Optimizing welding of aluminium components through robotics
The increasing usage of aluminium alloys has created further challenges to the welding industry. It allows for an effective weight reduction as they replace more traditional iron and steel materials, but also is more challenging to weld, and thus requires additional measures to ensure a proper process. In this environment, the EC FP7 Research has sponsored Project FlexiFab, which aims to allow fabricators, metal-workers and welding companies to effectively compete in the growing use of aluminium alloys in the light-weight transport sector, replacing traditional iron and steel, and to reduce the costs associated with the fabrication of aluminium structures.
The project FlexiFab - “Flexible fabrication of lightweight aluminium transport structures”, sponsored by the EC FP7 Research for the benefit of SME associations has started on November 1st 2013 and has the European Welding Federation as its project leader.
The FlexiFab project aims to develop a flexible Friction Stir Welding (FSW) system capable of automatically fabricating complex structures, in a variety of joint configurations, from a range of aluminium alloy grades and thicknesses used in the transport sector. Aluminium has several unique characteristics which need to be considered when fusion welding. Given its reactivity to air and high thermal conductivity/expansion, welds are prone to a wide variation of defects such as undercutting, excessive melt-through, incomplete fusion, incomplete joint penetration, porosity and cracking.
Fig 1. Examples of aliminium structures currently used in the transport industry
FlexiFab will develop an automated robotic system to enable welding of aluminium components and parts. This will have the following key competitive advantages to the (SME dominated) European metal workers and fabricators:
- Significant reduction in the costs associated with the welding of aluminium components and structures, mainly due to the lack of scrapage and re-working required from an automated system.
- Enhanced working conditions for European welders, as expert welding knowledge will still be required, but the physical demands will be greatly reduced.
Fig 2.The FlexiFab concept will allow FSW to be able to be applied to more general geometries and with some novel FSW tools
The solution FlexiFab is developing has a wide scope for a number of application areas covering all industrial aluminium welding. It seeks to address the needs to improve labour productivity in the metal-working sector and alleviate the serious lack of skilled aluminium welding personnel in Europe.
Also, as part of the commitment made at the EU to move into a “!knowledge-based” manufacturing sector, FlexiFab will be one more initiative to support the development of new and protectable IP in the area of automated aluminium welding systems, with clear benefits for the metal working and fabrication industry.
The project is comprised of a transnational consortium, which includes ten partners:
- European Federation for Welding, Joining and Cutting
- Asociatia de Sudura din Romania
- Meta Vision Systems Limited
- Innora SA
- igm Robotersysteme AG
- Bodula Division Industrial SL
- RRS Schilling GmbH
- TRA-C Industrie
- TWI Limited
- Lund University
The use of the “Research for the benefit of SME associations” will ensure the FlexiFab project will be of dedicated benefit for the European industry.