Source: World Industrial Reporter

Tennessee-based APLAIR Manufacturing Systems and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have joined forces to commercialize ORNL’s weld inspection technology. The automotive industry relies heavily on resistance spot welding in the fabrication and assembly of steel sheet components and structures. The average car uses more than four thousand spot welds. Manufacturers typically inspect the quality of welds with a pry-check, an expensive and destructive process in which samples of welded parts are manually torn apart.

However, ORNL’s infrared imaging system can help automakers quickly determine whether a weld is good or bad without damaging the part. The infrared check can be performed in a few seconds, offering the industry a low-cost and non-destructive alternative to monitor welds in real time.

ORNL’s Zhili Feng, one of the technology’s developers said that the technology gives automakers an efficient method to immediately send feedback to the production lines.

Researchers from APLAIR Manufacturing Systems and ORNL plan to collaborate to improve and validate the technology under a proposed cooperative research and development agreement, including tests on an industrial-scale assembly line.

Jack Sisk, Vice President APLAIR Manufacturing Solutions said that the infrared imaging system offers a new technology that is exactly the type of innovation the automotive manufacturers are looking for. This technology will allow the automotive manufacturers and their suppliers to produce vehicles that are of higher quality and safer for their customers.

The current version of ORNL’s technology can be applied to a wide range of steel welds regardless of the material’s surface finish or thickness. Researchers plan to expand the technique to other metals, which could help automakers explore the use of new high-strength, lightweight materials such as aluminum alloys and magnesium alloys. These types of materials typically require more stringent welding conditions and are more difficult to evaluate with the standard pry-check test.

“This technology will enable increased use of innovative materials in auto body structures to meet needs for fuel efficiency and crashworthiness,” said ORNL’s Jian Chen.

APLAIR intends to make a commercial product based on the ORNL technology available within two years. With product validation nearly complete, APLAIR has selected several strategic partners to move the technology forward and into the market. Currently, APLAIR has developed the plans for process validation of the systems hardware and software and will begin building the prototype system in 2015.