A Leeds-based manufacturer is boosting competitiveness by adopting advanced laser welding technology. Barkston Plastics has reaped the benefits of free advice available through the Joining Forces Yorkshire and Humber technology transfer programme.
The company recently identified a need to improve the reproducibility of the production of a range of polypropylene tanks used to contain liquids in photographic processing equipment, and so called on the expertise of TWI to help.
The tanks are currently assembled by attaching end plates to a formed cross section using manual hot-gas welding - a labour intensive operation, which is dependant on skilled technicians.
Tony Blackmore, Technical Director at Barkston, commented, "Because customer demand had trebled in the past year, it was imperative that the company reviewed alternative welding techniques. Barkston required speed, reliability and an automated process."
An initial Product and Process Review identified a number of possible welding methods. A follow-on Feasibility Study then demonstrated that laser welding could match the performance of hot-gas welding, with greater reliability, and offer an improved appearance to the components. Finally, a mini R&D project moved this process closer to routine production.
The R&D work explored conventional laser welding and also looked at applying the innovative Clearweld laser process in tests on samples provided by Barkston. It confirmed that laser welding was suitable and defined the best operating procedures.
Although equipment costs are higher, the resulting quality and capacity improvement is enough to show that the process is extremely promising for full scale production.
The benefits of the laser welding process for Barkston are:
- Increased automation allows improved quality and better reproducibility.
- Continued design flexibility for the polypropylene tanks. Additionally, a laser welding system may be used for other product lines.
- A cleaner and more efficient process, because molten plastic is contained within the joint, and the only plastic melted is that needed to create the weld.
- A significant reduction in the time required to weld a component.
Barkston is currently reviewing the options with its customers, with the objective of manufacturing demonstrator parts in a production environment.
TWI's help was under the Joining Forces Yorkshire and Humber technology transfer programme funded by Yorkshire Forward and Objective 1. The programme aims to boost growth, competitiveness and innovation in the region's engineering manufacturing companies.
For information about TWI's capabilities please contact us.