What is electron-beam welding (vs laser welding)?

April 3, 2024
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What is electron-beam welding used for?

We’ve gone over the extreme heat, precision, and reduced distortion of electron-beam welding. But where is it being used in the real world? 

Some of the major use cases for electron-beam welding include:

  • Aerospace components: The aerospace industry relies heavily on electron-beam welding for manufacturing aircraft engine parts, space vehicle components, and other high-performance parts. The precise, narrow welds produced can handle the extreme forces and temperatures these parts experience. 
  • Nuclear and power generation: In nuclear reactors and power plants, many parts need to withstand high heat and pressure. electron-beam welding is used to join thick sections of stainless steel and other alloys used in these facilities. The controlled heating of the process prevents warping and cracking.
  • Medical equipment: Electron-beam welding is essential in producing precise and reliable components for medical technologies like linear accelerators and some surgical instruments. Its ability to create exceptionally pure welds is absolutely crucial in these applications.
  • Military and defense systems: Electron-beam welding plays a key role in manufacturing high-strength, precision components for military and defense applications — ranging from armored vehicles and weapons systems to advanced electronics.

Electron-beam vs laser welding

When it comes to precision welding, electron-beam and laser welding are two very popular options. 

And yes, while both provide pinpoint accuracy and incredibly strong welds, there are a few key differences to keep in mind when determining which is right for your application.

Here’s a quick glance at a head-to-head comparison between electron-beam vs laser welding:


Electron-beam Welding

Laser Welding


Uses high-velocity electrons in a vacuum

Uses focused light energy, typically CO2 or fiber laser


Requires an electromagnetic lens to focus

Achieves tighter focus over longer distances


Requires vacuum chamber

Can be performed in ambient air

Heat-affected Zone

Larger, may cause melting/flaws outside weld zone

Smaller, less distortion and flaws

Cost & Complexity

More expensive (> $500,000), complex, requires vacuum pumps

Less expensive (~ $150,000 or less), simpler, no ancillary equipment needed

If you’re looking for more of a deep dive into how they compare: 

  • You have to focus! With electron-beam welding, electrons go through a vacuum at high velocity to melt the materials. An electromagnetic lens is used to focus the beam.

    Conversely, Laser Welding uses focused light energy, typically from a CO2 or fiber laser. Lasers can often achieve a tighter, more narrowly focused beam over a longer distance than electron beams. This can allow for more intricate welds and access to confined spaces.
  • Vacuum up! electron-beam welding requires parts to be welded in a vacuum chamber since electrons cannot travel far in the air. This adds a layer of complexity and cost.

    Meanwhile, laser welding has no such requirement and can be done in ambient air. Lasers are more suitable for welding large parts that can’t fit in a vacuum chamber.
  • Cranking up the heat. The concentrated energy of an electron or laser beam results in a narrow heat-affected zone. However, electron beams typically generate more overall heat which can lead to slight melting and flaws outside of the weld zone. 

On the other hand, lasers tend to have a smaller heat-affected zone, less distortion, and even fewer flaws in the material surrounding the weld.

A matter of cost. Electron-beam welding systems are more expensive, complex, and difficult to operate compared to most laser welding systems. While an electron-beam welder can cost over $500,000, a basic laser welding system may only be $150,000 — or less. Lasers also don’t need the ancillary equipment like vacuum pumps that electron-beam welders need.

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Can electron-beam welding be automated?

Yes, electron-beam welding is very suitable for automation! The electron beam itself is generated and precisely controlled electronically, so it interfaces extremely well with automated control systems. 

Let’s take a look at how this happens: 

  • Robotic arms are commonly used to manipulate parts during electron-beam welding. The robotic arm positions the parts to be welded with a high degree of accuracy and repeatability, allowing for automated welding of high volumes of parts. The robot can then move the beam over the joint to make the weld.
  • Computer numerical control (CNC) is also used in electron-beam welding. CNC systems control the motion of the electron beam using pre-programmed coordinates to make precise welds. Parts are often moved on a CNC table below the electron beam.

    The CNC table then positions the parts, and the electron beam welds the joint based on the programmed coordinates.

Automating electron-beam welding also provides several benefits:

  • It increases welding speed, which can result in much higher production volumes.
  • It improves consistency and quality by reducing human error.
  • Precise control of the electron beam and part movement results in highly repeatable, high-quality welds.
  • Automation also reduces cost by decreasing labor requirements! Although electron-beam welding systems have high capital costs, automated systems can provide a good return on investment through increased productivity and quality.

    Typically, you can see an ROI in just 1-3 years

Summing up

Electron-beam welding might not be the sexiest welding process, but it has some excellent advantages. 

Just remember that it needs a vacuum, has limited materials compatibility, and demands part fit-up.

And, while laser welding competes in some areas, electron-beam still shines in its niche. 

As for automation? It’s going to be your choice. 

If repeatability, higher production and throughput, safety, and 24/7 operation sound good to you, it may be the time to think about automating your welding processes! 

Next steps

Time to bring cutting-edge automation to your electron-beam welding process! Standard Bots' RO1 redefines Six-Axis robot arm tech, making it an ideal choice for ambitious fab shops and established businesses.

  • Transformative affordability: RO1 disrupts the industry with budget-friendly pricing, often half the cost of comparable systems. This makes advanced automation accessible to businesses of all sizes.
  • Productivity powerhouse: Experience best-in-class performance with RO1's robust 18kg payload capacity, exceptional speed, and pinpoint accuracy. 
  • Safety-centric design: Built with collaboration in mind, RO1 features a comprehensive suite of sensors and safeguards, fostering a secure working environment where robots and humans work side-by-side.
  • AI-driven adaptability: Equipped with intelligence rivaling GPT-4, RO1 stands apart with its ability to learn and continuously optimize processes, bringing ongoing improvement.

Our expert team is dedicated to guiding you through RO1's implementation for a smooth transition to its transformative capabilities. Experience it firsthand with our 30-day risk-free trial.

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