Welding Plastic Industry: Impacts of the Transition From Traditional Vehicles to EV
Today’s electric vehicles are undeniable pinnacles of engineering, forged at the crossroads between Silicon Valley’s bleeding-edge tech and Detroit’s industrial manufacturing might. As regulatory requirements and consumer preferences both press the EV industry into wide, sustained growth, the logistics of servicing such growth is a monumental challenge facing upstream supply chains – namely, vehicle part manufacturers. The ways in which vehicle parts are designed, manufactured and distributed are all facing a looming renaissance of sorts, and one manufacturing technology in particular is quickly being redefined as a universally beneficial tool: plastic welding.
Read on to learn more about the ongoing evolution of plastic welding and fabrication within the electric vehicle industry, and the automated plastic welding technologies best positioned to support this trend.
Welding Plastic Materials in the Electric Vehicle Industry
Policymakers in the United States and abroad have set ambitious goals for converting the transportation sector from fossil fuel vehicles to mostly electric power vehicles in coming decades, teeing up major long-term changes to how automotive manufacturers approach the design and fabrication of future vehicles. In 2015, the UN Paris Climate Change Conference established that at least 20 percent of all global road transportation vehicles would need to be electrically driven by the year 2030. In turn, the U.S. government set an even more ambitious goal of requiring 50 percent of all new vehicle sales to be electric vehicles by 2030. The goal is coupled with major investments in charging infrastructure, EV research and development, and critical EV component supply chains. Clearly, the electric vehicle market is poised to grow exponentially.
The EV ecosystem holds no fewer than four emerging technological subsectors, each rapidly developing under competitive and regulatory pressures: the electric vehicles themselves, EV charging infrastructure, the EV OEM parts supply chain and EV aftermarket parts and services. All these arenas face similar design challenges and can enjoy the benefits of using plastic materials and plastic welding technologies:
- Lower energy, lower material cost fastening
- Faster design cycle with easy-to-iterate automated plastic welding systems
- Faster time to market using automated systems with onboard quality control features
- Lower operation costs due to fewer rejects and failed fastening
- Lighter, more resilient devices with increased functionality thanks to the use of advanced engineered polymers
- Increased safety around potentially risky EV components, also thanks to advanced polymers and their mating methods
Common Plastic Welding Types
While the automotive industry sorts out vehicle assembly methods most beneficial to electric vehicles, these benefits are also naturally shared with traditional vehicle lines as well. Selecting engineered plastics instead of heavier metallic materials lowers vehicle weight, which in turn improves fuel economy, no matter if the vehicle uses an electric or fuel-driven engine. For this reason, vehicle part designers and manufacturers have every reason to adopt plastic joining technologies sooner rather than later.
Here are the most common plastic fastening methods used in the automotive industry:
Using a high-intensity laser beam, two thermoplastic parts are fused together with continuous welds, melting the separate parts into each other to form a hermetic, permanent bond. Laser welding is especially useful for electric vehicle battery containers where an impervious, dust-free, low heat, three-dimensional seal is needed.
This method uses high-frequency mechanical vibration between separate plastic components to fuse two materials together under friction. Ultrasonic welding is a great choice for lower-cost, very fast, highly repeatable fastening where heat sensitivity is not an issue. You’ll find ultrasonic welding in most sheet or casing parts, such as interior trims, cylinder head covers and lighting lenses.
Thermal Plastic Staking
Also known as heat staking, thermal plastic staking uses an external heat source to melt two materials together. Since the heat for creating the joint is externally supplied and regulated, heat staking can even be used to join a plastic material to a non-plastic material, so long as their material structures can fuse together. Heat staking is commonly found in compression-fastened assemblies (where threaded fasteners were once used), such as in headlight fixtures and instrument clusters.
Ultrasonic Plastic Staking
Similar to heat staking, ultrasonic plastic staking bonds a plastic component to another piece of material, but this time using ultrasonic mechanical vibrations to provide the energy for the weld. We can find ultrasonic plastic staking used on lighter-duty fastened assemblies, such as in cup holders and console button assemblies.
Spin welding, also known as friction welding, is performed just how it sounds: Two plastic components are rotated into each other under high speed and pressure. Heat is created where the two materials meet, melting the two pieces together to form a weld. Spin welding produces a higher-strength bond than other methods, which is why it’s the process of choice for high-wear components such as filter housings, manifold elbows and fluid bottles.
Spot welding is a form of laser, ultrasonic, heat or other weld technologies that describes a joining method where small weld spots are applied at intervals over an area of two materials to be joined together. This non-continuous, bead-sized weld profile is best used for securing sheets or strips of materials together in a low- to medium-strength manner, such as with trim sheets, wear strips and heat shields.
Textile welding follows much the same approach as spot welding described above, joining a sheet or strip of material to a base assembly, but this time using a fabric as the material being fastened. Examples of textile welding include headliners, trunk liners, dash covers and glove box liners.
Explore What AMS Can Do
AMS is poised to aid automotive manufacturers make the shift from traditional vehicle manufacturing to electric vehicles as smooth as possible. Book an appointment today with one of our automation experts to learn more.