What Is Welding Technology?

Welding technology encompasses the broad range of techniques and methodologies employed to accomplish a successful weld--the joining of two or more formerly separate pieces of material into a single unit. Some welds, such as cosmetic welds, have relatively limited quality requirements. Other welds must be executed with exacting precision, and may be used to support thousands of pounds of weight or pressure, or to protect life safety or sensitive equipment.

  1. Welding Commonalities

    • All welding aims to join two or more pieces of material into a conjoined unit. Usually the two objects are of identical chemical composition (e.g. two plates of steel), but welding can also be used to join distinct materials. In welding, no outside material is used to create the bond between the two objects (as is done in soldering and brazing). Instead heat, sometimes accompanied by extreme pressure or friction, causes melting at the desired junction point. The melted material then cools and forms the bond.

    Arc Welding

    • In arc welding, an arc of electricity between a cathode (electron emitter) and an anode, or the objects to be welded, produces the heat necessary to join the materials. This technology was first developed during the late 19th century, but its evolution continues to the present day. Arc welders often use specialized welding power supplies that employ sophisticated solid-state power electronics.

    Gas-shielded Arc Welding

    • Gas-shielded welding methods (such as gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) or shielded metal arc welding (SMAW)) employ an inert shielding gas such as argon or helium to surround the active welding point. Usually a "filler metal" is placed near or between the two objects being welded. During welding the high-temperature electric arc heats this filler, which then releases the protective gas. The shielding gas prevents oxidative damage to the metals, and can promote a stronger weld of higher quality.

    Gas Flame Welding

    • Gas welding uses a very high-temperature flame from a welding torch to generate the heat necessary to weld two objects together. The most common form of gas welding employs oxygen and acetylene gas, and produces a flame temperature near 6,000 °F. Hydrogen gas mixtures can produce flames between about 3,500 and 5,400 °F. There are other customized welding gases that include more common fuels such as propane and butane.

    Laser and Particle-beam Welding

    • Laser welding delivers heat to the weld point via a visible or invisible laser beam. This allows extremely focused welds that can be highly customized by changing the laser wavelength or power output. Electron beam welding (EBW) generates welding heat through a focused stream of high-energy electrons. EBW is usually employed in a vacuum chamber, and used when it is especially important to prevent the welding materials from being exposed to impurities or atmospheric gases at high temperature.

    Friction, Explosive and Magnetic Welding

    • Friction welding generates a weld by basic friction, sometimes involving high-speed rotation. This type of welding generally doesn't generate sufficient heat to cause full melting at the weld point. Instead the combination of elevated temperature and extreme pressure joins the materials together. Explosive welding utilizes actual high explosives to drive pieces of metal together with so much energy that they weld. Magnetic pulse welding (MPW) achieves a similar effect with extreme magnetic fields.

    Underwater Welding

    • Believe it or not, there are specialized welding techniques used underwater by divers. These methods may be used for ship, pipeline or structure repair (such as for a bridge) or for special materials. Electric-arc welding is the most common underwater welding method, though hydrogen/oxygen gas flames can also be used. Some underwater welding tasks can only be conducted by a robot.

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