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Objectives

The main objective of RLW Navigator project led to the development of a portfolio of software tools to plan, design, implement and optimise the application of Remote Laser Welding (RLW) in automotive assembly addressing today’s critical needs for frequently changing operating conditions and product-mix provisions.
The development of sustainable manufacturing requires key enabling technologies (KETs) that can
help industries to better understand and respond to economic, societal and environmental challenges. This is especially important in the context of globalisation. Indeed, globalisation coupled with product customisation and steadily decreasing time-to-market have spearheaded unprecedented levels of competition among manufacturers making high performance sustainable production an essential feature by which to address ever growing consumer demand for greater variety of goods & services. At its core this means producing zero-defects products faster, better, cheaper & accomplishing these by ensuring a high rate of right-first-time .

Remote laser welding (RLW) is emerging as a powerful and promising joining technology (one of the
KETs) in vehicle manufacturing. By having laser optics embedded into the robot (Fig. 1), and a scanning
mirror head as the robot tooling, RLW can easily create joints in different locations of the product
through simple robot repositioning and/or laser beam redirection from a remote distance. In essence,
RLW takes advantage of three main characteristics of laser welding: non-contact, single-sided joining
technology and a high power beam capable of creating a joint in a fraction of a second. This results in
potential significant benefits on several fronts including (i) increased processing speed which leads to
decreased number of robots needed; and consequently requires smaller factory floor footprint, which
results in lower cost per stitch; and (ii) non-contact single-sided joining, without the need for robot
tooling change, provide for a flexible process base for quicker introduction of future vehicle models
and/or product changes.

However, at present, there is lack of systematic methodologies for efficient application of RLW in
automotive manufacturing processes thus preventing manufacturers from taking full advantage of the
spectrum of benefits provided by RLW. For example, RLW process design and control are based on
very time-intensive and sub-par trial-and-error approach making its application extremely limited in
automotive assembly processes. At the same time, simply replacing RSW (Resistance Spot Welding)
with RLW is infeasible, thereby necessitating the design of a new assembly line with selected RLW cells
and then, validation of its effectiveness such that RLW can be methodically integrated into the existing
production system.

vs resistance Welding
Figure 1 Resistant Spot Welding (RSW) vs. Remote Laser Welding (RLW)

In order to address the above challenges, the RLW Navigator project has developed a ‘Push-Pull’ KETs
(Key Enabling Technology) framework for rapid deployment of the ‘Push’ KET (RLW technology) into a
new assembly system by developing necessary portfolio of ‘Pull’ KETs (portfolio of simulations tools)
(Fig. 2). Often industry cannot realized a full potential of novel technologies as it is unable to ‘push’
them due to lack of necessary enablers which allow them to embed (‘pull’) the technology into their
manufacturing system. ‘Push’ KETs are seen here as RLW process with significant potential benefits,
if successfully applied, in manufacturing system. On the other hand ‘Pull’ KETs are seen as the
portfolio of simulation tools necessary to “Pull” the ‘Push’ KET into a new assembly system to realise
its full benefits (Fig. 2). The proposed ‘Push’-‘Pull’ framework is necessary for the rapid deployment of
new technology into a manufacturing system by ensuring a high rate of right-first-time. The ‘Push’-
‘Pull’ framework includes a portfolio of ‘Pull’ KETs that have been developed and implemented as a
portfolio of simulation tools to provide necessary analytics for rapid deployment of RLW during new
assembly process development.

rlw-objective Figure 2. Framework for rapid deployment of RLW process