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)
Good for welding metals such as aluminum alloys that can be hard to weld
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
Industrial, Agricultural, and Mining Equipment
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.
As the name suggests, “friction stir welding” (FSW) is a metal joining technique that uses friction heat to unite metal structures. In traditional welding, high levels of heat are applied thereby melting two metal parts into one another. By contrast, FSW is a solid-state joining technique that takes advantage of metal atom’s cohesive forces that cause them to diffuse into each other. The friction generates temperatures below the melting point, but high enough where the plasticized material can move around.
The key in FSW is the non-consumable rotating tool. The tool, that looks similar to a drill bit, is made up of two components: a probe, a small cylinder which will penetrate into the width of the metals at their joint; and a shoulder, a larger cylinder which will spin along the surface of the metal pieces. The rotating tool supplies both the heat and the pressure needed for the weld.
The metal pieces are clamped tightly in a butt or lap joint configuration, and the mechanical rotating tool is programmed to run along the joint. The spinning tool inserted between the tightly clamped metal creates enough friction heat for the atoms of the two metals to move around. The plasticized metal moves around the probe and then fills the cavity behind the tool before coalescing into a single piece of metal.
What are the advantages of friction stir welding’s solid state joining for aerospace, shipbuilding, rail, aerospace, automotive industries?
There are various advantages to using FSW for metal joining:
Flexibility: FSW allows efficient welding for difficult projects. FSW can be used on high-strength aluminum that can be difficult to join using conventional welding. Companies such as Taber use FSW to create aluminum extrusions in a wide array of profiles and sizes ranging from micro extrusions to 65-foot long extrusions.
High strength welds: Traditional welding can introduce corruption into metals during the welding process, as it can manifest solidification cracks and porosity problems. Solid-state joining creates joints that are as strong as the metal from which they are created and are a good choice for high-strength aluminum.
High quality welds: Characteristics of FSW welded metal include low distortion, reduced weight (no filler material), and excellent bonding properties.
Green welding: Traditional welding consumes electrodes, energy, shielding gas, and produces noxious fumes. FSW with its non-consumable rotation tool eliminates waste.
Limitations of friction stir welding for metal joining:
The FSW spin tool must resist heat and corrosion as it moves the metal around it. Therefore, FSW best works with malleable materials with low welding temperatures.
Therefore, aluminum continues to be one of the most important metals used in FSW. Aerospace, shipbuilding, rail, aerospace, automotive industries all look to aluminum FSW for high-precision aluminum extrusions and aluminum welds of high strength and quality. Aluminum FSW is particularly important because high-strength aluminum can be difficult to join using traditional methods and FSW precision allows almost infinite variety in shape and size in aluminum extrusions.
More on Taber Extrusions
Founded in 1973, Taber Extrusions originally pioneered a process for extruding rectangular billets 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 cast house and two additional presses, with a fabrication area that has been expanded multiple times. Besides their recently expanded capabilities to include micro-extrusions and 7” billet molds, Taber Extrusions is proud to announce friction stir-welding technology. The addition of in-house FSW capabilities creates a vertically integrated supplier of FSW panels and assemblies never before seen in North America.