Welding is a fabrication or sculptural process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by causing coalescence. This is often done by melting the workpieces and adding a filler material to form a pool of molten material (the weld pool) that cools to become a strong joint, with pressure sometimes used in conjunction with heat, or by itself, to produce the weld. This is in contrast with soldering and brazing, which involve melting a lower-melting-point material between the workpieces to form a bond between them, without melting the workpieces.
Gas metal arc weldingMany different energy sources can be used for welding, including a gas flame, an electric arc, a laser, an electron beam, friction, and ultrasound. While often an industrial process, welding can be done in many different environments, including open air, under water and in outer space. Regardless of location, however, welding remains dangerous, and precautions must be taken to avoid burns, electric shock, eye damage, poisonous fumes, and overexposure to ultraviolet light.
Until the end of the 19th century, the only welding process was forge welding, which blacksmiths had used for centuries to join metals by heating and pounding them. Arc welding and oxyfuel welding were among the first processes to develop late in the century, and resistance welding followed soon after. Welding technology advanced quickly during the early 20th century as World War I and World War II drove the demand for reliable and inexpensive joining methods. Following the wars, several modern welding techniques were developed, including manual methods like shielded metal arc welding, now one of the most popular welding methods, as well as semi-automatic and automatic processes such as gas metal arc welding, submerged arc welding, flux-cored arc welding and electroslag welding. Developments continued with the invention of laser beam welding and electron beam welding in the latter half of the century. Today, the science continues to advance. Robot welding is becoming more commonplace in industrial settings, and researchers continue to develop new welding methods and gain greater understanding of weld quality and properties.
The iron pillar of DelhiThe history of joining metals goes back several millennia, with the earliest examples of welding from the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in Europe and the Middle East. Welding was used in the construction of the iron pillar in Delhi, India, erected about 310 AD and weighing 5.4 metric tons.
The Middle Ages brought advances in forge welding, in which blacksmiths pounded heated metal repeatedly until bonding occurred. In 1540, Vannoccio Biringuccio published De la pirotechnia, which includes descriptions of the forging operation. Renaissance craftsmen were skilled in the process, and the industry continued to grow during the following centuries. Welding, however, was transformed during the 19th century—in 1800, Sir Humphry Davy discovered the electric arc, and advances in arc welding continued with the invention of metal electrodes in the late 1800s by a Russian, Nikolai Slavyanov, and an American, C. L. Coffin, even as carbon arc welding, which used a carbon electrode, gained popularity. Around 1900, A. P. Strohmenger released a coated metal electrode in Britain, which gave a more stable arc, and in 1919, alternating current welding was invented by C. J. Holslag but did not become popular for another decade.
Resistance welding was also developed during the final decades of the 19th century, with the first patents going to Elihu Thomson in 1885, who produced further advances over the next 15 years. Thermite welding was invented in 1893, and around that time another process, oxyfuel welding, became well established. Acetylene was discovered in 1836 by Edmund Davy, but its use was not practical in welding until about 1900, when a suitable blowtorch was developed. At first, oxyfuel welding was one of the more popular welding methods due to its portability and relatively low cost. As the 20th century progressed, however, it fell out of favor for industrial applications. It was largely replaced with arc welding, as metal coverings (known as flux) for the electrode that stabilize the arc and shield the base material from impurities continued to be developed.
World War I caused a major surge in the use of welding processes, with the various military powers attempting to determine which of the several new welding processes would be best. The British primarily used arc welding, even constructing a ship, the Fulagar, with an entirely welded hull. Arc welding was first applied to aircraft during the war as well, as some German airplane fuselages were constructed using the process. Also noteworthy is the first welded road bridge in the world, designed by Stefan Bryła of the Warsaw University of Technology in 1927, and built across the river Słudwia Maurzyce near Łowicz, Poland in 1929.
During the 1920s, major advances were made in welding technology, including the introduction of automatic welding in 1920, in which electrode wire was fed continuously. Shielding gas became a subject receiving much attention, as scientists attempted to protect welds from the effects of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere. Porosity and brittleness were the primary problems, and the solutions that developed included the use of hydrogen, argon, and helium as welding atmospheres. During the following decade, further advances allowed for the welding of reactive metals like aluminum and magnesium. This in conjunction with developments in automatic welding, alternating current, and fluxes fed a major expansion of arc welding during the 1930s and then during World War II.
During the middle of the century, many new welding methods were invented. 1930 saw the release of stud welding, which soon became popular in shipbuilding and construction. Submerged arc welding was invented the same year and continues to be popular today. Gas tungsten arc welding, after decades of development, was finally perfected in 1941, and gas metal arc welding followed in 1948, allowing for fast welding of non-ferrous materials but requiring expensive shielding gases. Shielded metal arc welding was developed during the 1950s, using a flux coated consumable electrode, and it quickly became the most popular metal arc welding process. In 1957, the flux-cored arc welding process debuted, in which the self-shielded wire electrode could be used with automatic equipment, resulting in greatly increased welding speeds, and that same year, plasma arc welding was invented. Electroslag welding was introduced in 1958, and it was followed by its cousin, electrogas welding, in 1961.
Other recent developments in welding include the 1958 breakthrough of electron beam welding, making deep and narrow welding possible through the concentrated heat source. Following the invention of the laser in 1960, laser beam welding debuted several decades later, and has proved to be especially useful in high-speed, automated welding. Both of these processes, however, continue to be quite expensive due the high cost of the necessary equipment, and this has limited their applications.
Main article: Arc welding
These processes use a welding power supply to create and maintain an electric arc between an electrode and the base material to melt metals at the welding point. They can use either direct (DC) or alternating (AC) current, and consumable or non-consumable electrodes. The welding region is sometimes protected by some type of inert or semi-inert gas, known as a shielding gas, and filler material is sometimes used as well.
 Power supplies
To supply the electrical energy necessary for arc welding processes, a number of different power supplies can be used. The most common welding power supplies are constant current power supplies and constant voltage power supplies. In arc welding, the length of the arc is directly related to the voltage, and the amount of heat input is related to the current. Constant current power supplies are most often used for manual welding processes such as gas tungsten arc welding and shielded metal arc welding, because they maintain a relatively constant current even as the voltage varies. This is important because in manual welding, it can be difficult to hold the electrode perfectly steady, and as a result, the arc length and thus voltage tend to fluctuate. Constant voltage power supplies hold the voltage constant and vary the current, and as a result, are most often used for automated welding processes such as gas metal arc welding, flux cored arc welding, and submerged arc welding. In these processes, arc length is kept constant, since any fluctuation in the distance between the wire and the base material is quickly rectified by a large change in current. For example, if the wire and the base material get too close, the current will rapidly increase, which in turn causes the heat to increase and the tip of the wire to melt, returning it to its original separation distance.
The type of current used in arc welding also plays an important role in welding. Consumable electrode processes such as shielded metal arc welding and gas metal arc welding generally use direct current, but the electrode can be charged either positively or negatively. In welding, the positively charged anode will have a greater heat concentration, and as a result, changing the polarity of the electrode has an impact on weld properties. If the electrode is positively charged, the base metal will be hotter, increasing weld penetration and welding speed. Alternatively, a negatively charged electrode results in more shallow welds. Nonconsumable electrode processes, such as gas tungsten arc welding, can use either type of direct current, as well as alternating current. However, with direct current, because the electrode only creates the arc and does not provide filler material, a positively charged electrode causes shallow welds, while a negatively charged electrode makes deeper welds. Alternating current rapidly moves between these two, resulting in medium-penetration welds. One disadvantage of AC, the fact that the arc must be re-ignited after every zero crossing, has been addressed with the invention of special power units that produce a square wave pattern instead of the normal sine wave, making rapid zero crossings possible and minimizing the effects of the problem.
Shielded metal arc weldingOne of the most common types of arc welding is shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), which is also known as manual metal arc welding (MMA) or stick welding. Electric current is used to strike an arc between the base material and consumable electrode rod, which is made of steel and is covered with a flux that protects the weld area from oxidation and contamination by producing CO2 gas during the welding process. The electrode core itself acts as filler material, making a separate filler unnecessary.
The process is versatile and can be performed with relatively inexpensive equipment, making it well suited to shop jobs and field work. An operator can become reasonably proficient with a modest amount of training and can achieve mastery with experience. Weld times are rather slow, since the consumable electrodes must be frequently replaced and because slag, the residue from the flux, must be chipped away after welding. Furthermore, the process is generally limited to welding ferrous materials, though special electrodes have made possible the welding of cast iron, nickel, aluminium, copper, and other metals. Inexperienced operators may find it difficult to make good out-of-position welds with this process.
Gas metal arc welding (GMAW), also known as metal inert gas or MIG welding, is a semi-automatic or automatic process that uses a continuous wire feed as an electrode and an inert or semi-inert gas mixture to protect the weld from contamination. As with SMAW, reasonable operator proficiency can be achieved with modest training. Since the electrode is continuous, welding speeds are greater for GMAW than for SMAW. Also, the smaller arc size compared to the shielded metal arc welding process makes it easier to make out-of-position welds (e.g., overhead joints, as would be welded underneath a structure).
The equipment required to perform the GMAW process is more complex and expensive than that required for SMAW, and requires a more complex setup procedure. Therefore, GMAW is less portable and versatile, and due to the use of a separate shielding gas, is not particularly suitable for outdoor work. However, owing to the higher average rate at which welds can be completed, GMAW is well suited to production welding. The process can be applied to a wide variety of metals, both ferrous and non-ferrous.
A related process, flux-cored arc welding (FCAW), uses similar equipment but uses wire consisting of a steel electrode surrounding a powder fill material. This cored wire is more expensive than the standard solid wire and can generate fumes and/or slag, but it permits even higher welding speed and greater metal penetration.
Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW), or tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding (also sometimes erroneously referred to as heliarc welding), is a manual welding process that uses a nonconsumable tungsten electrode, an inert or semi-inert gas mixture, and a separate filler material. Especially useful for welding thin materials, this method is characterized by a stable arc and high quality welds, but it requires significant operator skill and can only be accomplished at relatively low speeds.
GTAW can be used on nearly all weldable metals, though it is most often applied to stainless steel and light metals. It is often used when quality welds are extremely important, such as in bicycle, aircraft and naval applications. A related process, plasma arc welding, also uses a tungsten electrode but uses plasma gas to make the arc. The arc is more concentrated than the GTAW arc, making transverse control more critical and thus generally restricting the technique to a mechanized process. Because of its stable current, the method can be used on a wider range of material thicknesses than can the GTAW process, and furthermore, it is much faster. It can be applied to all of the same materials as GTAW except magnesium, and automated welding of stainless steel is one important application of the process. A variation of the process is plasma cutting, an efficient steel cutting process.
Submerged arc welding (SAW) is a high-productivity welding method in which the arc is struck beneath a covering layer of flux. This increases arc quality, since contaminants in the atmosphere are blocked by the flux. The slag that forms on the weld generally comes off by itself, and combined with the use of a continuous wire feed, the weld deposition rate is high. Working conditions are much improved over other arc welding processes, since the flux hides the arc and almost no smoke is produced. The process is commonly used in industry, especially for large products and in the manufacture of welded pressure vessels. Other arc welding processes include atomic hydrogen welding, carbon arc welding, electroslag welding, electrogas welding, and stud arc welding.
Gas welding a steel armature using the oxy-acetylene process.
The most common gas welding process is oxyfuel welding, also known as oxyacetylene welding. It is one of the oldest and most versatile welding processes, but in recent years it has become less popular in industrial applications. It is still widely used for welding pipes and tubes, as well as repair work. It is also frequently well-suited, and favored, for fabricating some types of metal-based artwork. Oxyfuel equipment is versatile, lending itself not only to some sorts of iron or steel welding but also to brazing, braze-welding, metal heating (for bending and forming), and also oxyfuel cutting.
The equipment is relatively inexpensive and simple, generally employing the combustion of acetylene in oxygen to produce a welding flame temperature of about 3100 °C. The flame, since it is less concentrated than an electric arc, causes slower weld cooling, which can lead to greater residual stresses and weld distortion, though it eases the welding of high alloy steels. A similar process, generally called oxyfuel cutting, is used to cut metals. Other gas welding methods, such as air acetylene welding, oxygen hydrogen welding, and pressure gas welding are quite similar, generally differing only in the type of gases used. A water torch is sometimes used for precision welding of small items such as jewelry. Gas welding is also used in plastic welding, though the heated substance is air, and the temperatures are much lower.
Resistance welding involves the generation of heat by passing current through the resistance caused by the contact between two or more metal surfaces. Small pools of molten metal are formed at the weld area as high current (1000–100,000 A) is passed through the metal. In general, resistance welding methods are efficient and cause little pollution, but their applications are somewhat limited and the equipment cost can be high.
Spot welderSpot welding is a popular resistance welding method used to join overlapping metal sheets of up to 3 mm thick. Two electrodes are simultaneously used to clamp the metal sheets together and to pass current through the sheets. The advantages of the method include efficient energy use, limited workpiece deformation, high production rates, easy automation, and no required filler materials. Weld strength is significantly lower than with other welding methods, making the process suitable for only certain applications. It is used extensively in the automotive industry—ordinary cars can have several thousand spot welds made by industrial robots. A specialized process, called shot welding, can be used to spot weld stainless steel.
Like spot welding, seam welding relies on two electrodes to apply pressure and current to join metal sheets. However, instead of pointed electrodes, wheel-shaped electrodes roll along and often feed the workpiece, making it possible to make long continuous welds. In the past, this process was used in the manufacture of beverage cans, but now its uses are more limited. Other resistance welding methods include flash welding, projection welding, and upset welding.
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