By: Kathryn Gerardino-Elagio
Global mobility transition is in full swing. In South East Asia, electric vehicle (EV) and battery industry appears poised for growth. The EV market is expected to reach US$2,665.3 million by 2027, registering a CAGR of 32.73%, according to Mordor Intelligence. More companies, mostly automotive suppliers, are looking for new manufacturing solutions, and laser is at the centre of it.
International Metalworking News for Asia (IMNA) caught up with Markus Lindemann, Regional Director, Laser Division of TRUMPF Pte Ltd, during the recent ITAP in Singapore to discuss TRUMPF’s E-mobility solutions made with laser welding.
IMNA: Please give us an overview of the best features of TRUMPF’s laser welding for E-mobility?
Markus: E-mobility is one of our growth drivers. The change from the combustion engine to the EV cars is a big push for laser applications. For TRUMPF, we are moving our focus to different topics. We start e-mobility in the battery cell manufacturing, where we have developed new processes with scanners to weld aluminium housing. But also slitting and contour cutting as well as welding the battery foils are common application for TRUMPF’s lasers.
There are lots of laser applications in the prismatic cells. Main battery cell manufacturing companies in Korea and China are using TRUMPF’s lasers. At the end, the automotive or OEM suppliers take the battery cells and combine it to battery modules and battery packs. The module tray, as well as the other parts like combining the battery cells with the bus bar, is also laser welded. Another important process is laser cleaning which is to remove the coating between the battery cells in the model.
In our latest development we also came up with a special process to weld the aluminium cans of prismatic battery cells. With a scanner, you can now do tack welding and final contour welding in one station.
Copper materials are also often used in E-mobility. We have developed a new green laser with pulse function for copper welding to address this market trend. For thinner aluminium sheets and connectors, we use the green laser with a excellent beam quality and laser powering up to 3kW. But for thicker copper material (e.g. thickness of more than 1mm) we still use infrared laser with a scanner optic. We compare different technologies in-house and look for the best solution. It is not only about the optics and the laser source, but also about vision systems, quality control, and welded measuring-- that is another focus of TRUMPF. We are moving towards a holistic approach in offering as a laser system provider including vision and sensor systems. And with these optimised optics and vision system, combined with application know-how, we develop a technological advantage for our customers.
IMNA: Considering the present weak market, could you say laser welding is positioned to be a cost-efficient solution?
Markus: Lasers will be only used if you can reduce your production cost by using a laser source. Typically, laser is either used in high volume production where we have a fully automated process, and everything is clearly defined and accurate. On the other hand, laser gives you an advantage in being able to produce different parts without any customised tool for it. Cause at the end, it is always the laser light and you have to apply this in a certain way through programming and that makes a laser very flexible to work. In both cases, the laser will only be used if it can reduce the cost.
Another aspect is quality. Laser can achieve new qualities, such as different product features. For instance, you can make the part smaller and more precise compared with other technologies. This is of course one of the strengths of laser technology -- you can explore new applications and product design by applying laser technology.
IMNA: Do you see encouraging signs in Asia’s manufacturing capacity utilisation?
Markus: Our focus in South East Asia is of course finding customers who have local R&D, but I realised that a lot of R&D is not done here. It is mainly a production hub where processes are developed in Europe and in America, and have transferred their production here. In this case, you do not have much influence on the decision-making process. Once you develop the process, the production side will just follow according to the test before, so there is a limit in developing new things here.
But we do have some partners in SEA who develop new things for a local market. For example, we have a customer in Thailand making automotive parts. They came to us saying, “We have this bended tube parts and we need a 3D cutter to cut holes and ends.” We did the testing and came up with a solution. We discussed the costing, investments, and cycle times. In the end, it materialised. It has turned out into a project that is going for more than 4 years but finally we are happy to see TRUMPF’s TruLaser Cell machines fully-automated. That is the first fully automated production line I have seen in SEA for parts like this. This gives me confidence that there is still a need for such solutions in South East Asia and not only in other part of the world You just need the right partners for this journey.
IMNA: What do you think are the key manufacturing priorities for 2023 and how can TRUMPF technology give the industry a positive outlook for the future?
Markus: Digital solution is the upcoming trend. We move away from the basic machines and if there is an issue, we send a service engineer for repair. I think this is in some ways still state-of- the-art. But this will fade out soon and at TRUMPF we are going into digital manufacturing. On the machine toolside, we have the smart factory where we organise the whole production system. We help the customer to reduce their material storage cost, to optimise the piece flow, optimise the usage of our machines, and gain more by using smart technology.
On the laser side, we are using condition monitoring that connect our lasers at the customers through cloud with our headquarters in Germany. They receive the data and apply AI to it. If they see something critical, they will feedback to our local service team, and they will contact the customer to schedule a visit in the next few days. The service team will inform the customer that their machine might be down in the next 30 days and ensure that the required spare parts will be available upon the scheduled visit. This allows the customer to plan their down-times. We also have the first installation in Indonesia already and we have ongoing discussions with customers in in the Philippines and Thailand.
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