Manufacturers of food and beverage products face significant challenges when it comes to ensuring hygiene and cleanliness their equipment and therefore, in the end products manufactured. Poorly designed or fabricated equipment parts can lead to contamination, resulting in illness, damaged brand reputation, and costly recalls. These challenges are further exacerbated by workforce and raw materials shortages place additional pressure on manufacturers to remain competitive.
To stay ahead of these challenges, manufacturers require agile manufacturing technology that is easy to use, fast, eliminates scrap and rework, and produces equipment with superior workmanship. Laser welding offers superior workmanship, smooth surface finishes, faster processes, and the elimination of potential bacteria traps
Excessive use of nuts bolts and washers creates microcosms for bacterial growth
Materials used in the equipment will impact fabrication. Stainless steel, specifically 304 and 316 grades, is the preferred material for food-grade applications due to its cleanliness, corrosion resistance, and ease of sterilization. With high level of durability and resistance to wear, this type of steel can be found in food preparation, processing, brewing and distilling, catering and in restaurants.
Fasteners such as bolts and rivets need to be considered in the context of joint configuration and orientation with respect to food contact areas. This can impose constraints on design and increase part fabrication costs.
Handheld laser welding technology is enabling a higher level of design flexibility, reduction in part counts through elimination of nuts, bolts and washers and simplified machined components through elimination of threaded holes. This technology opens a number of opportunities for improvement to food & beverage manufacturers working in the food and beverage industry, thanks to its ease of use, versatility and technical capabilities.
Handheld laser welding can allow the equipment designer to apply best practices across not only food contact surfaces, but also all surfaces of the equipment, for example welding a framework tube closed for more efficient cleaning. With significantly lower heat input compared to MIG and TIG, the designer has more fabrication options when working with thinner materials, for example in non-load bearing structures, reducing costs of raw material as well as associated shipping costs.
Mixed-Material Distortion Free Welding made with Handheld Laser System
Sample of Warped Part
Manufacturing efficiency can also be improved, resulting in a boost to the bottom line. Traditional technologies such as MIG and TIG welding require extensive muscle memory and motor skills. A skilled welder may take years to develop the level of expertise needed to allow a manufacture’s product to stand out from the competition by producing high quality welds. Laser welding allows a worker with basic dexterity or no previous welding experience to learn in a very short period of time how to produce high quality, consistent welds in very little time.
Traditional welding can takes years to master
Smooth joints are easy to make with handheld laser welding systems
Additionally, post-processing of the welded seams such as grinding and media blasting increase costs through equipment and additional labor. Accessibility to a low cost, easy to use welding solution breaks down the barriers of access to specialized skilled labor. Laser welding is also faster than traditional methods, up to 4X faster than TIG welding.
The challenges in achieving a high-quality finish for food grade processes using traditional welding methods are significant. Laser welding capabilities, such as wobble welding, which rapidly scans the laser beam across the weld path, minimizes spatter and enables the welding of parts with less than perfect fit, reducing the need for manual post-processing and improving the quality of the product. Additionally, with the laser, a wire feed can be used to add material where necessary, when combined with wobble welding superior joints are readily created and in many cases, post-process grinding may not be necessary.
Blast operator with PPE and positive pressure breathing apparatus
Salt Spray Test Results, Post Weld Cleaning on Left is rust free, uncleaned on right shows oxidation after salt spray test - Image Courtesy of Sturbridge
Another critical concern is the potential for micro cracking, which can appear in thinner joints when using traditional welding. This can be avoided thanks to the low heat input of laser welding and the stable weld pool from wobble capabilities.
Inclusions and other defects can result from debris on the surface of the parts prior to welding. Many handheld laser systems available today also offer a laser cleaning capability, which allow for pre and post-welding soot removal, and also remove discoloration of the heat-affected zone and allows the passivation of the surface.
Laser spot welding, compared to resistance spot welding, is non-contact and precise, which completely eliminates issues of tip pressure and alignment, resulting in a higher quality product and prevents issues such as indentations and asymmetrical welds, which can result in bacteria growth and visually inferior products, respectively.
Additionally, laser spot welding requires access to only one side of the part, giving more design flexibility. With little heat input, thin parts can be spot welded at significantly higher rates when compared to TIG welding.
Meeting the sanitary and hygienic demands of the food and beverage industry is a complex task. Handheld laser welding and cleaning technology, such as the LightWELD system from IPG, offer significant advantages in food-grade welding. They provide flexibility in equipment design, increased productivity, reduced costs, and improved quality. By embracing this technology, manufacturers can enhance food safety, streamline production processes, and ensure customer satisfaction.
Offering many advantages over traditional welding methods, hand-held laser welding and cleaning can help improve the quality and consistency of welds while reducing production time and costs. Contact IPG Photonics today to learn more about how fast and easy it is to implement laser welding and cleaning into your production process and take your products to the next level.