Laser beam welding (LBW) is a modern method of fusing two pieces of metal. It is a process typically used in a large automated manufacturing environment and can be applied to a variety of metals, including steel (carbon and stainless), aluminium, titanium alloys and nickel alloys.
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What is a Laser?
Laser is an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation." By passing tiny packages of light (photons) through the laser material, or "active medium," it is possible to excite the atoms in this material and increase their energy. They will then release this excess energy in the form of another photon, identical to that which stimulated the atom in the first instance. So, essentially, for every photon we have passing by an atom, the resulting output is two photons. In turn these two photons will go on to stimulate further emission of light from different atoms, and a chain reaction begins. This effect is known as "gain," and, using mirrors to pass the light through the laser material many times, we can produce high amounts of gain, and a powerful laser beam.
How Does Laser Beam Welding Work?
When the laser beam makes contact with the metal(s), the energy is converted from light to thermal energy. Concentrating the laser on an area as small as 0.2mm in diameter, the heating effect is magnified greatly. Providing the laser power is calibrated correctly, the weld area (where the two pieces meet) will melt and then crystallise, fusing the parts together. If the laser is too powerful the laser may heat the material beyond the point of vaporisation and simply slice straight through it. It is therefore important that the laser beam be set up to operate for the specific application being considered.
What Are The Advantages of Laser Beam Welding?
The concentration of such high power allows for extremely precise and clean welds. Furthermore, mass customisation of the laser means that the beam characteristics are entirely adjustable, and the process can therefore be applied to a wide range of metals of varying thicknesses.
Despite high initial costs, lasers are more economical to run than conventional welding (MIG/TIG, etc). If using an Nd:YAG laser, it is possible to control the beam with fibre optics, thus making the process entirely controllable with robotics and CAD packages.
Lasers are a very versatile welding tool in industry and continue to be developed to be more rapid, lean and agile.
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