An official partner of Panasonic, Sango Metal Industrial Co., Ltd. is a leading provider of precision welding services. Their expertise lies in laser welding of materials as thin as 0.2mm, such as terminals on lithium batteries. They currently hold 38% of the global share in this industry. Recently, they installed 2 new equipment to their arsenal, the fiber laser oscillator, which makes it possible to seam weld copper and other hard-to-weld materials, and the galvanometer scanner, which boasts a faster laser traveling speed for higher production efficiency. With these innovative technologies at their disposal, they are now focusing their efforts on fuel cells for cars and medical devices, both of which are fields where rapid miniaturization is occurring.
Joining the world with laser welds under 0.2 mm Bringing Two Types of Japanese Laser Welding to the Global Market
An official partner of Panasonic, Sango Metal Industrial Co., Ltd. is a leading provider of precision welding services. Their expertise lies in laser welding of materials as thin as 0.2mm, such as terminals on lithium batteries. They currently hold 38% of the global share in this industry. Recently, they brought in 2 new equipment to their arsenal, the fiber laser oscillator, which makes it possible to seam weld copper and other hard-to-weld materials, and the galvanometer scanner, which boasts a faster laser traveling speed for higher production efficiency. With these innovative technologies at their disposal, they are now focusing their efforts on fuel cells for cars and medical devices, both of which are fields where rapid miniaturization is occurring. We sat down with the leader of the Research & Development team, Mr. Koji Hiranaga, and asked about why they decided to renovate their entrance of the company building, and added a new business meeting room.
It is Now Possible to Laser Weld Different Types of Challenging Materials
Sango Metal Industrial acquired and installed a new type of fiber laser oscillator in February 2014. The most significant benefit of this move is that it made possible the welding of different materials, and challenging materials that made for too tough of a procedure of YAG lasers. The most notable benefit of implementing this new system is that the company is now able to weld different types of challenging materials together that were too difficult for standard procedure YAG lasers.
“One particular advantage of using this new equipment is that it allows us to weld copper to other materials, which is a very challenging task in the material process. The terminals of laminate batteries used in electric cars are either copper or aluminum. Even though our company has over 30 years of experience in battery welding, these processes were very challenging for us to handle until we acquired the fiber laser oscillator; now, this all became possible.”
Even though copper and aluminum are materials that aren’t suited for laser welding, they are required in the construction of electric vehicles. “Copper is used a lot in manufacturing parts for things like busbar. There is definitely a notable rise in the demand for technology that can be used to weld challenging materials, as we see this first hand through client inquiries. We were searching for equipment that will allow us to utilize our knowhow in thin sheet welding and battery welding using YAG lasers, while making it possible to weld copper and other challenging materials. Out of the many possible solutions, we chose the fiber laser oscillator because it offered to switch between pulse and CW, and had a pulse peak output of 3 kilowatts.” After adding this new technology to their arsenal, Sango Metal Industrial is ready to face new challenges and expand to new global markets.
“We would like to start welding metal and resin materials together. This is new territory for a company that has only dealt with only welding metals together for over 30 years; however, we are convinced that our knowhow in sheet welding will be very useful, and that this new concept needs to become a reality.”
Seam Welding Becomes Possible
Both fiber laser and YAG laser welding are methods of laser welding. However, fiber laser welding offers a deeper and sharper approach to connecting the materials together, and also allows laser engraving. Steam welding is a process that fiber laser can accomplish that YAG laser welding cannot. ” YAG laser welding is the process of welding points together, and is known as spot welding. Fiber laser welding allows for us to weld in lines, and we are now able to respond to broader ranges of customer needs.” Currently the company is focusing their efforts on original developments, research, and studies in order to collect data on the differences between YAG and fiber laser, as well as special characteristics of fiber lasers.
“Even on the internet and within specialized industry circles, information on fiber laser technology is very scarce. *However, we are the professionals in laser welding. We constantly look 2 years into the future, and while combining original research and development; and collaborations with industry, government, and educational institutions; we plan on increasing our precision and quality.
Production Efficiency is improved with the Galvanometer Scanner
Along with the fiber laser oscillator, the company also decided to install a galvanometer scanner.
“Conventionally, we would control the landing point of the laser beams by moving either the launching system itself or the base that it was mounted on. However, the galvanometer scanner has a mirror installed on the scanning line, so the landing point of the beam is moved by moving the mirrors.” The use of the galvanometer scanner contributed to a major increase in production efficiency.
“Since the laser beam target can be moved freely while the laser beam launching system remains stationary, the laser moves faster, increasing production efficiency. Our tests show that a procedure requiring over 30 welding points will take us 2 to 3 minutes with our previous equipment, now the same procedure only takes a few seconds.”
Sango Metal Industrial produces many small parts, *(include examples of parts and uses) and since many units of the same product are placed onto one piece of material in production, the distance between the welding points becomes longer. The galvanometer scanner is a crucial device in allowing the fiber laser oscillator to utilize its full potential.
“Both the fiber laser oscillator and the galvanometer scanner are expensive pieces of equipment, and at this point there aren’t many businesses that have implemented their capabilities. We see this as a challenge, as well as our way of investing in new technology to bring value to our customers.
Last Bastion of Laser Welding
Sango Metal Industrial has taken on new challenges by broadening their capabilities through incorporating fiber laser technology into their arsenal. This is the result of a strategy that was formulated by analyzing the current trends surrounding laser welding through gathering information at trade shows.
“When project leaders of new designs and developments are aiming towards true innovation; that is when we truly shine.
One of our strengths is that we are able to make proposals for problem solving and optimization to people not as well versed in connecting metals and resin, providing high-quality and stable products from the prototype phase to mass production stages.” Sango Metal Industrial also many clients that come to them after trying other companies, only to be rejected. Sango Metal Industrial also many clients that come to them after trying other companies, only to be rejected. “Creating one or two prototypes can be done by many businesses, able to have stable quality while mass, but being producing a product is a completely different undertaking. By incorporating fiber laser technology, we now have many products that can be mass- produced in the same way they were prototyped. We aim to be the last bastion of laser welding. Thin sheet welding, mass production, welding that doesn’t damage the inside of products is our strength; we show our true worth when working on projects that other businesses can’t risk taking on.”
Expanding to the Electric Vehicle and Medical Fields
The target market after incorporating fiber laser oscillators and galvanometer scanners is very clear. “It is the fuel batteries for cars, and medical parts. Smaller part sizes, rapidly shrinking, is the sources of major added value. In addition, both the proliferation of electric cars and aging of populations offers expanding markets.”
The battery is a new unit for the car industry. (Cars have been using batteries for a very long time. Sentence does not make sense). Sango Metal Industries has a hung advantage because of their experience in battery welding, especially since mishandling such an item can be very hazardous, Sango Metal Industrial has a huge advantage by having accumulated a lot of experience in battery welding. “There are many clients who show concern when handling batteries. In order to make clients be comfortable with consulting us, we like to conduct forward planning by doing research and extensive testing, in order to combine this acquired information to our know how.”
The company is also putting a lot of work into connecting businesses that they work with. In order to further facilitate business and connections, they have also renovated their entrance to look like a high-end lounge, and added a new business meeting room for deeper conversations. “We will be working with Indonesian and Taiwanese companies from now on, so we will have more clients outside of Japan. Given our position, we would like to act as the hub in order create many mutually beneficial business relationships worldwide.”
Industrial’s precision welding technologies and mass production technologies, global developments
Sango Metal Industrial Co., Ltd., situated in the city of Moriguchi in Osaka Prefecture, the home base of Panasonic Corporation, is an expert provider of laser welding, resistance welding, and other precision welds. As an official partner of Panasonic, Sango Metal Industrial has nearly 30 years of experience in laser welding processes for lithium battery terminals. We spoke with President and CEO Takahito Kojima about Sango Metal Industrial’s precision welding technologies and mass production technologies, global developments, and more.
44% global share in battery terminal welding technology
Sango Metal Industrial began its laser welding efforts in the 1980s with the startup of their lithium battery business by Matsushita Battery Industries (the present Panasonic’s Automotive and Industrial Systems Company).
“Right now, we have the top global share for lithium battery terminal welding processes at 44%. For roughly three decades, we have been working on secondary processes for lithium batteries, but the applications for those batteries changed every ten years. For the first decade, our batteries were meant primarily for weak current applications like real-time clocks for household electronics. Then for the next decade, it transitioned to application towards mobile phones and computers. Now in the recent decade, the batteries have been geared towards automotive applications. They are used in car navigation systems, keyless entry systems, tire pressure monitoring systems, and more.”
Perforation-free welding at 0.2 mm
Panasonic still boasts the top share in the lithium battery market, and Sango Metal Industrial is responsible for the majority of the terminal welding for those batteries.
“The fact that we are the ones who process the majority of the products by the top world-wide shareholder in that market means that our accumulated expertise is also the most extensive in the world. And, because we’ve been at this for 30 years, we have other advantages as well.”
The strongest advantages of Sango Metal Industrial’s laser welding can be roughly divided into two factors. The first is microscopic precision work, and the second is the high-quality output in mass production.
“First, in terms of precision, we are able to weld and alloy materials as thin as 0.2 mm with no breakage. If the weld goes through the material, it can come apart and the contents may leak, causing the battery to no longer function, which is why we use specially refined precision micro-welding technologies.”
Technical know-how that supports multi-product mass production
Sango Metal Industrial’s other advantage of their high-quality output in mass production is what puts them ahead of the competition.
“We have manufacturing systems that can make from a single piece to one million pieces, in a quality level far beyond that of our competitors during the fully automatic mass production processing phase. With a monthly production capacity of 10 million pieces through laser welding, we pride ourselves that there is no other comparable to us with the production capacity or the maintained quality that we possess.”
Kojima spoke of the company’s mass production processes as a source for their wealth of knowledge. Even if competitors introduce the same machines that Sango Metal Industrial uses, the same level of output and quality cannot be so easily achieved.
“We have already amassed a huge library of technical expertise. Specifically, we have people who are able to inspect and verify processes, and who have very exacting standards when it comes to quality. By finding and adjusting to the optimal processing conditions from the onset, we can bring the added advantage of operational stability post-production as well. There are companies all over the world that can create a single prototype, but we are the only company that has the technique to make 10 million of the same.”
They also have a commanding production management system, able to handle variable production of many products in addition to its low and high volume productions.
“Under the concept of maintaining production lines are various technologies ranging from laser welding, transport, joining, and other corresponding technologies. All such needs are required at a high level in order to go through mass production. We even received high praise from automotive parts manufacturers on our mass production technologies held as a laser welding company.”
To prove this statement, we have found that their defect rate is actually extremely low. With a process capability of over Cpk1.33, and a defect rate of below 200ppm, what sets the company apart from its competitors?
“We owe our ability to handle both mass production and single-piece production to the careful design placed onto the machines. All our machines have been enabled for cross usage of jigs, and production control is handled manually. With how random orders come, it is nearly impossible to automate the system in the most optimal fashion. As such, we have manual handling of production in place in order to determine the proper machine and approach for use for each unique order we receive.”
In 2012, Sango Metal Industrial founded a local corporation, PT. KOJIMA LASER INDONESIA, in order to create a plant in Indonesia. There are two reasons for their international approach here.
“The first reason is that we had already decided to branch out in a way that’s in tune with our clients’ global expansion. The other reason is so that we can expand to acquire independent clients aside from subcontracts. We have been increasing our business in automotive parts related processing, and have obtained the international standards certification, the ISO/TS16949, for automotive parts. We decided to set ourselves out by being among the first to gain a foothold in Indonesia, where vehicle use is expected to expand further.”
Of course, their expansion into the international scene is with sufficient plans of success.
“One point is that we’re going to take the same mass production equipment that we use in Japan to Indonesia and operate it there. This will allow us to make the most effective use of all of the expertise we have accumulated in Japan. The other point is that there are only a few secondary fabricators that have entered into the global scene. Should localized procurement of parts continue to rise, there will be a need for secondary fabricators, and when that comes, we will be ready to take such orders first hand as one of the few available to handle their orders.”
With the trend of compact and light-weight vehicles throughout the world, the minimization of various parts is on the rise. With this trend, the number of clients who come to discuss their situation has increased as well.
“In the future of the automotive industry, there will be a great deal of focus on technologies for welding thin materials. In addition, I believe the need of joining various materials is likely to increase in demand.”
In order to respond to this new demand, Sango Metal Industrial has expanded and enriched its department for research and development.
“In terms of welding technologies for different materials, there’s demand for stainless steel to bronze, stainless steel to aluminum, and even for metals to resins. In an effort to respond to the demand for these new types of welding, we not only hired more people for research and development, but we are also moving forward with trials with new machines.”
* See Indexrights Vol. 2 for detailed information on the specs of this newly incorporated equipment.
Seeking To Be Number One, Not The Only One
Sango Metal Industrial continues to increase their approach to automotive parts in addition to lithium batteries. While the proportion of their business that involves secondary fabrication for lithium batteries is at main, Mr. Kojima believes that their focus will change in the near future.
“We placed much focus on our automotive parts business to be a pillar to follow our business in lithium batteries. Until now, these two efforts have been undertaken separately, but with the public emergence of electric vehicles, the markets for batteries and automobiles have begun to fuse. This was not expected, but we are viewing this as a positive sign for us as a company.”
Sango Metal Industrial is going to keep strengthening their operations in these two fields, as well as set their sights on new fields.
“We already have made multiple achievements working with electronic components and medical equipment, so we’re planning on delving even deeper within those fields. Inquiries are increasing for both spot welding and seam welding, and we are planning on implementing new equipment in lieu as well. Seam welding is considered difficult even with machines, but we are determined to take hold of this chance to achieve technology that goes above and beyond, and to take on the challenge of becoming the best in the game, rather than being satisfied as the only player in the field.” * See Indexrights Vol. 2 for detailed information on the specs of this new equipment.
Sango Metal Industrial Co., Ltd.
Headquarters Address: 2-13-17 Terakata hondori, Moriguchi-City, Osaka, 570-0048 Japan
Business description: Lithium battery laser weld processing, and vehicle parts precision weld processing Established: 1952 (founded September, 1946)
Number of Employees: 120 employees (as of 2013)