Dynamic beam control could solve fuel cell welding challenges

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Producing hydrogen fuel cells requires welding hundreds of thin bipolar plates of just hundreds of microns in thickness. (Image: iStock)

A collaborative project has identified that lasers with dynamic beam control could be an optimal technology for welding in the mass-production of hydrogen fuel cells.

In addition to shifting towards e-mobility, automotive manufacturers are also shifting from combustion engines towards hydrogen fuel cell engines. Producing the fuel cells however requires welding thin bipolar plates of just hundreds of microns in thickness

Each cell contains 300-400 plates, each requiring a weld seam of 3-6 metres, totalling hundreds of metres of welds per cell. While there are many ongoing efforts to increase the welding speed to keep up with the demand, increasing the feed rate to over 0.5m/sec results in welding defects, leading to faulty parts and a backlog of materials.

The partners of the 'Eureka' project have identified that lasers with dynamic beam control could provide a solution to current welding throughput challenges.

The project, being undertaken in the Fraunhofer Labs in Aachen, is being led by German entities Fraunhofer ILT and scan head manufacturer Smart Move, as well as Israli fibre laser manufacturer Civan lasers. Together the partners are testing the dynamic beam control of Civan’s lasers, which can be used to wobble a laser beam at MHz frequencies to produce faster, more accurate welds of the bipolar plates.

In response to these findings, Dr Eyal Shekel, Civan’s CEO, commented: ‘We are confident that the unique capabilities of our Dynamic Beam Laser will be able to solve this challenge.’

Fraunhofer ILT researcher Dr Alexander Olowinsky added: ‘We look to reach a breakthrough in this project by using advanced sensors and complex beam shapes in high frequencies that were not available in the past.’

The project partners are finding that as testing continues, it is becoming clearer that the dynamic beam control of Civan's lasers could provide the required solution for fuel cell engine manufacturers today.

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