High-intensity laser beams can be used to heat and bend metal plates, but the mechanisms of the laser forming (LF) process are not well understood or precisely controllable. The objective of the National Institute of Standards and Technology sponsored project “Laser Forming of Complex Structures” is to develop technologies for a controllable, repeatable laser forming process that shapes and reshapes a wide range of complex structures such as compressor airfoils that are complex 3D geometries with large thickness variation. In order to apply laser forming to complex 3D geometries, the process analysis and process synthesis (design process parameters such as scanning paths and heating conditions for a desired shape) of LF of varying thickness plate are conducted in this paper. In this study, experimental, numerical, and analytical methods are used to investigate the bending mechanism and parametric effects on the deformation characteristics of varying thickness plates. A transition of the laser forming mechanism was found to occur along the scanning path when the thickness varies. The effect of scanning speed, beam spot size, and multiple scanning on the degree of bending was investigated. The proposed analytical model can predict the bending angle and angle variations for laser forming of varying thickness plate.

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