Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Hirotec America Inc. is not the first supplier to delve into magnetic pulse welding, which allows dissimilar materials to be bonded together on a molecular level, but it plans to be the forerunner in making the technology mainstream.

Unlike competitors that have developed similar technology, such as Dana Corp., Hirotec is offering its magnetic pulse welding expertise to suppliers and OEMs alike, says Michael Blakely, operations manager.

“The thing that really differentiates us is that internal research and development was done by Dana for Dana,” Blakely tells Ward’s during a recent visit to the company located in Auburn Hills.

“We offer it as a service to other companies,” he says of the technology, which Hirotec calls C3. “So you don’t need an R&D department dedicated to magnetic pulse joining. You can come to us and we can offer you a solution in the magnetic pulse area.”

Meanwhile, Dana is still developing the technology for its own use, and the supplier says it plans to market it to auto makers in the future.

Pulsar Ltd., Hirotec’s Israel-based technical partner, produces the actual magnetic pulse welding machinery.

As the name suggests, magnetic pulse welding is a process that joins materials through the use of concentrated electric pulses, which are specially adapted to each application.

Previously, joining dissimilar materials such as aluminum and steel was impossible. The new technology opens a variety of avenues for engineers.

Magnetic pulse welding is faster than traditional arc welding; is cleaner; uses virtually no consumable materials; and produces stronger bonds.

“Speed is a definite advantage, and you don’t need consumables like you do in conventional welding,” Blakely says. “There’s also no sparks or spatter or exhaust gases you need to vent.”

In addition, the process requires no heat. In conventional welding, warping and other problems with the joint can occur if too much or too little heat is applied.

“We can weld two components together very, very fast, without heat, and it is a true metallurgical bond, where the two materials will be joined on an atomic level,” Blakely says. “It will be like one piece of material, and the welding is stronger than the weaker base metal.”

Although magnetic pulse welding technology costs more than traditional arc-welding equipment, the speed and potential quality improvements more than pay for the increased upfront capital expenditure in less than 12 months.

Hirotec America, a subsidiary of Hiroshima, Japan-based Hirotec Corp., primarily is a supplier of door applications for U.S.-based auto makers.

As such, internal projects utilizing magnetic pulse welding largely are concentrated on making better vehicle doors, says James Toeniskoetter, Hirotec America president and chief operating officer.

“The proposal we’re evaluating is an aluminum crash beam with steel paddles on the end,” says Toeniskoetter, who speaks today at the Management Briefing Seminars automotive conference here.

“Steel paddles are traditionally spot-welded into the door, and the door is traditionally steel,” he says. “You can’t spot weld aluminum to steel, but obviously you can spot weld steel to steel, so we can get that easy spot-weld ability.”

Magnetic pulse welding can be applied to a traditional assembly line and door product, while achieving weight savings by using an aluminum structure, he says.

Hirotec has a small demonstration area set up in a corner of its facility here, where visitors can see the process performed.

Those who have witnessed the demonstrations are impressed, Blakely says, although no OEM or supplier has yet to acquire the technology for mass production.

“We’re working with all of the Detroit Three (auto makers) currently on some level, either in discussion stages or quoting projects with them,” he says.

“The machine has only been on the ground and powered up probably for six weeks, and we’ve spent a ton of time showing off what it can do to all our customers,” Blakely says. He expects to see the technology in full-scale production use within five years.

bpope@wardsauto.com