SMWC XIX Reunites the Motor City Welding Community and Beyond

Devoted members of the American Welding Society’s (AWS’s) Detroit Section, enthused registrants, and volunteers alike were thrilled to be together again at the Sheet Metal Welding Conference (SMWC) XIX held Nov. 2–4, 2021, at Laurel Manor, Livonia, ...

AWS Publications | February 10, 2022 | AWS News and Calendar
Welding Digest ►  SMWC XIX Reunites the Motor City Welding Community and Beyond

Devoted members of the American Welding Society’s (AWS’s) Detroit Section, enthused registrants, and volunteers alike were thrilled to be together again at the Sheet Metal Welding Conference (SMWC) XIX held Nov. 2–4, 2021, at Laurel Manor, Livonia, Mich.

Shining a spotlight on welding and joining solutions for lightweight and electric vehicle (EV) production, the conference was hosted by the AWS Detroit Section in partnership with EWI, Columbus, Ohio, and numerous suppliers.

Conference Chair Warren Peterson, welding technical director at United Technical Solutions, Whitmore Lake, Mich., welcomed the 110-person audience on the first day. He acknowledged the importance of this event, which has covered leading-edge materials in welding technologies for the last 40 years and has traditionally been the primary means of funding for Detroit Section scholarships.

1 Chair with KeynotesSMWC XIX Chair Warren Peterson (left) poses for a photo with keynote speakers Benjamin Michajlyszyn (center) and Warren Parsons. (Credit: Mike Palko.)

 

“This is shaping up to be a great conference,” Peterson said. “We have really great speakers who are going to talk on electric vehicles; GEN3 steels; LME [liquid metal embrittlement]; all sorts of arc welding; and other types of welding-related experiences.”

He was followed by keynote speakers Benjamin Michajlyszyn, director of performance integration at Rivian (rivian.com), and Warren Parsons, global chief architect of body structures at General Motors (GM) (gm.com).

 

Design Architectures for EVs

Michajlyszyn presented on design considerations for EVs. He shared how, at Rivian, he’s building an advanced development team. “We have some very exciting things coming,” he announced, “and yes, they do involve welding.” He noted the company was going through an initial public offering process, and anything said at the conference was his own opinion (update: Rivian went public on Nov. 10, 2021).

When it comes to what’s different about engineering vehicles for electrification compared to internal combustion, Michajlyszyn stated the following: “EV start-ups need to set themselves apart from established OEMs [original equipment manufacturers]. Many of these start-ups are looking at the vehicle as a rolling platform for technology. There’s a focus on connecting the driver to the surrounding environment and to the rest of the world. This drives additional choices in the structural topology of the vehicle. That affects manufacturing, materials selection, joining methods, and also assembly.”

He went on to discuss simulation, autonomous driving, customer interest in casting and additive manufacturing, business challenges, urgency to go to market, scaling up repeating processes for many models, and battery modules.

“We’re trying to use materials that weigh less but still offer sound performance . . . it’s driving multiple joining methods into a single plant . . . so we have a few different processes (resistance spot welding on steel and aluminum, arc welding, laser fusion, brazing, and friction stir),” Michajlyszyn said.

Currently, typical auto industry concept to production time is close to 36–40 months. “Our desire is to go much faster,” he said. He indicated that established OEMs have an advantage with prior experience, data, and revenue from existing vehicle sales. However, EV start-ups don’t, and they need to build the company alongside the vehicle.

 

EV Welding Challenges

Parsons’ keynote delivered a talk on EV welding challenges that began with GM EV programs, including features of the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV, GMC Hummer SUT, and BrightDrop EV600; 2023 Cadillac Lyriq; 2024 GMC Hummer SUV and Chevrolet Silverado; and Cruise Origin.

Parsons provided an overview of the Bolt rechargeable energy storage system, with design diagrams on battery assembly, module stacks inside the battery with 288 cells, buses (electrical), a cooling plate under the entire assembly that goes into a structural tray with a support structure, and a lattice-like structure to protect the battery. The total battery mass is 435 kg, and 82 kg of that is structure.

As a comparison, Parsons showed a Hummer battery design with cells built into lower- and upper-deck modules. Crossbars make up the structure, but they’re squeezed for space and narrow. “There’s a lot of single-sided welding in here,” Parsons explained, with no room for access holes. Laser welding goes into assembling the biggest-battery Hummer. “Between the battery and the body structure, there’s over 1900 laser welds, so there’s a lot of sophisticated joining,” he said.

Challenges for Bolt battery integration consisted of packaging because space is needed for the battery and electrical components underneath the center floor, resulting in a new center floor concept with support structure for the battery; integrating the floor structure design with Grade 15 martensitic bars, common #2 and #3 bar roll form sections, and gas metal arc welded construction; all to minimize mass.

Parsons also detailed EV welding challenges for strength, including the following:

-High-strength steel utilization — rich chemistry welding;

-Panel gauge — very thick metal stacks (7-plus mm);

-Large gauge ratios — there’s always a thin panel; and

-Hot-dip galvanized-coated TRIP, GEN3 steel.

“Space must be protected and weld strength is typically the limiting factor,” Parsons said, so keeping structure integrity high to prevent the loss of space “is driving us to seek high-strength levels from the welding.”

Parsons concluded, “There’s not much space anywhere, so that is driving a lot of single-sided processes. Those are the challenges that we’re facing here as we electrify vehicles.”

 

Riding in the Passenger’s Seat for Several Sessions

The following sessions were held during the conference.

-Resistance welding advanced high-strength steel and LME (chaired by Murali Tumuluru, Tumuluru Welding Consulting),

-EV battery and arc welding (chaired by Mike Palko, Ford),

-Resistance welding (chaired by Michael Karagoulis, GM-retired),

-Alternative joining methods (chaired by Andrea Orr, Ford, and an AWS 2021 Future Leader),

2 Ameer QuestionAttendee Ameer Alshawk (standing, left) asks a question during the resistance welding Al and dissimilar materials session while Session Chair Jerry Gould (standing, right) listens. (Credit: Mike Palko.)

 

-Resistance welding Al and dissimilar materials (chaired by Jerry Gould, EWI),

-Laser welding (chaired by Mark Gugel, U.S. Steel),

-Other joining processes (chaired by Zhenke Teng, GM), and

-Emerging technologies (chaired by Menachem Kimchi, The Ohio State University [OSU]).

Presentations were less than 30 min, and audience members were able to ask the speakers questions and receive answers. In what’s become the new normal, those who couldn’t travel prerecorded themselves talking over their slides, then virtually joined via Zoom. Twelve professional development hours, with a certificate, were earned for attending the conference. Proceedings with full papers were available online to participants.

 

Behind the Wheel Driving the SMWC

Making this conference happen, after rescheduling from 2020 due to the pandemic, wouldn’t have been possible without the 26 individuals on the 2021 SMWC Committee who worked over the past three years on this event, overcame challenges, and were responsible for advertising that led to attendee numbers skyrocketing; the Detroit Section and partners; company sponsorship; and vendor support.

“What’s unique this year is EVs and the challenges that go along with them,” Peterson told the Welding Journal. “It’s typical of the SMWC to be at the forefront of technology. It’s the premier sheet metal welding and joining conference in the country. Next time, there will probably be a more mature discussion of building EVs and maybe spot welding.”

In addition, there were a dozen international presenters.

“The quality of the presentations is very good, informative, and scientific based,” Peterson continued. “There’s a world of difference in the quality of research that’s been done. What accounts for it is industry driven, such as GEN3 steels. The need drives the research.”

For this conference, input from previous surveys were listened to. There were long vs. round tables, so backs wouldn’t be turned to speakers, and vendors wanted to lunch with attendees, which happened on the second day, with about 150 people.

 

Vendor Display Highlights

In what has become a favorite part of the SMWC, 31 exhibitors participated in the vendor display night on Nov. 3. At their booths, they displayed products, spoke about services, and distributed brochures as well as fun freebies. Most companies were local, but support was also shown by far-away sources, including Diakont, Carlsbad, Calif.; T. J. Snow Co. Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Huys Industries Ltd., Weston, Ontario, Canada. Opened to the welding community, this night was enjoyed by more than 200 guests.

3 AWS Vendor Display-1At the AWS booth during the vendor display are (from left) Detroit Section Members John Bohr and Dan Galiher, AWS Managing Editor Kristin Campbell, RoMan Mfg. Vice President Don DeCorte, and AWS Senior Sales Executive Efram Abrams.

 

Attendee Input

Three SMWC participants graciously gave their thoughts.

-Liya Amanuel, a graduate fellow in the welding engineering program at OSU and recipient of the AWS Foundation’s D. Fred and Marian L. Bovie National Scholarship (2020), experienced what it’s like to present thanks to this conference.

What’s more, she covered two topics: “Influence of Heating Time on the Liquid Metal Embrittlement Sensitivity of a Candidate Generation III Sheet Steel,” centered on work with EWI, and “Investigating the Use of Interlayer Technology to Resistance Spot Weld Advanced Materials for the Automotive Industry,” based on OSU master project research.

“Being here is a great motivator for me,” Amanuel proclaimed. “Meeting people who’ve been in the industry for 20-plus years, I feel like I’m looking into my future.”

She’s still thinking about a career path but envisions working in the automotive industry.

4 Liya Presents

Liya Amanuel presents “Investigating the Use of Interlayer Technology to Resistance Spot Weld Advanced Materials for the Automotive Industry.” (Credit: Kenneth Martz.)

 

-Ameer Alshawk (pictured in the sessions section), originally from Iraq, splits his time as a PhD student from Wayne State University, Detroit, Mich., and a quality engineer with FCA, Auburn Hills, Mich.

“It’s a continuous education for me,” Alshawk emphasized. “This is my third SMWC, and every time, I learn something new. Pioneers are at this conference, and it’s been successful and worth it to come.”

He listed a trio of takeaways: “I like we are breaking the routine of virtual conferences, a very brave movement for the organizers. There are subjects I don’t have the time to search for, so for learning new processes and methods in the joining world, this is the place. And it always shows me the latest technologies in the joining world.”

He also praised the behind-the-scenes efforts. “Thank you to the organizers, attendees, vendors, and everyone who contributed to make this happen back to the normal way of life. If you missed any of them, there would be no conference.”

-Megan McGovern is with GM’s Research & Development, Warren, Mich., as a researcher in the Manufacturing Systems Research Lab. While her background is in nondestructive evaluation, she said, “I came to learn about failure mechanisms.”

When asked what presentations she liked, McGovern answered, “They are all pretty interesting. I really enjoyed the keynotes, ‘Nondestructive Detection and Characterization of LME Cracks in Resistance Spot Welds of Zn-Coated Advanced High-Strength Steel’ as well. I enjoy seeing a focus on automotive EVs, a big topic and relevant to my own work.”

She has been attending the SMWC since 2016 and keeps coming back to know what’s going on in this realm. “It’s a great networking opportunity,” McGovern added.

 

Attend the Next SMWC

Visit (awsdetroit.org) to find out about the next SMWC, which will continue to join Detroit Section members, registrants, volunteers, and more.

 

This article was written by Kristin Campbell (managing editor of the Welding Journal) for the American Welding Society.