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With low heat input, high welding speed and short weld-to-weld times, laser welding is helping meet the demand for increased output and use of lightweight materials

dsc_0029As a system integrator of high-end automatic welding equipment, the Dutch company AWL-Techniek has grown into a global partner for its customers with branches in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and China, and a strategic partnership with JR Automation in the US. The company is ready for a new phase with an expansion into Querétaro, Mexico, which will be accomplished by the end of 2016. With this step AWL-Techniek is responding to the movement of automobile production towards Mexico, meeting demands from several customers.

AWL-Techniek has been employing its expertise for more than 50 years. Today it is a privately-owned company with over 450 employees worldwide. AWL is seen as one of the leading machine builders and system integrators of laser, arc and resistance welding. The company has a strong focus on the automotive supplier industry where high production volumes and high levels of automation are essential.

Technology Vision 2020

Even though market trends keep shifting, AWL maintains a leadership position through innovation and R&D. By investing more than 5% of its turnover on R&D and adapting new technologies early on, the company stays ahead of its competition and can continue to serve the demanding automotive industry, now and in the future. Advanced manufacturing technologies and welding processes, such as aluminium laser welding and use of machine-vision techniques, are hot topics in the company’s R&D.

In AWL’s Technology Vision for 2020, the aims are:• Automation of logistics Material handling and vision will be fully automated, with multiple processes combined into one machine, creating an intelligent network.• Plug-and-play automation Clear and easy-to-use interfaces, in which customers can make changes themselves. Easy up- and downscaling of production capacity and complete simulation offer shorter lead-times and great quality.• Controlled productivity 100% visual inspection is not 100% reliable. The answer is automated quality control, ensuring higher output with less energy and zero defects. As systems become more intelligent, we are able to predict wear and tear in parts sooner, and so minimise production stops.• Joining applications AWL continues to be a market leader in the field of joining by looking into the possibilities of adaptive welding processes, gluing, high-strength steels, aluminium, plastics, composite and additive manufacturing.• Cobotic collaboration Human-robot collaboration in assembly and logistics. Prices will go down providing ample opportunity for low entry level of automation. The possibilities are endless, for flexible applications and easy to change tasks.

Complete solutions, worldwideWith a high level of expertise in the design and build of automated equipment and welding systems for a variety of industries, AWL has the ability to provide complete solutions, from concept to detailed engineering, and from building the machine right through to commissioning at customers’ premises. In addition to welding, other technologies are increasingly added, such as adhesive bonding, logistics and handling, vision and quality control. All disciplines are represented within the organisation.

With its global facilities, the company is able to support its customers anywhere in the world and provide them with high-end automated welding equipment and production lines. Moreover, AWL is able to meet the strict demands of expanding and globalising platforms that have been straining suppliers, guaranteeing cost reduction, flexibility in production capacity, the same high level of quality around the world, quick turnover times and reliable machines and of production lines.

Laser welding expert The desire for higher output and the use of lightweight materials demands alternative joining methods. These demands can be met with laser welding, with its characteristic low heat input, high welding speed and short weld-to-weld times. Laser welding has proven to be a successful option for joining a wide range of products.

Because of its high speeds, laser welding offers a wide range of efficiency advantages in the production process. Furthermore, laser welding technology provides the possibility to form an attractive weld – an important factor where designer products are concerned. Over the years AWL has gained a lot of experience in laser welding.

Robotised laser welding and non-overlap weldsBased on much experience with robotic systems and its own research, AWL is able to provide laser welding systems for demanding weld shapes such as T-welds and edge welds, with and without seam tracking systems.

The combination of robotised laser welding and non-overlap weld connections has proved challenging, given that the path accuracy of the robot does not automatically allow for achieving the minimum tolerance required for connecting a non-overlap weld. However, AWL has shown that the path accuracy of the robot can be adequately controlled. In fact, the accuracy and reproducibility capabilities are excellent, as confirmed by several machines in the field using this technology already.

Laser welding fixturesOver the past years, AWL has gained a lot of experience in the development and construction of laser welding fixtures, primarily for the automotive industry. The market requirements are getting increasingly more stringent and the materials used demand optimal conditions during the welding process.

The laser welding fixture also plays a significant part here. Although AWL has developed different types of laser welding fixtures in the past, welding backrests for the rear car seat is usually done using so-called ‘sandwich’ fixtures, a procedure whereby two plates are clamped together and the product to be welded is clamped in between. In particular, AWL has further developed these types of fixtures. A big advantage with the sandwich fixtures is that no shielding gas is required as with the other laser welding fixtures.

Delicate machine for installing decorative strips

Delicate machine for installing decorative strips

ModularisationIn order to be able to continue serving the very demanding automobile sector for the coming years, significant investments have been made in R&D. AWL is increasingly committed to configurable laser welding cells. Globalisation is a big challenge in the automotive production industry and production facilities at different locations throughout the world need to have the same specifications and output. Therefore, AWL has created a platform of standard modular components which has proven to be stable, reliable and cost-effective.

These modules are used to build up tailor-made machine configuration. With the need for flexibility in production, especially in the automotive industry, quick change-over times and fixture exchange offer the required flexibility to meet these global demands. The modules are designed with global availability and service in mind, which also means that modifications to fit local requirements and demands are easily realised in the design.

Modules libraryAWL has developed a complete library of electrical, mechanical and control modules. Together they form the basis of any machine configuration a customer wants. As only proven technology is integrated in the machines, maintenance costs are low. This also applies to the high re-usability of the machine. These standard modules save engineering hours as the assembly on the machine can start much earlier.

The futureThe challenges for the coming years are: higher machine output; increased production flexibility; integrating new complex joining methods; real-time performance data; quick changeover times; joining lightweight materials to enable production of fully composite lightweight constructions; flexibility and standardisation by modular design; integrating vision and complex handling systems in its machines; and meeting the future requirements for sophisticated controls and robot technologies. With the current investments and focus, AWL is convinced to stay ahead and ensuring its customers global productivity.