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Viper strikes with laser cutting.

The paint on the concept car was barely dry in early 1989 when Chrysler Corp executives made the decision to go ahead with a production version of the Dodge Viper world class sports coupe.

A pure sports car with technological and performance credentials that boggle the mind, the Viper features an all-aluminum, 8-liter V-10 engine that makes 400 hp and propels the car from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 sec and from 0 to 100 to 0 in 14.5 sec.

Just as remarkable as the Viper's performance is the fact that Chrysler took the car from a one-of-a-kind concept vehicle to public introduction in less than three years. The feat was accomplished by the Viper team, a collection of designers, vehicle engineers, manufacturing engineers, and suppliers who worked to develop not only vehicle components but also the processes to manufacture them.

One of those suppliers was Quasar Industries of Rochester Hills, MI. Quasar, a prototype shop that has been working with the automotive industry for 25 years, was approached by Chrysler to develop a process for trimming the Viper's resin transfer model (RTM) body panels.

Chrysler chose RTM body panels to save weight and maintain a "Class A" surface finish on exterior panels. The panels are produced by placing a glass fiber mat in the mold, then injecting resin.

Problems arose in trimming the panels, which are approximately 1/10" thick. Conventional trimming left a frayed or feathery edge, necessitating hand grinding, routing, and rasping.

"These methods are not only time consuming, but each person doing the work will have a different touch," says Quasar vice president Douglas Peterson. "Also, hand finishing does nothing to establish a production system for the Viper or any other composite car of the future," he adds.

The solution to these problems was laser trimming of the panels using a five-axis NTC laser cutting system powered by a 1700-watt C|O.sub.2~ laser from Rofin-Sinar Inc, Plymouth, MI.

The five-axis laser system features microprocessor-based controls that allow trimming of more than 20 different Viper body panels. Many of the panels are cut to reduce weight or to provide holes for mounting of hinges and other hardware.

Because the laser vaporizes the RTM panel material, fixtures for the cutting system are relatively simple. They need only exert enough force to keep the panels from shifting as the machine table moves. The laser system is powerful enough to allow nesting and trimming of several panels at once.

Production of the Viper is limited, so the laser cutting process is both prototype and production. But Mr Peterson believes laser cutting may one day find a place in higher-volume production of other vehicles with composite body panels. "It's important to show that the laser has the ability to perform, day in and day out, just like any other piece of production equipment," he says.

For more information from Rofin-Sinar Inc, Plymouth, MI circle 328.
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Title Annotation:Manufacturing Update; Dodge Viper car of Chrysler Corp.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:489
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