As the UK’s modest economic recovery continues, and with an ever-increasing focus on manufacturing, the skills gap which has blighted many companies in recent years continues to be a major issue across many different manufacturing sectors. A long term under investment in traditional engineering apprenticeships, combined with a rapid increase in the number of students and graduates opting for employment in non-engineering sectors, has left many companies bereft of the core engineering skills that they now so desperately need.
The severity of the skills gap is costing UK businesses more than £2bn a year as companies struggle to find workers with the right attributes, according to inaugural research by The Open University published earlier this year. The body reckons companies are having to shell out £2.2bn on higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staff to fill vacancies amid a dire shortage of those with the skills they want and need. On a positive note, The Year of Engineering 2018 is a year-long, cross-Government campaign aimed at raising the profile of engineering amongst 7 to 16 year olds, and widening the pool of young people that consider engineering as a career. Whilst this is a welcome initiative, the benefits to UK manufacturers are likely to be in the mid to longer term.
However, as a way to address the immediate shortage of skilled welders, Lasers could potentially hold the solution for many companies manufacturing small to medium sized components. The power and flexibility of Lasers mean that they are ideally suited to welding a multitude of different material types. Furthermore, the consistency and precision delivered by this process can often replace traditional MIG or TIG welding methods, and in doing so help reduce the impact of a lack of skilled manual welders.
Laser welding systems are today available in a wide range of configurations, providing options for manual, semi-automated and fully automated welding using a comprehensive range of laser sources including Nd:YAG and Fiber.
Lasers also offer distinct advantages over other methods, including the fact that they can weld a greater variety of metals such as stainless steel alloys, titanium, aluminium, carbon steel and of course precious metals such as gold and silver.
The welds produced by a laser are much more accurate, have only a small heat affected zone, and characteristics such as weld strength and aesthetic finish are also superior. Lasers are also ideal for applications where access is limited.
(Laser welding systems can potentially make an impact
on the shortage of skilled manual welders)
Process benefits aside, today’s laser welding systems are easy to use, and the process can be skilfully applied following short training courses, provided either by the laser supplier or industry bodies and associations. Usually completed in just a few days, introductory courses in Laser Welding provide students with the fundamental laser welding skills needed to allow them to quickly make effective use of their system in a production environment. Such courses generally cover laser safety, welding theory and principles, hand and eye coordination, positioning techniques and essentials such as welding system operation, parameter selection and settings, troubleshooting and maintenance.
Man and Machine in Harmony
Unlike traditional MIG or TIG welding processes, which require highly skilled individuals, and often take place in a noisy and sometimes dirty environment, modern laser-welding systems provide an easy to use, ergonomic, clean and quiet alternative. The ALPHA ALW Laser Welding System, just one of a comprehensive range offered in the UK and Ireland by Bromsgrove based TLM Laser, is a seated workstation with ample legroom, allowing the user to work in a relaxed and ergonomic position. This means that work can be carried out over longer periods of time without the user becoming tired, allowing full concentration on the welding task at hand. A patented multi-functional foot switch allows the laser parameters to be set or corrected as required for welding. The ALW features a large work-plate for work-piece positioning.
The joystick, which is used for axis movement, can be located anywhere on the work plate as required. Axis interpolation when using this joystick differs from other systems on the market and further simplifies operation, as it not only allows movement in each individual axis but also a combination of axes at the same time. This feature eliminates the requirement to produce a CNC programme for relatively simple jobs, many of which may never be repeated. This not only saves time and increases productivity, but also enhances the man-machine experience. Another example of how the laser system can aid the operator, is the ability to turn off or disable specific axes, further reducing the potential for errors on any specific welding task.
(Laser welding systems, such as ALPHA’s ALW can be operated effectively following a short training course)
With the capacity within this system to handle work-pieces up to 350 kg in weight, and with a movement range in X,Y & Z of 490mm, 400mm, 350mm, relatively large parts can be processed quickly and precisely either manually with the joystick, semi-automatically with pre-set axis speeds or in fully automatic mode (with WINLaserNC software).
A choice of laser sources ranging from 100W, 150W, 200W or 300W mean that the system can be specified for applications including: repair and deposit welding on tools and moulds, or complex welding applications on materials such as Aluminium, precious metals, Titanium and sensitive alloys. There are many other Laser Welding Systems available, ranging from the small desktop systems often used by Jewellers, to mobile laser welding systems with an impressive reach capability, often used to process and repair large automotive mould tools, or perform sheet metal welding on large sub assemblies.
Whilst skilled manual welders are currently the only viable solution for structural welding applications, due to physical size, the fact that training for Laser Welding is less intense and can be completed in a much shorter timeframe, means that Lasers can potentially still fill the skills gaps in many other industry sectors and applications.
Bromsgrove based TLM Laser is the UK and Ireland distributor for ALPHA Laser and offer a comprehensive range of laser welding machines and systems.
For further information, please contact:
Mr Andy Toms
2 Navigation Court
Harris Business Park
Tel: +44 (0)1527 959 099
E-Mail: [email protected]