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Optics & Laser Technology 39 (2007) 652–661

Dissimilar material joining using laser

(aluminum to steel using zinc-based filler wire)
Alexandre Mathieua,, Rajashekar Shabadib, Alexis Deschampsb, Michel Sueryc,
Simone Matteı̈a, Dominique Greveya, Eugen Cicalaa
LTm, laboratoire Laser et Traitement des matériaux, IUT Le Creusot, 12 rue de la fonderie, 71200 Le Creusot, France
LTPCM, Laboratoire de Thermodynamique et de Physico-Chimie Métallurgiques, ENSEEG, 38402 St. Martin d’Hères, France
GPM2, laboratoire Génie Physique et Mécanique des Matériaux, ENSPG, 38402 St. Martin d’Hères, France
Received 13 April 2005; received in revised form 29 August 2005; accepted 31 August 2005
Available online 24 October 2005


Joining steel with aluminum involving the fusion of one or both materials is possible by laser beam welding technique. This paper
describes a method, called laser braze welding, which is a suitable process to realize this structure. The main problem with thermal joining
of steel/aluminum assembly with processes such as TIG or MIG is the formation of fragile intermetallic phases, which are detrimental to
the mechanical performances of such joints. Braze welding permits a localized fusion of the materials resulting in a limitation on the
growth of fragile phases. This article presents the results of a statistical approach for an overlap assembly configuration using a filler wire
composed of 85% Zn and 15% Al. Tensile tests carried on these assemblies demonstrate a good performance of the joints. The fracture
mechanisms of the joints are analyzed by a detailed characterization of the seams.
r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Laser beam joining; Aluminum; Steel

1. Introduction followed by brazing [2], and, ultrasonic welding [3].

However, these processes are not suitable for automotive
New European anti-pollution and energy saving laws, production and for steel/aluminum continuous assembly
which will become effective in 2008 will impose the because they are difficult to implement in this context.
automotive industry some requirements concerning reduc- Aluminum and steel, due to their poor miscibility show a
tion in fuel consumption. These requirements can be poor metallurgical compatibility, which promotes the
fulfilled partly by reducing the total weight of the vehicles. formation of brittle intermetallic phases. However, the
Because of the easy recyclability of aluminum, there are development of new welding techniques in the solid or
efforts towards making an all aluminum vehicles. Even mushy phase (friction stir welding, welding by explosion)
though the achievable weight reduction reaches 50% the makes possible this sort of assembly providing a complex
industrialization of such a vehicle remains a very costly implementation. Mechanical assembling techniques such as
solution, whereas the introduction of aluminum compo- riveting allow an assembly of different materials but they
nents in a standard conception of steel car body is an are very expensive. Thus, most currently car parts made of
attractive compromise between cost and performance. aluminum are those, which do not require direct assembly
Nevertheless, this solution requires assembling steel with with steel, such as openings (cap or tailgate).
aluminum. Among the direct methods of steel/aluminum However, the existing literature shows that steel/alumi-
assembly, one can mention arc-welding [1], plating num assemblies can be obtained by laser beam welding. In
particular, one can mention the works of the Bremer
Corresponding author. Tel.: +33 3 85 73 10 56; fax: +33 3 85 73 11 20. Institute für Angegwandte Strahltechnik (BIAS) concern-
E-mail address: (A. Mathieu). ing the assembly of dissimilar metals such as steel and

0030-3992/$ - see front matter r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
A. Mathieu et al. / Optics & Laser Technology 39 (2007) 652–661 653

aluminum [4,6–8]. They used a technique called transpar-

ency laser braze welding to assemble the steel upon the
aluminum. The laser beam heats the steel to a temperature
just below the melting point, which in turn melts the
aluminum sheet by thermal conduction, which is placed
just below the steel sheet. Other works, which are near to
the ideology of the BIAS, combine laser heating and roll
welding to join low-carbon steel and AA-5052 [9]. We call
braze welding an operation that consists of assembling two
metals in a permanent manner with or without a filler
metal. A well-known example of laser braze welding is the
steel/steel assembly with a Cu–Si filler wire [10,11]. Another
method consists of welding steel on aluminum by using
laser keyhole welding. This method has been developed by
Katayama and Mizutani [12] and more recently by Sierra et
al. [13], and found that an efficient joint could be produced
to realize the high strength joints between aluminum and
steel using laser keyhole welding. Laser braze welding of
steel with aluminum has been realized also in the
University of Bayreuth [5]. It has been shown that the
Fig. 1. Overlap joint configuration.
mechanical performances of these joints are within 20%
the performances of the classical brazed aluminum joints.
The process presented in this article has many advan- material is chosen taking into account of the metallurgical
tages. The use of the laser allows a local energy input compatibility with aluminum and a melting temperature
resulting in a limitation of the formation of brittle phases. compatible with that of aluminum (Tfusion ¼ 650 1C). The
Moreover, the speed of laser processes is generally higher wire melting is directly caused by the laser beam irradia-
than that of other thermal processes. The use of the laser tion. The beam size lies between 1 and 2 mm. The filler wire
technique also offers the possibility of new design, which is is pulled under the laser beam so that the laser beam never
impossible with conventional welding processes (such as directly lights the base parts of the assembly. The process
spot welding, riveting, etc.). In particular, the welding of needs a precise positioning of the laser beam in the joint
hollow section profiled sheets becomes possible thanks to plane; the filler wire is guided by the joint geometry. A
this mono-access laser process. gaseous shielding is brought behind the molten pool in
However, steel aluminum laser braze welding presents order to limit the oxidation. The protection gas is a mixture
some difficulties. In certain cases, the obtained assemblies of 70% Helium and 30% Argon. A 10 mm diameter tube
have a low mechanical performance due to the formation with a flow rate of 20 L/min brings this gas flow.
of a fragile intermetallic layer at the steel/seam interface.
The growth of these phases depends on the composition of 2.2. Materials
the filler wire and the time/temperature history of the
process, which varies with location in the weld. Many The material for the aluminum part of the assembly is
publications deal with these intermetallic phases formed mainly a 6016 T4 aluminum alloy. Partial recrystallization
during steel/aluminum assembly [4–8]. Kreimeyer and has been observed through out the material geometry.
Sepold [8] have shown that for a layer thickness below Inclusions consisting of Al–Fe and Si have been widely
10 mm, the assemblies present high interface strength. In the observed, as it is generally the case in aluminum products.
first part of this article, the laser process is described. An The grain sizes are about 160–180 mm. The steel sheet is
optimization method of the operating parameters is GXES low carbon steel coated with zinc and was of
described. Finally, characterizations of the realized assem- 0.77 mm thickness. The composition of each material is
blies are presented in order to understand the causes of given in Table 1.
fracture. The zinc layer is obtained by hot dip galvanizing. The
microstructure of this steel is mainly ferritic with the grain
2. Laser braze welding process with filler wire size varying from 60 to 80 mm. The filler material is a zinc
base alloy with 15% Al. The composition (in wt%) of this
2.1. Braze welding configuration alloy is given in Table 2. Its density is 5.73 g/cm3 and its
melting temperature is about 440 1C. This wire is used for
This article presents the steel/aluminum assembly for an low temperature brazing of aluminum with itself, copper
overlap joint configuration (Fig. 1). The filler material was and steel. It consists of two closely bonded phases
in the form of wire with a diameter of 1.6 mm. The wire combining the property of zinc cathodic protection on
feeding speed is close to the brazing speed. The filler the steel and the properties of chemical and mechanical
654 A. Mathieu et al. / Optics & Laser Technology 39 (2007) 652–661

Table 1
Chemical composition of the materials (wt%)

Material Si Mg Fe Zn Mn Cu Ti Cd Pb Cr Al S P C

AA-6016 1.0–1.5 0.25–0.6 o0.5 o0.2 o0.2 o0.2 o0.15 — — o0.1 Bal. — — —
GXES steel 0.006 — Bal. — 0.105 — 0.068 — — — 0.034 0.006 0.009 0.002
Zn-based filler — — o0.02 Bal. — o0.003 — o0.003 o0.003 — 14–16 — — —

Table 2
Variables and levels (4 with 4 levels and 3 with 2 levels)

P (kW) Def. (mm) a (1) SBW (m/min) SFW (m/min) + (mm) Optic

1.4 +10 35 2.0 2.0 400 Two-spots

1.6 +11 45 2.4 2.4 600 One-spot
1.8 +12 2.8 2.8
2.0 +13 3.2 3.2

stability of aluminum. Moreover, its melting temperature is

compatible with the considered application.

2.3. Laser conditions

The laser used for this work is a continuous wave

Nd:YAG with a maximal power of 3.5 kW. A four-axis
displacement machine with numerical control carries out
the spatial displacement of the assembly. The laser beam is
injected into an optical fiber diameter 600 mm diameter Fig. 2. Spatial energy distribution obtained for the two optic shaping
which is brought on the target. Between the end of the devices (arbitrary units, a and b defocused +10 mm).
optical fiber and the target, the beam is shaped owing to a
classical system with a magnification of 1. Then the beam is
defocused in order to obtain a spot size between 1 and 3. Optimization parameters
2 mm. The spatial energy distribution is slightly degraded
compared to that obtained when the focal plane is at the 3.1. Design of experiment
sample surface. A laser beam shaping with two spots is also
used. For this, a prism is inserted between the collimating Previous experiments have shown that the mechanical
and the focusing lenses. The resulting beam consists of two performances of the joints depend on the operating
half-spots separated to one from the other. Fig. 2 presents parameters. So, in order to optimize the process, a series
the energy spatial distribution for both the beam-shaping of samples has been made according to the ‘‘Taguchi
devices. The beam diameter is measured at 86% of Design method’’ [16–18]. The chosen variable were the
maximum energy, which corresponds to the horizontal laser power (P), defocusing length (def.), tilt angle of the
line in Figs. 2a and b. In the case of Fig. 2a, the measured assembly with respect to the laser beam axis (a) (see Fig. 1),
diameter is around 1.6 mm and thus close to the used filler braze welding speed (SBW), filler wire speed (SFW),
wire diameter. diameter of the fiber (Ø) and the laser beam shaping
(one-spot or two-spots). Table 3 gives the parameters and
2.4. Tensile tests their associated levels. The levels of the variables have been
determined from previous experiences of the other works.
For each trial of welding, four tensile samples have been From these variables and their associated levels, a design
tested. The tensile sample length is 30 mm in width and of experiment composed of 16 tests [18] can be constructed.
212 mm in length. The loading direction is perpendicular to The answer function considered for each test is the
the weld line. Since the thicknesses of the sheets are not the mechanical strength of the joint (Flin). The effects of the
same, the ultimate strength is obtained by dividing the different variables on the mechanical strength are shown in
force at fracture of the specimen by the length of the weld Fig. 3. From Fig. 3, it is learnt that in the investigated
line (30 mm) and termed as resistance (N/mm). range the fiber diameter has a negligible influence on the
A. Mathieu et al. / Optics & Laser Technology 39 (2007) 652–661 655

mechanical strength. The other factors can be listed as speed of 2 M/min. Both the laser beam shapings have been
follows in the order of decreasing influence: laser power, tested. Fracture occurred at the steel/seam interface for
filler wire speed, braze welding speed, tilt angle, defocusing seam a and in the heat-affected zone (HAZ) of the base
length and laser beam shaping. Therefore, Table 3 lists the
optimal conditions found using this method.

3.2. Correlation between mechanical strength and fracture


Based on the various experiments carried out for the

optimization of the welding conditions, several fracture
places were observed. They are given in Table 4 together
with the typical values of the fracture strength. It is clear
that there is a close correlation between the fracture
strength and where the fracture occurs: fracture in steel
leads to the highest strength, where as fracture across the
seam corresponds to the lowest values. Corresponding
macrographs of seams after the fracture are presented in
Fig. 4. The operating parameters are: laser power of
1500 W, scanning speed of 2 M/min and filler wire feeding

Table 3
Optimized welding parameters

Laser power 1.6–2 kW

Filler wire speed 2–2.4 m/min
Braze welding speed 2–2.4 m/min
Inclination angle 351 Fig. 4. Macrographs showing the cross-sections of seam after the fracture:
Defocusing (+10; +11) mm (A) weld made using defocused +10 mm single beam, and (B) weld made
The laser beam optic shaping Two-spots using defocused +10 mm two-spots beam, with the two spots one behind
the other compared to the direction of displacement.

Fig. 3. Effects of different variables on the mechanical resistance (N/mm) of the joints.

Table 4
Relation Flin–fracture localization

Fracture localization Seam Al/Seam St/Seam Mixed 6016 HAZ Steel

Flin (N/mm) p150 140–190 160–230 190–230 200–245 X245

656 A. Mathieu et al. / Optics & Laser Technology 39 (2007) 652–661

Fig. 6. Back-scattered electrons image of a cross-section at the seam.

Fig. 5. Fracture observed in the steel for a joint realized with optimal
parameters (sample width 30 mm).

aluminum for seam b (Fig. 4). It was found that the beam
shaping has the substantial impact on the occurrence of the
facture. The two-spot shaping seems to be quite good for
joints of this configuration. As shown in Fig. 4, when using
two spots beam shaping, weld are always more resistant
and fracture occurs in the HAZ. The impact of the two-
spots beam shaping is a different energy repartition from
single spot. The maximum energy density is lower and the
total surface irradiation is bigger. All that leads to a softer
and longer heating of the weld. For optimized process
parameters, fracture is observed in the steel as shown in
Fig. 5. Fig. 7. The three zones of the steel/seam interface.

4. Microstructure observations

In order to understand the mechanisms of failures,

scanning electron microscopy observations and micro-
hardness profiles have been carried out.

4.1. Seam

Fig. 6 shows a back-scattered electron micrograph of a

joint. The observed contrasts are due to the differences of
distribution of the main elements, i.e., Zn, Fe and Al. The
lightest zones correspond to the Zn-richest zones whereas Fig. 8. Steel/seam interface near the seam head as observed at higher
the darkest ones correspond to the Al-rich zones. There-
fore, the composition of the seam is heterogeneous with a
mean composition of 63% of Al and 37% of Zn (at%). The
darkest regions near the base aluminum are richer in free of reaction layer indicating that the liquid has simply
aluminum. The lightest zones far from the base aluminum wetted the steel sheet. It has to be pointed out that the
are richer in Zinc. galvanized layer of the steel has been dissolved in this
region. Some dendrites seem to initiate from the interface
4.2. Steel/seam interface and micro-shrinkage pores are observed in the inter-
dendritic regions.
Three different zones are identified along the steel/seam The intermediate part presents an interface with a
interface: the head, the intermediate part and the foot reaction layer with a maximal thickness of 10 mm (Fig. 9).
(Fig. 7). The head of the seam (Fig. 8) presents an interface This reaction layer is composed of columnar crystals of
A. Mathieu et al. / Optics & Laser Technology 39 (2007) 652–661 657

variable composition: Al from 63% to 73%, Fe from 18% The interface zone situated near the seam foot is the
to 28% and Zn from 5% to 15% (at%). Their growth can most complex. One distinguishes a reaction layer of
be explained by a mechanism of Fe dissolution and thickness below 5 mm. This layer is located between the
precipitation into crystals of Fe–Al and Fe–Al–Zn steel and a light strip which is made almost of pure Zinc
composition. The compounds in this reaction layer are (Fig. 11). One also notes the presence of micro-shrinkage
mainly intermetallic phases like FeAl3 and Fe2Al5 [8]. The pores close to the interface between the reaction layer and
detected zinc is mainly in solid solution with Al. Fig. 10 the light strip. The liquid part of the seam that solidifies last
shows a micro-hardness profile across the steel/seam (Zn-rich zones) contracts and thus leads to the formation
interface in the intermediate part as defined earlier in of the defect. These defects can have more or less
Fig. 7. It can be seen that the micro-hardness values of the importance according to the cooling rate. In the case
reaction layer formed between the steel sheet and the seam shown in Fig. 11, these defects are very small and therefore
is around 400 Hv. This reaction layer is much harder than should not influence the monotonic mechanical strength.
the steel sheet and the seam (between 120 and 150 Hv). Their effect could however be different for fatigue tests.
The presence of the Zn-rich light strip can be explained by
a diffusion mechanism of Al in the solid or mushy state
towards the reaction layer from the Zn–Al rich seam. This
diffusion explains the Al depletion and therefore the Zn
enrichment of the zone located near the reaction layer. The
mechanism involving the creation of the intermetallic
compound layer (precipitation dissolution) is not the same
as in the case of the intermediate part, since the
intermetallic layer in the seam foot does not have the
similar microstructure. The microstructure near the inter-
mediate region has lesser defects and appears more intact.
It is possible that a diffusion mechanism of the Al through
the solid Fe competes with the previous mechanism
Fig. 9. Steel/seam interface near the intermediate part. because of the different cooling rate in the seam foot.
Fig. 12 presents the fracture surfaces of one sample,
shown on the seam side that breaks fractured at the steel/
seam interface. From Fig. 12, it can be observed that the
fracture surface composed of cracked and scaled slabs and
of small dendritic regions. These slabs come from the
reaction layer formed during the process. The brittleness of
the reaction layer is probably the origin of the fracture in
the joint interface with steel but the low cohesion between
the dendritic regions and the steel sheet can explain the low
values of the joint bonding strength.

4.3. Seam/aluminum interface

Infiltration of Zn in HAZ by grain boundary liquation is

observed as shown in Fig. 13. This phenomenon is
Fig. 10. Hardness profile across the steel/seam interface. commonly observed for aluminum alloys [14] and it can
explain why some samples break in the aluminum HAZ or
near the Aluminum/seam interface. Fig. 14 shows a micro-
hardness profile across the aluminum/seam interface and
situated approximately at the middle of the aluminum
sheet thickness. A significant hardening can be detected in
the brazing zone, which is due to the presence of the harder
eutectic mixture. Just beside the seam, a softer region is
detected in aluminum base. The fracture surface of a
sample which has failed in the aluminum HAZ is shown in
Fig. 15. It is typical of a ductile fracture that occurs in this
alloy. The fracture occurring at the seam/aluminum
interface could be initiated by the Al–Fe–Si inclusions that
are generally present in the 6xxx aluminum alloys. Most of
Fig. 11. Steel/seam interface near the seam foot. these intermetallic phases of Al–Fe–Si composition are
658 A. Mathieu et al. / Optics & Laser Technology 39 (2007) 652–661

Fig. 12. Fractograph of the seam side of the fracture, when fracture occurred at the HAZ of the aluminum base material.

Fig. 13. Back scattered electron micrographs of the seam/aluminum interface.

short rods perpendicularly oriented to the rolling direction

(Fig. 15).

4.4. Conclusions of microscopic observations

From the microscopic observations it appears that the

formation of intermetallic phases characterized by their
high hardness values at the steel/seam interface are not the
lonely parameter controlling the strength and ductility of
the Al/St joints. Indeed, some regions with bad cohesion
with the steel sheet and shrinkage pores are observed at the
steel–seam interface and are probably detrimental to the
joint bonding strength. The presence of this reaction layer
Fig. 14. Hardness profile across the seam/aluminum interface. is actually necessary to ensure a good cohesion between the
A. Mathieu et al. / Optics & Laser Technology 39 (2007) 652–661 659

Fig. 15. Fracture surface observed by SEM, side aluminum fractographs of the aluminum side of the fracture, when fracture occurred at the HAZ of the
aluminum base material.

Fig. 16. Relation between the length of the steel/seam interface and the mechanical resistance of the tensile specimen.

seam and the steel sheet. The literature [8] said that below a
thickness of 10 mm, the reaction layer seems to be not too
detrimental to the mechanical properties. In the present
observations, the reaction layer was measured to be less
than 15 mm. Moreover, this reaction layer thickness is not
constant along the steel/seam joint since it can vary from 0
to 15 mm.

5. Correlation between macroscopic observations and the

mechanical strength
Fig. 17. Seam geometry and corresponding values of the mechanical
5.1. Length of the steel/seam interface strengths achieved.

Fig. 16 shows the relation between length of the steel/

seam interface and mechanical strength of the tensile 5.2. Seam geometry
specimens. It clearly appears that the length of the steel/
seam has a positive influence on the mechanical strength of Fig. 17 shows different seam geometries corresponding
the sample, which increases linearly as the length of the to different values of mechanical strength achieved. In light
steel/seam interface increases. The large scatter of the of this, it appears quite clear that the mechanical strength is
results is explained by the fact that for each experimental correlated to the seam geometry. The wetting angle of the
point reported in Fig. 16, the welding conditions are seam seems to have a strong influence on the mechanical
different. strength of the assembly. In order to quantify the
660 A. Mathieu et al. / Optics & Laser Technology 39 (2007) 652–661

chemical flux. The laser braze welding process presents

several advantages compared to conventional assembling
processes such as riveting or spot-welding. Notably, the
work speed is raised and the laser process can be
automated and controlled [19].
By means of a ‘‘Design of Experiment’’ inspired by
‘‘Taguchi Methods’’, it is possible to find the best operating
parameters window. Under the optimal conditions, the
mechanical performances of the steel/aluminum assemblies
reach fracture strengths superior to 200 N/mm. In certain
condition, the rupture occurs in the heat-affected zone
(HAZ) of the aluminum or in the steel sheet itself. The
mechanical strength values are compatible with the
specifications relative to these assemblies in the automotive
Fig. 18. Definition of the parameters of the geometrical criterion. industry.
The causes of failures of the realized joints have been
investigated. It appears that the formation of intermetallic
phases characterized by their high hardness values at the
steel/seam interface is not the only cause of the Al/St joint
brittleness, especially when their thickness is below 10 mm.
It also appears that the global geometry of the joints
(concavity, wetting, etc.), is a significant factor to take into
account. This geometry, as well as the formation of the
intermetallic compound layer, is governed by the tempera-
ture history during the process. Therefore, thermal
modeling and temperature control are necessary steps for
an optimal control of the process. Investigations on the
temperature control using an infrared imaging system
are in progress. Until now, the thermal imaging allowed
us to validate the results obtained by FEM thermal
simulation [15].

Fig. 19. Relation between the geometrical criterion and the mechanical
strength (Flin).
This work has been carried out in the project ‘‘A3FL’’ of
the French Materials and Processes National Network
correlation between the wetting angle, brazed length and (RNMP: ‘‘Réseau National Matériaux et Procédés’’). The
mechanical strength a geometrical criterion based on the authors would like to thank the French ministry of
ratio between the brazed length (L) and the wetting angle research for the financial support, industrial partners
(y) as defined in Fig. 18 is proposed. (Renault, Alcan and ARES) for providing the materials
Fig. 19 presents the variation of the mechanical strength and facilities, and especially Dr. V. Sorel and Dr. I.
as a function of the ðL=yÞ ratio. It can be observed that Bordesoules for fruitful discussions. Academic partners of
increasing the ratio leads to an increase of the mechanical the project (GEMPPM, LMI and LTDS) are also thanked
strength of the joint. This criterion can be used to predict for fruitful discussions.
the strength of the joint without testing it but simply by
measuring the values of the two parameters L and y. References

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