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Taking the weight off: North American manufacturers embracing friction welding

Automotive and other manufacturers have a strong interest in incorporating more lighter weight, bimetallic components into their products. It’s the way of the future, and it’s fuelling North American demand for advanced friction welding systems like those from KUKA Systems and sister company Thompson Friction Welding. With that growing marketplace interest, KUKA Systems and Thompson, both part of KUKA AG of Augsburg, will be highlighting their advanced friction welding solutions at FABTECH 2013, the continent’s largest welding trade show Nov. 18-21 in Chicago.

“Much of the rising demand for friction welding systems comes from an awareness among manufacturers, especially vehicle and heavy equipment OEMs, who believe that it’s the best method to join similar and dissimilar metals,” says Robert Giaier, Director, KUKA Systems North America LLC. Typical combinations that join well using friction welding include steel/brass, steel/copper, steel/aluminum and aluminum/ceramic. “Combining metals lightens driveline components in vehicles, from the family car to the largest mining, construction and agricultural equipment,” adds Giaier. “Maximizing the use of lighter weight components is key to meeting more stringent government fuel efficiency standards.”

Among joining methods, friction welding is a highly efficient process to produce those components. Users enjoy substantial material savings as well as superior quality. No additional material or heat sources are used for the weld, which has workplace safety and environmental benefits. The potential applications are almost limitless ¬– engine valves, aluminum shock absorbers, aircraft engine turbines, drill pipes, hydraulic components, printing rollers, cross members and much, much more can be constructed using friction welding

KUKA and Thompson each has a history of innovation in friction welding dating back almost half a century. KUKA developed its first friction welding system in 1966, and followed with innovations like short-cycle and defined-angle friction welding. Today, its portfolio of rotational machines is ideal for joining round shapes. “Our state-of-the-art friction welding machines are faster, more efficient, more precise than ever and produce a very high quality weld,” says Giaier. They are available with a maximum forge force ranging from 20 kN (2.039 tons-force) to 10,000 kN (1,020 tons-force). Linear friction welding machines like Thompson’s E100, the world’s largest, are used widely in the aerospace industry but also offer significant benefits for general industry. Linear friction welding, where the surface of one opposing piece oscillates rather than rotates under pressure against the stationary piece to create friction, is predominately used for non-round parts. Thompson has linear machines in sizes from 10 to 150 tons, available in a longitudinal or cubic design.

KUKA Systems is the reliable specialist for innovative joining and forming processes for a wide range of materials as well as one of the world’s leading suppliers of automated production and assembly solutions for sustainable industrial manufacturing. The international system integrator stands out in systems, tool & die and special-machine engineering thanks to customer focus, technological leadership and superior solutions. Around 3,900 employees across all market sectors are working on automation solutions for the products of tomorrow — from engineering, project management and systems implementation through to after-sales service. The KUKA Systems group achieved an order volume of over €1.1 billion in Europe, Asia and the Americas in the 2012 business year. KUKA Systems North America LLC, based in Sterling Heights. Michigan, is part of KUKA Systems Group, a leading global supplier of flexible manufacturing systems for the automotive, aerospace, railway, energy and other industries in which highly automated processes and other assembly line concepts are required.

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