, a Spanish applied research group, explained the welding process control concept.

The other consortium partners are Turkey’s Form Engineering Ltd. and Laser-Tech, a Czech company. Their research is supported financially by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program and managed by the REA-Research Executive Agency.

In addition to the technology demonstration, the Turkish companies attending the workshop were presented with possibilities for participating in EU projects and in funding initiatives for cooperating with German partners.