When discussing laser technology in the automotive market, precision, speed, and reliability come to mind—all factors that the technology boasts. Whether it be cutting out parts, trimming excess material, engraving traceability or trademark codes, or assisting deep learning with autonomous vehicles, laser technology has revolutionized automotive manufacturing. Laser marking, cutting, engraving, and sensors are all types of laser technology that have entered the automotive manufacturing space for the better. In this article, we dive into the top five ways laser technology transformed automotive manufacturing.
In 1913, Henry Ford changed the automotive industry by introducing production lines for a speedier way to produce parts. Although production lines initially relied on humans to produce uniformity with speed and quality, relying on human effort and using tools was costly, inefficient, and unreliable. Production lines were replaced with robots working on conveyor belts to streamline the production process.
Soon after, laser technology was integrated into production lines and subsequently proved to be extremely beneficial. Not only do laser markers speed up production and allow manufacturers to scale up, but improvements in quality, repeatability, and reliability of production are also historical benefits.
Laser technology like laser marking, laser cutting, and laser drilling is a precise, reliable, and fast option that reduces rejection rates and waste.
Prior to the use of lasers, manufacturers used tools that required contact with the part. Because of this, parts had wear and tear even before use. Furthermore, many automotive products are odd-shaped. They need specified marking, cutting, or drilling that is too complex for a conventional tool. Because of this, multiple cuts, drills, and marks are needed with conventional tools. As a result, there is excess material that cannot be used because it has wear and tear.
Lasers increase part durability because they do not use contact when marking and can precisely cut out complex shapes on the first pass. When laser marking, the laser uses heat absorption that removes the material and creates a design. With a precise beam, the heat does not spread to the rest of the material and prevents both internal and external damage. When laser drilling or cutting, the precise beam—coupled with design software—allows the laser to only cut or drill on the specified area. No need to do extra cutting or drilling with multiple processing passes.
In this day and age, society is pushing for more environmentally friendly practices. Particularly in the automotive manufacturing industry, manufacturers are looking to eliminate or recycle waste. In fact, 50% of new car material contains recycled steel and aluminum. However, manufacturers are still struggling, and the global scrap metal market is projected to hit 1 billion metric tons in 2027.
Metal scrap comes from improperly cut material that cannot be used on automotive vehicles. Fortunately, lasers combat this. Lasers use their technology to understand and produce a precise pattern or design repeatedly. Therefore there is no scrap waste from bad cuts or marks.
Self-driving cars, also known as autonomous vehicles, are new phenomena in the evolution of automotive technology. This technology is mainly powered by deep learning as well as laser technology.
Autonomous vehicles use sensor systems to see their surroundings. These sensors help the vehicle make choices similar to when humans are in control. For example, they follow traffic signs, adjust for weather conditions, and choose the best directions to get to a particular destination.
Sensor systems in autonomous vehicles usually use light detection and LIDAR technology. LIDAR technology is a laser source that scans the environment with electromagnetic radiation. The scanning determines surface levels, other vehicles, and other external environmental factors. These lasers collect information for the safety and performance of the vehicle.
Laser technology in the automotive market expands production capabilities because of its easy changeover, rapid integration, movement marking, and minimal maintenance. Compared to inkjet printers or dot-preening tools, laser markers have minimal maintenance. Laser markers do not require mechanical tuning, cleaning of nozzles, calibration, or additional tools. With all of these benefits, manufacturers can focus on another important aspect of production: traceability.
Since production is faster and more precise, adding traceability marks is painless. Traceability is necessary for quality assurance and quality control. If production is slow, adding traceability makes it even slower. Nevertheless, with fast production, traceability isn’t a mounting task and can be resolved quicker. If a product is sent back for a defect, traceability helps identify the cause without majorly affecting production. Also, since a laser can quickly produce products, fixing the issue will not take long.
Counterfeiting is the global issue of individuals using cheap labor and materials to replicate a product. In fact, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported in 2019 that 3.3% of the world trade is counterfeited products or services.
For different reasons, both the consumer and the company are affected by counterfeiting. Consumers could be using hazardous or weak materials that result in a product not working the way it should. For the automotive industry, this is particularly harmful. Using the wrong parts could put an individual in a dire situation if the parts could not withstand the vehicle.
On the other hand, counterfeiting is harmful to companies. If a consumer faces consequences from a counterfeit product they believe to be real, they may no longer trust the company and could even pursue legal action. These choices may spiral into negative brand perception, fees, and loss of customers.
Laser markers are solutions to counterfeiting because it gives both the consumer and manufacturer an avenue to identify a product. Laser marking creates permanent trademarks such as specified packaging, labeling, or marking. Not only is this authenticating a product, but it also ensures quality assurance. A tangible trademark is an evidence of whether a product is counterfeit or not.
It’s no wonder that manufacturers are choosing to switch from conventional tools to laser technology. Laser technology in the automotive market has benefits such as decreased production costs, increased speed, reliability, part durability, product security, and sustainability. There are a variety of lasers to choose from depending on manufacturing goals, and using a laser range finder is a good start to incorporating laser technology into your automotive manufacturing.