A fundamental understanding of laser welding technology in industry, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology

An image to illustrate laser welding technology in industry
© iStock/KristinaGreke

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has researched the fundamentals behind laser welding technology and how it can be used in industry.

Despite the advantages of laser welding technology, it only makes up a small percentage of the welding efforts in the United States. The researchers believe that a better understanding of the process could make it easier for industry investment in laser-welding infrastructure.

The fundamental physics behind laser welding technology

NIST physicist Brian Simonds, said: “I’m surprised how little people understand this thing that is so important, this vital interaction that underpins all of these industrial processes. The deeper I look into this very simple problem of what happens when a really intense laser beam hits metal for 10 milliseconds, the more I realize this is some complex stuff. It’s fun to try and understand.”

Simonds added: “Our results are now mature enough to where academic researchers are starting to use our data to thoroughly test their computer models in a way that they just haven’t been able to do before, because this kind of data hasn’t been available.”

Inside NIST’s laser welding booth, a high-power laser melts a piece of metal to form the letters “NIST.”
© Paul Williams/NIST

Laser welding in industry

Welding is used in many industrial processes, such as building cats, airplanes, laptops, and mobile phones. Conventional welding uses an electricity arc to heat and fuse materials, but a laser beam can be used to heat a smaller area of metals, creating a smaller, smoother seam on the weld.

“The ultimate goal for industry is that one day, if you have an idea about something you want to make, you dump it into a computer and the computer tells you exactly how to make it,” Simonds said. The NIST’s research aims to refine the computer models.

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