The world is paying more and more attention to caring for our planet with sustainable initiatives such as the use of recycled materials or paper and cardboard packaging.
The world of steel is following this trend, paying increasing attention not only to environmentally sustainable transportation, but also to replacing obsolete machinery and improving production technologies, as in the case of laser welding.
In this blog post we will discuss how Montanstahl is coping with this transition and the technical specifications that are required of laser machinery.
Laser welding is what makes Montanstahl a benchmark in the steel world. With this technology we produce our distinctive sharp-edged profiles, particularly famous in the architectural sector but widely used in the heavy industry too.
The focus of sustainability in laser welding is expressed in different areas of improvement. Starting from energy efficiency, to waste reduction, to environmentally friendly materials and consumables, all in compliance with environmental regulations and an overall reduction of the environmental impact, as demanded by the market. These developments aim to make laser welding an overall more environmentally sustainable process.
Laser welding machinery
This journey towards sustainability starts of course from machinery development. Montastahl is keeping up to date with the latest technology, switching from CO2 lasers to fiber lasers.
In the metal industry, CO2 lasers are still well established and they’ve been the most productive and most reliable lasers on the market for many years. Their role changed when solid state and fiber lasers started to be seen as an innovative and more sustainable alternative. Nowadays, fiber lasers are already widely implemented in the automotive and material handling sectors, and they’re starting to step into heavier metallurgical processes as well.
Montanstahl has been investing in a gradual replacement of our CO2 lasers with fiber lasers. This process is coordinated with all the relevant company departments, from Quality, to Finance, to Sales and Operations.
The advantages that we foresee with fiber lasers are: a quicker production process, minimal thermal distortion on the bars, adaptability and higher sustainability.
Difference between fiber and CO2 laser
The CO2 laser requires a large amount of gas to operate. The source of the laser is electrical discharge in a mixture of gases, consisting of nitrogen , carbon dioxide and helium. The latter is also used as shielding and plasma suppression gas.
Helium is one of the rare gases in our atmosphere. It is obtained as a by-product of natural gas extraction in some deposits, which are already highly exploited and are expected to be depleted by 2050. In contrast, the fiber laser requires no gas mixture as a source. As plasma suppression and shielding gas it uses nitrogen, the most abundant gas in the atmosphere and self-regenerating.
The fiber laser also has an extremely small focal diameter, which corresponds to a considerable increase in energy intensity compared to the CO2 laser. Basically, the fiber laser can perform the same tasks with less energy input. For example, to weld the same thickness, the fiber laser requires a heat input (in Wh/m) about 40% less than the CO2 laser. With less energy and without the use of gases other than nitrogen, the fiber laser is more energy efficient, thus generating less CO2 emissions.
The CO2 laser requires components such as mirrors and lenses to operate, which wear out quickly. The fiber laser, on the other hand, requires much less maintenance, reducing the supply of spare parts or materials, and above all limiting the disposal of exhausted components.
A further advantage of the fiber laser is at the production level: being much more versatile, the fiber laser can also be mounted on mechanical arms, greatly expanding production capabilities and design flexibility.
As we have seen, the process and study toward increasingly sustainable manufacturing methods has been ongoing for some time, and Montanstahl is actively engaged in the search for solutions that provide the same quality we are known for, but with an eye toward our planet.