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Staying on the Cutting Edge of Welding

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In a recent interview with IMPO Magazine, Ray Shook, Executive Director of the American Welding Society, described a number of technological innovations in welding that have been the most revolutionary in the past several years and the future technology that will be utilized in the welding industry. Since the AWS is responsible for the certification and future planning of the welding industry, the insights of Shook are critically important for welders who want to be prepared for opportunities that may arise.

The long-term employment prospects of welders hinges on whether they can move from one industry to another. Shook mentioned the revolutionary growth and changes in the following aspects of welding in the interview:

  • Friction Stir Welding
  • Laser Beam Welding
  • Explosion Welding
  • Thermal Spraying
  • Plasma Arc Cutting
  • Innovations in ceramics and composites
  • Innovations in transportation welding

We’ll look at the revolutionary welding applications that are growing in popularity and those that are currently being developed for future use so that you know what they are and can begin to consider how they may impact your career. As you plan for the future, consider getting certified in one of these areas.

Revolutionary Welding Applications

Friction Stir Welding

This process joins metals together without melting them or adding filler. A probe creates frictional heat on the two metals that are joined together. These welds are clean, precise, and solid.

Friction stir is regularly used on aluminum alloys. Industries utilizing friction stir welding include shipbuilding, aerospace, automotive, railway rolling stock, and fabrication.

Laser Beam Welding

Laser beam welding uses a laser beam as a concentrated heat source  that offers particularly fast welding rates since the laser is able to provide deep and narrow welds. According to Shook, laser beam welding has found wider applications as the lasers have become more powerful and are now able to join together thick steel plates with only one pass. 

This process is widely used in the automobile and aircraft industries.

Explosion Welding

While explosion welding can join almost all kinds of metals together, especially when they cannot be joined together by conventional means. This method is particularly useful when joining a thin metal to a thick metal along a large surface area by using a high-volume impact from a carefully controlled detonation.

By stacking the two metals on top of each other, covering them with high-powered explosives, and then detonating the explosives, these metals are joined without being melted. The final weld is both strong and extremely neat.

Thermal Spraying

Thermal spraying is a metal coating technique where any one of a variety of materials in the form of a powder, liquid, powder in fluid, or wire, are placed in a plasma jet and are released through a plasma torch. By heating these materials around 10,000 K, they are melted and then can be dispensed onto materials that include but are not limited to metals.

Thermal spraying is primarily used to create protective coatings, especially on structural materials where it is important to prevent corrosion or erosion. In addition, thermal barriers can provide protection from high temperatures or simply change the appearance or shape of a surface, especially those that have been damaged.

Plasma Arc Cutting

Another revolution in the welding field is plasma cutting where cuts are made by an extremely hot, high-velocity plasma jet. Plasma uses an inert gas or compressed air that is projected out of a nozzle at high speed while an electrical arc is created through the gas from the nozzle as it travels to the surface that is being cut where some of the gas is turned into plasma.

Plasma cutting offers the advantage of not requiring a pause for reheating, while also making a smaller cut that saves on materials and provides a neat and clean final product.

In addition, the precision of plasma cutting prevents warping and damage to the finish or paint on the material since the heat is concentrated into a small area where the cut is made. Overall, plasma cutting is an efficient and effective way to cut many different kinds of metals.

Future Welding Applications Under Development

As to the future of welding, Shook notes that the future will see a good deal of innovation in the processes for joining ceramics and several kinds of composite materials such as carbon fibers. In addition, he notes that the transportation field will especially require lighter and stronger materials that are joined together in new ways.

Shook’s insight into the industry should remind us that there are innovations and changes happening every day. The welder who wants to be employed for the long term must keep his sights on developments in the future of welding and which companies are making investments in these areas.

Ed C.


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