GM launches new welding system for building aluminum vehicles

Article by Andrew Christian, on November 26, 2014

General Motors is rolling out a new welding system that allows it to build aluminum into its vehicles to make them lighter – without spending hundreds of millions of dollars and suspending production for months to retool its plants. This means that GM will not following the footstep its Detroit rival has taken.

Ford invested $359 million and has to suspend 10 weeks of production to convert its Dearborn site in Michigan to make it capable to build the new aluminum F-150. Ford is also planning to implement the same costly shift at Kansas City plant in Missouri early next year.

On the other hand, GM’s new welding system – called internally as multi-ring domed electrode -- uses existing production lines, robots and welding guns to spot weld aluminum sheet, like doors, hoods and tailgates. The new welding system is used at the carmaker’s Lansing site in Michigan to weld the aluminum doors on the 2015 Cadillac CTS.

The same system is also used at its Arlington plant in Texas on the aluminum liftgates of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, and Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV. The welding system is also used at GM’s Bowling Green factory in Kentucky to weld the aluminum underbody of the Chevrolet Corvette.

Mark Reuss, GM's global product chief, said the carmaker quickly and inexpensively roll out the welding system to its assembly sites, with only minor changes on production equipment. The system requires installation of liquid cooling lines to keep special copper welding tips at the proper temperature. It also requires a machine that resurfaces the copper welding tips.

The new system also requires additional transformers for the production line robots to handle the higher voltage required to weld aluminum sheets. Richard Schultz, managing director of Ducker Worldwide consulting firm, remarked that GM's aluminum welding system is a breakthrough in manufacturing technology.

He remarked GM will not have to spend $359 million just retool a plant if it decides to build an aluminum Silverado. Reuss said that reducing vehicle weight with more aluminum is a high priority at the carmaker.

He said that GM “can no longer bring out new vehicles that weigh the same or more” as its rivals, noting that the carmaker has to be the best in the world at how it does vehicle design.

Topics: gm

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