Suppliers look to lasers for fusing parts, making vehicles lighter

Busuttil: "We're seeing a lot more laser technology come into the body shop. In the U.S., especially GM and Ford are very, very laser intensive these days." Photo credit: Greg Horvath

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Body shops are increasingly turning to laser technology to fuse parts together as automakers look for ways to make their vehicles lighter.

That’s according to Peter Busuttil, director of technology for KUKA Systems North America, who spoke Monday at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here.

As automakers look to lightweight their vehicles in the face of rising fuel economy standards, automakers are turning to lasers to bond metals -- whether steel, aluminum, composites or another material -- together as a way to cut weight from vehicles, Busuttil said.

“We’re seeing a lot more laser technology come into the body shop,” he said. “In the U.S., especially GM and Ford are very, very laser intensive these days.”

KUKA, perhaps best known as a supplier of robotics technology, also provides joining technologies to automakers. It recently worked on the aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 and Cadillac CT6.

While it is key to lightweighting in the future, Busuttil said fusing parts made of different materials can be challenging. Different metals have different melting and boiling points, and boundaries between them can end up becoming brittle.

Busuttil said KUKA is working on new ways to fuse dissimilar metals in a “semi-thermal, semi-mechanical” manner utilizing robots, a process that is already being used on niche-market vehicles.

He said automakers should not let potential barriers in material bonding prevent them from utilizing it to lightweight their vehicles.

"Nike has a saying: Just do it,” Busuttil said. "Basically, we have the information. The technology is there. I’m not going to say it’s 100 percent, but we need to take a certain amount of -- and it’s a bad word -- risk. We basically have to forge forward."

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