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Sheet Metal in the Automotive Industry
Historically, sheet metal has been used extensively to produce automotive body panels. Although sheet metal use has decreased with the advent of fiberglass body panels, sheet metal is still the most popular material for manufacturing automobiles today. The addition of lasers and robotics to the automobile manufacturing process has further expanded the way that sheet metal is processed.
Lasers have been used in production facilities since the 1960ís. Today, they are used to cut, form holes, engrave, weld or heat treat sheet metal for use in automotive production.
Lasers are used in applications that rely on precise measurements and exact alignments.
The adjustment of lasers is measured in micrometers, or millionths of a meter.
There are many different types of lasers used to alter sheet metal and plastics in the automotive industry.
Carbon dioxide laser- uses a mixture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and helium to produce a continuous laser output
Continuous-wave laser- this type of laser produces light beams continuously rather than in controlled pulses
Excimer laser-emits light in a UV spectrum that is used for producing high quality edges on parts that are prone to cracking or thermal damage; it falls into the category of pulsed-gas lasers
Gas laser-any laser that uses a gas mixture as the lasing medium; common gases are argon and carbon dioxide
Pulsed laser-emits light in controlled pulses and is preferred for thin materials ; it can be used to create intricate details and work in tight corners without burning
Ruby laser-a solid state laser that uses a synthetic ruby crystal with a chromium impurity as the lasing medium
Solid-state laser-a type of laser that uses a crystal or glass as the host for an impurity to produce the lasing action; especially useful for precise measuring and spot welding
Yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) laser-ranges in power from a few milliwatts to more than 400 watts; used for cutting, drilling, heat treating and welding operations
Robotics are often used for repetitive tasks, monotonous jobs or those parts of the manufacturing process that are physically difficult or take place in environmentally unpleasant conditions. They are directed by computer programs and perform precise operations without human intervention.
Lasers and robotics have significantly increased the speed at which sheet metal can be processed in the automotive manufacturing process. Continued technological advancements in these two areas will further increase the cost effectiveness and productivity of automotive manufacturing facilities.
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