Robotic welding is vital to auto manufacturing, but double checking the welds is done by hand. Infrared technology promises to make it a whole lot easier. | Photo by Ripley Engineering used with permission.

The average car is held together by more than 4,000 welds.

To ensure these welds are solid and safe, manufacturers perform what’s known as a “pry-check,” a process that literally means tearing apart samples of welded pieces — about one per shift, on average. But this process is destructive and expensive, resulting in wasted materials and labor.

A new infrared imaging technology from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) promises to make this process cheaper, quicker and more reliable. Rather than destroying a sample welded part, ORNL’s imaging system can help automakers quickly determine whether a weld is good or bad without damaging the part. The infrared check can be performed in a few seconds, offering industry a low-cost and non-destructive alternative to monitor welds in real time.

As automotive technology advances at an unprecedented pace, ensuring safety and durability in a timely manner is more important than ever, so ORNL just licensed the technology to APLAIR Manufacturing Systems. The company aims to commercialize the technology within two years.

The weld inspection technology is just the latest manufacturing development from ORNL. In February 2015, ORNL revealed a 3D-printed Shelby Cobra, the iconic sports car built from a plastic reinforced by carbon fiber at ORNL’s large-scale 3D printer. Both of these technologies have applications in the auto industry, but their potential impact on manufacturing reaches much farther, from consumer products to scientific instruments.

To learn more about Energy Department contributions to the automotive sector, check out our Vehicles page.