Like electron beam welding (EBW), laser beam welding has high power density (on the order of 1 MW/cm2) resulting in small heat-affected zones and high heating and cooling rates. The spot size of the laser can vary between 0.2 mm and 13 mm, though only smaller sizes are used for welding. The depth of penetration is proportional to the amount of power supplied, but is also dependent on the location of the focal point: penetration is maximized when the focal point is slightly below the surface of the workpiece
A continuous or pulsed laser beam may be used depending upon the application. Millisecond-long pulses are used to weld thin materials such as razor blades while continuous laser systems are employed for deep welds.
LBW is a versatile process, capable of welding carbon steels, HSLA steels, stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium. Due to high cooling rates, cracking is a concern when welding high-carbon steels. The weld quality is high, similar to that of electron beam welding. The speed of welding is proportional to the amount of power supplied but also depends on the type and thickness of the workpieces. The high power capability of gas lasers make them especially suitable for high volume applications. LBW is particularly dominant in the automotive industry.
Some of the advantages of LBW in comparison to EBW are as follows:
- the laser beam can be transmitted through air rather than requiring a vacuum
- the process is easily automated with robotic machinery
- x-rays are not generated
- LBW results in higher quality welds
A derivative of LBW, laser-hybrid welding, combines the laser of LBW with an arc welding method such as gas metal arc welding. This combination allows for greater positioning flexibility, since GMAW supplies molten metal to fill the joint, and due to the use of a laser, increases the welding speed over what is normally possible with GMAW. Weld quality tends to be higher as well, since the potential for undercutting is reduced.