R. Winn Hardin
KOKOMO, Ind. -- With Chrysler Corp.'s recent purchase of 11 14-kW CO2 lasers from Convergent Energy, the automaker furthered its commitment to stay ahead of the Big-Three domestic auto manufacturers when it comes to laser machine tools. The addition of the 14-kW lasers brings Chrysler's total number of CO2 lasers to 35, producing 334 kW of power.
National sales manager for Convergent Energy, Bob Murray, said several factors contributed to Chrysler's decision to go with the 14-kW laser, well above the industry standard of 5- and 6-kW machines.
"The original quote was for 6-kW lasers, but because of their production requirements, it took 22 (of these) laser workstations," he said. But by using the 14-kW laser, Murray says Chrysler saved considerably on initial capital outlay for fewer machines while cutting projected downtime by 100 percent. Also, Murray said, the 14-kW laser enables Chrysler to exceed the production rate and catch up by going to a manual load system.
The lasers will be installed at Chrysler's Kokomo transmission plant after a new $1 billion facility is completed later this year. Production of 45RFE four-speed transmissions using the new lasers should begin in 1998, Murray said.
Chrysler's dedication to laser processing goes back to the early 1980s. By 1992, Convergent Energy had installed a total of 11 6-kW lasers in transmission part welding systems at the Kokomo plant, making it one of the world's largest high-power laser-welding installations. Chrysler's 1992 purchase signaled the company's switch to lasers from electron beams, which had previously been used in welding. The switch allowed Chrysler to avoid the high downtime characteristic of electron-beam machines.
Because of Chrysler's increasing production requirements for minivan and cab-forward vehicles, most of the early 6-kW lasers were upgraded to 9 kW on the plant floor for 20 percent of the original laser cost.
Convergent Energy, of Sturbridge, Mass. -- one of the world's largest suppliers of high-power CO2 lasers -- says laser welding of transmission components will likely be extended to include higher-volume automotive parts.