Dr. Hur, your company manufactures all kinds of components for automotive seating. Given that many of them may not be what we first see when we look at a car, is there actually anything that drives innovation for standard parts such as seat rails or adjustment mechanisms?
Indeed there is and I would like to stress this point. Industry-wide megatrends affect us as well. Keeping pace with developments in the automotive market means that cars have to become ever more efficient. But it’s not enough just to fine-tune the engine or to manufacture a lightweight body. Each and every component deserves a trip back to the drawing board.
There is more
Daewon Precision is a Korean company, which is specialized in auto parts. They are driven by their own high quality standards which they achieve thanks to the latest technological processes.
And in what ways is it worthwhile to take a fresh look at your products?
That’s a complex issue. Our customers are calling for car seats that are increasingly smaller and lighter. Every gram counts, but obviously nobody wants to pay a higher price for this. Amid all the calculations, we must never lose sight of quality — because at the end of the day, our products play a major role in road safety. A detached seat rail can have fatal consequences in a crash. But in everyday driving, too, owners have very high expectations.
It’s especially awkward for manufacturers to receive complaints about what their customers see as simple, functional parts — things like seat adjusters. All this greatly affects how we manufacture our products. In order to achieve the right balance of efficiency, quality and price, we purposely seek out high-tech solutions such as lasers. That way we know we’re equipped for the future.
So you see yourselves very much as a high-tech manufacturer?
Absolutely. Since our company was founded in 1983, it has changed incredibly quickly — most notably in how we manufacture. In order to keep pace with the market requirements I just mentioned, we had to develop and adapt a whole range of new technologies. In doing so, what we want is to get an edge on our competitors or extend our lead over them. Unlike others in our sector, we introduced techniques such as laser welding quite early on. We’d already started using lasers on a seat rail production line back in 2008, and now we’re using laser welding machines to manufacture five parts for three types of vehicle.
Furthermore, we are considering a different item and technology on the new type of vehicle we recently landed the contract for. One part suitable for laser welding is the seat rail. Welded to it by laser are brackets linking it with the frame for the cushion. Another example is the seat adjuster. It was previously manufactured by flanging together the upper and lower covers. Laser welding eliminates this flanging operation and saves on materials. This is one small step toward weight reduction. Now we are evaluating laser welding for the side member of the back seat frame and adjuster.
What alternatives are there to laser welding, and why did you decide against them?
Some of our competitors join parts using mechanical techniques, such as bolts or rivets. Although they’re cheaper than welding, these joins result in a bulkier final product and as such contradict the trend toward miniaturization. What’s more, such techniques add extra material to the assembly. But our automotive customers expect us to be efficient with resources, so we’d rather shave material than add it. That means the only other techniques we might consider would be CO2 welding and MAG welding. Welded seams for rails or adjusters have to be really strong to function perfectly throughout the vehicle’s service life.
So what we need is an efficient technique for producing extremely strong and inconspicuous weld seams while reducing and not increasing product weight — and the only technique that’s up to the task is laser welding. Following market demands for weight reduction, we have used high tensile strength steels for seat rails for three years, now. To achieve this, we have rapidly improved press technol-ogy and joining technology. We have installed a high-precision press and have started to use the laser. The trend is to use more and more high-tensile steels in new vehicle models.
Is this approach also cost effective?
All our products are produced in vast quantities, and this is where I think lasers really prove their worth. Since lasers can help achieve high throughput rates, using them definitely pays off for us. What’s more, they are dependable. We’re proud of being able to call ourselves a zero-defect company and that claim relies heavily on laser welding’s excellent process reliability. Since we don’t produce any rejects, we use less energy and fewer resources. Taking such a high-tech approach allows us to meet our customers’ needs and stay ahead of the competition.
You were able to introduce lasers without any problems, then?
Programming the lasers to achieve the required welding precision did present us with a number of challenges. Our expertise in industrial processes is based largely on experience during recent years. Since there are many different geometries, material thicknesses and material types, we must identify proper welding parameters, including laser power, welding speed, focal point and sequence of welding positions. We are optimizing this procedure for the best quality with minimal distortion.
There were also changes to be made outside the welding process itself. As the tolerances of our pressed parts were too great for lasers at the time, we had to revise our processes to make them laser compatible. We expanded our quality assurance activities to include non-destructive techniques and real-time monitoring of the welding procedure. Each of these measures helps us maintain our current zero-defect status, which lets us assume a very favorable position in the marketplace.
What importance do you see for lasers in the years to come?
Lasers play an indispensable part in how we can remain competitive. We’re currently considering switching to laser welding for two further product lines. The fact that we’ve been working with lasers for several years is a key advantage. That made it easy for us to adapt to the trend toward more lightweight vehicles, because we were in a position to offer solutions straight away. And this is something we’re looking to maintain — always looking into what we could do next. This is how we achieve lasting success.