Hot stamping, a process to form and create high strength autobody parts, came into wide use over the last 10 years. The Automotive Industry was looking for a vehicle that was lighter resulting in better gas mileage, stronger for increased safety and built with fewer parts for an overall cost savings, a seemingly impossible task. Enter in Hot Stamping. This disruptive technology seemed to have all the answers.
Invented in Sweden in the 1970’s, hot stamping is a process that forms metal while heated to temperatures of over 900 degrees.
The high temperature not only allows for the metal to form more easily, it also, by its rapid cooling rate, converts the steel into a very high-strength state; thus, creating the efficacy of lighter, stronger and fewer parts resulting in a better overall automotive vehicle.
The technology, however, did not come without its challenges. Since the material in question, through its heating and rapid cooling method, becomes very high in strength, the post stamping process of using cutting dies to create cutouts, holes and overall length, was no longer feasible. Enter in 5-Axis Laser Cutting.
Laser cutting is a non-contact metal fabrication method which utilizes a laser beam to cut a variety of materials, resulting in high-quality, dimensionally accurate finished components for automotive or other industry use.
The laser fabricating of metal works by directing the laser beam through a fiber optic or a series of mirrors and out a highly engineered nozzle to the workpiece. A combination of heat and pressure creates the cutting action. The material vaporizes and is dispersed by a jet-flow of gas, leaving a metal fabricated part with a high-quality laser cut edge. 5-axis laser cutting allows the process to perform on multi-dimensional surfaces such as formed autobody panels.
Since laser cutting is a non-contact approach to metal processing which is not affected by the strength of the material, it quickly became the go-to metal fabrication method, replacing post forming cutting dies. Prototech Laser, Inc. was ready for the challenge. Prototech, already in the laser cutting business for over 20 years at that point, had the requisite laser technology expertise to be of great help to the OEM and tier-one automotive companies.
The company was not only tasked to laser cut thousands of parts annually, they were also called upon to provide the expertise for this new and game-changing process combining hot-stamping and 5-axis laser cutting. “It was a new and exciting time in the industry”, declares Steve Prue CEO of Prototech Laser. “Many of these high-profile companies were in a race to create the preeminent hot stamping process in order to capture the greatest amount of automotive market share, and Prototech was right in the middle of it”.
Although many of the hot-stamping companies initiated in-line laser cutting to attempt to create greater efficiencies, Prototech laser continues to be called upon to laser cut these parts when the need arises. Prototech Lasers has now been in business for over 30 years and continues to look for new and effective ways to be a value to its customers and the industries it serves.