Industries That Use Friction Stir Welding
Amid the screech of saws cutting through metal, the beeping of forklifts, and the clank of metal components, workers in modern shipyards are producing some of the largest vessels in the world. A similar cacophony of sounds as those heard in a shipyard can be heard around the country in automotive, construction, aerospace, and transportation factories.
Yet, one traditional sound associated with industrial manufacturing may soon go silent: the loud cracking, buzzing, electric sound associated with MIG welding. Sometimes likened to the sound bacon makes while frying, the sounds of MIG welding may eventually come to be completely replaced by the low buzzing of the spinning rotating tool used in Friction Stir Welding (FSW).
As FSW becomes faster and more versatile, more industries than ever are moving toward this type of welding.
FSW shows its high cast as a modern-form joining operation.
Unlike other forms of welding, FSW can be automated which increases precision and reduces manufacturing times. Manufacturing time is further decreased because FSW only takes one pass to weld metals and because there is no filler material nor melting, eliminating the need for post weld work, such as splatter cleaning.
FSW is also hyper-modern by being more environmentally friendly and less wasteful (it does not have consumable parts) and not producing nauseous gases during the process.
Other benefits of Friction Stir Welding include:
- Increased strength (High tensile, fatigue & bend properties)
- Improved sealing, completely void-free leak proof joints
- Reduced thermal distortion and shrinkage
- Improved repeatability
- The ability to join two different alloys
- Good for welding metals such as aluminum alloys that can be hard to weld
- Cost effectivity
The top users: Marine and Transportation
Both of these gigantic industries – marine and transportation – incorporate FSW into their manufacturing operations. Public transportation alone has a market size of 75.6 billion dollars[i], and for shipbuilding, without considering the other sectors of the naval industry, the market size is 29 billion.
Other key sectors are also keen on taking advantage of FSW. Below we highlight just one benefit FSW gives each of the following sectors:
The Benefit: Weight Reduction
One of the simplest ways to increase efficiency in transport vehicles is by reducing weight. Marine, air, and land transport vehicles are foregoing rivets, clinch nuts, or traditional MIG or TIG welding in their manufacturing processes in favor of FSW which doesn’t add any weight to the structure.
“Weight is one of the biggest challenges to aircraft manufacturers. Using FSW to join aluminum alloy stringers to skins for aircraft wings and fuselage structures will reduce weight by the removal of thousands of rivets, and any overlapping aluminum material. A leading aircraft manufacturer estimated that potential weight savings of approximately 2.2 lbs. per meter of FSW could be made.[i]”
The benefit: Easy welding of hard-to-weld alloys.
Some types of difficult-to-weld aluminums can frustrate traditional welding attempts. In addition, joining dissimilar aluminum alloys has always been a challenge due to the different chemical and physical properties of the metal.
Recently, aerospace companies have begun using FSW, a solid-state welding technique, to surpass these limitations. Today, some fuel tanks for spacecraft – made out of hard to weld aluminum alloys – are premanufactured using FSW[i].
The benefit: Better production habits, taking advantage of prefabrication, modular building, and assembly lines.
As if a precursor of things to come, the first commercial use of FSW was on ships, specifically on hollow panels used for freezing fish on fishing boats.
Today, many ships use friction stir welded floors, decks, and bulkheads. By using FSW, shipyards reduce the amount of work needed to be done, shifting the work to assembly-line factories[i]. Many parts can be manufactured in production lines improving safety, accuracy, and efficiency. Not only that, the industry can take advantage of the best pre-fab and modular practices that will further decrease production times.
Today’s cruise ships are light weight structures which allow shipbuilders to build taller ships while keeping the center of gravity lower. Designed with all the heavy machinery at the bottom and lightweight aluminum materials at the top makes them inherently stable even as ship designs are getting taller and taller, demonstrating how sufficient safety can be achieved.
Ultimately this translates to one thing: bigger ships mean MORE FUN!
Whether it’s the freighters that carry the goods from our globalized economy, the military vessels that keep our oceans safe, or the cruise-lines that give families unforgettable vacations, all these sectors are seeing cost and efficiency saving with FSW.
The benefit: Safety
This industry in particular has honed in on the advantages FSW offers in crash safety. FSW is the best welding process for creating safe designs:
“Modern passenger rail cars are increasingly produced from longitudinal aluminium extrusions with integrated stiffeners.
This design approach can enhance the crashworthiness of vehicles […] Large aluminum extrusions with complicated shapes are [being used].[i]”
The benefit: Stability
Anyone traveling behind an 18-wheeler on highways knows just how the wind and road shakes the trailers. By using FSW on the floorboard of their trailers, some freight companies argue that their trailers have become more stable than ever. “The aluminum extrusions become one at the molecular level, making the floor a single-piece of rigid aluminum.[i]” The end result? Less wear on the tires and better fuel mileage.
Other industries taking advantage of friction stir welding include the automotive, construction, and defense industries, among others. It has even been incorporated to make stronger snowmobiles and lighter coolant systems.
The strong, lightweight welds that can be used on hard-to-weld alloys have every industry that uses aluminum and aluminum extrusions looking to gain a competitive advantage.
Companies that have specialized in aluminum and aluminum extrusions are the front line for delivering FSW benefits to customers. For more information, please visit Taber Extrusions. With a long tradition of proving aluminum and aluminum extrusion solutions, Taber Extrusions provides companies all the advantages of FSW in one location.
Industries Served by Taber Extrusions:
- Government | Military Contracts | Department of Defense
- Aircraft | Aerospace
- Marine | Shipbuilding
- Infrastructure | Platforms | Decking
- Electrical | Power Transmission | Electronics
- Sporting Goods
- Industrial, Agricultural, and Mining Equipment
- Structural Components
- Specialty Architectural
About Taber Extrusions:
Founded in 1973, Taber Extrusions originally pioneered a process for extruding rectangular billet which enables the company to extrude solid profiles up to 31 inches wide or hollows up to 29 inches. Taber expanded with the purchase of an extrusion facility in Gulfport, MS., in 1995 which houses a new state of the art cast house and two additional presses, micro-extrusion capabilities, and the fabrication area has been expanded multiple times.
Taber continues to extrude billet in a wide range of alloys and sizes, and has diversified its markets beyond military since its inception to include aerospace, automotive, marine, infrastructure, and sporting goods, among many others. For these markets, the company supplies cast and extruded products in a variety of soft and hard alloys.
Today, Taber Extrusions has completed the addition of in-house Friction Stir Welding capabilities, and carries on their offering of extruded aluminum components, value-added machining services and raw material supply to the North American market – making them a vertically integrated supplier of FSW panels and assemblies never before seen in North America.
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