Gaps at part interfaces pose a major challenge for laser transmission welding (LTW) of thermoplastics due to the reliance on contact conduction between the absorptive and transmissive parts. In industrial applications, gaps between parts can occur for a variety of tolerance and process control reasons. Previous experimental and modeling work in LTW has focused on gap-free joints, with little attention to bridging a gap with thermal expansion of the absorbing material. A two-dimensional comprehensive numerical model simulated bridging gaps in LTW. Using the model, operating parameters were selected for welding across a 12.7μm gap and a 25.4μm gap by creating sufficient thermal strain to bridge the gap and form a weld. Using these operating parameters, PVC samples were welded in a T-joint geometry with a designed gap. The quality of the welds was assessed visually, by destructive force testing and by measuring the weld size to quantify the weld strength. All the experimental samples, for the two gap sizes, bridged the gap and formed welds. The average weld strength of the 12.7μm gap samples was 16.1MPa, while the 25.4μm gap samples had an average strength of 10.0MPa. Gaps were successfully bridged with LTW by using a two-dimensional model to design the operating parameters. To achieve higher modeling accuracy, a three-dimensional model might better simulate the thermal diffusion in the direction of laser travel.

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