19 October 2007

Laser Welding - Technology and Skill in Equal Measure

15 years ago Baasel Lasertech developed the first manual laser spot welder. This eyesafe Nd:YAG laser workstation was striking as its design enabled the user to view fine work very closely through binocular optics, whilst holding the part to be welded inside the chamber. Baasel Lasertech is now part of the Rofin Group and the StarWeld Performance has been a remarkable success in the jewellery business.

Today having supplied over 4,500 of these systems, Rofin-Baasel is the clear market leader within the jewellery sector. One of the prime reasons for Rofin-Baasel's success is the principle of continuous improvement, based upon extensive customer feedback which is subsequently implemented into future generations of laser workstations. The ongoing success of the StarWeld Performance, Jewellery Workshop Laser. ( Fig. 1 ) is a direct result of this philosophy of continuous improvement.

Retail Sector Growth

The first generation of manual laser welding system users were jewellery designers and manufacturers. Today, however, the largest growth area is within the retail sector, with High Street Jewellers and Repair Workshops recognising that the laser is an indispensable tool for jewellery repair. Indeed, operating a laser may soon become a prerequisite to survival in the repair business.

The design and configuration of the StarWeld Performance laser welder allows the skill and innovation of the jeweller to be enhanced by the precision joining technology of the laser. The components are held in the hands underneath the laser beam, with the precise location of the laser weld accurately viewed through a microscope (Fig. 2).

Manual laser welding allows platinum, gold, silver, stainless steel and titanium together with other metals and alloys, to be joined together without the use of soldering. A laser weld is strong and pure even in areas where it would be hard to gain access through any other joining technique. More often than not if you can see the joint you can weld it.

Indispensible Tool for Repairs

David Shone owns Emson Haig which has successful retail outlets in the Lakeside Shopping Centre and Loughton in Essex. Last year David added to the capabilities of his workshop by investing in a StarWeld Performance system from Rofin-Baasel.

David says: "I purchased the system at Spring Fair, and it's the best thing I have got for my shop in five years. I say if you have any skill on the bench, you must have one."

The laser makes repair of damaged claws, prongs or shanks easy. The controlled and localised nature of the heat input means that repairs can be effected without the need to first remove sensitive gemstones or enamel. Chain repair takes a fraction of the time of conventional methods and the results are stronger. Resizing of platinum or gold rings by welding with filler wire (of the same material as the casting) allows perfect results to be achieved more quickly than by traditional methods. The laser is also finding diverse uses such as restoration of antiques, repair of watches and repair of titanium spectacle frames.

As David Shone says "StarWeld Performance has revolutionised my workshop. I can repair gold or steel watch cases and put metal back into them. We also use it to repair platinum rings, which have had porosity problems."

Simple to Operate

Learning to use the laser is quick and easy, and when repairing platinum excellent results are achieved with low power and without oxidisation so there is normally no additional finishing required. Adjusting the spot size and laser parameters is easy using joysticks inside the welder. The workpiece is viewed using a stereo microscope and the position of the laser weld is precisely set using a fine cross hair. Laser firing is initiated using a remote footswitch, allowing the hands to remain free to position the part in the weld area. Following a short training course, an inexperienced operator can achieve excellent results. (Fig. 3)

Rofin offers a complete range of lasers including CO2, YAG, Vandate and Fibre Lasers. Rofin also provides solutions for laser cutting and marking applications.

Contact: Peter Searancke

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