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The Advancement of Aluminum within the Welding Fabrication Industry

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We shall consider the many applications of aluminum within the welding fabrication industry, the reasons for the advancement of aluminum within these industries, and the involvement of AlcoTec Wire Corporation in assisting industry to move forward with improved aluminum welding technology.
Aluminum is the second most plentiful metallic element on earth and became an economic competitor in engineering applications as recently as the end of the 19th century. The appearance of three important industrial developments would produce a demand for a material with characteristics consistent with those of aluminum and its alloys, and this would greatly benefit the growth within the production of this new material. When the electrolytic reduction of alumina (Al2O3) dissolved in molten cryolite was independently developed by Charles Hall in Ohio and Paul Heroult in France in 1886, the first internal combustion engine-powered vehicles were appearing. One hundred years later, aluminum would play a major role as an automotive material of increasing engineering value. Electrification would develop rapidly and require immense quantities of lightweight conductive material for long distance transmission of electricity. The Wright brothers gave birth to an entirely new aircraft industry that grew in partnership with the aluminum industry.
The first commercial applications of aluminum were novelty items such as mirror frames and serving trays. Cooking utensils were also a major early marketed product. In time, aluminum grew in diversity of applications to the extent that virtually every aspect of modern life was directly or indirectly affected by its use.
Today, aluminum’s unique characteristics of light weight, high strength, high toughness, extreme temperature capability, versatility of extruding, excellent corrosion resistance and recycling capabilities make it the obvious choice of material by engineers and designers for a variety of welding fabrication applications.

Automotive Industry:
Perhaps the most dynamic advancement of aluminum welding fabrication within the USA today is the automotive industry. Promoted primarily through environmental issues such as increased fuel efficiency, corrosion resistance and recycling, we are seeing more and more components manufactured in aluminum appearing within the average automobile.The recent developments of major structural components fabricated entirely from aluminum such as engine cradles, front and rear suspension frames, drive shafts and wheels are complementing the more traditional non-structural components such as heat exchangers, radiators, and air conditioning units. Most of these welded structural components are manufactured using 6xxx series base alloys, making use of this material’s ability to produce complex extruded shapes and welded with the GMAW (MIG) welding process.

Service Temperature:
We shall consider the importance of filler alloy selection for components used at temperatures above 150°F, and the consequences of the incorrect selection of filler alloys for these service conditions.
Another issue, other than fuel efficiency associated with the use of aluminum within this industry, is safety. Aluminum’s basic physical characteristics lend themselves to creating automobiles that not only perform better in a collision, but can actually help to prevent crashes altogether. Aluminum’s strength-to-weight ratio allows engineers to construct larger vehicle crash zones for better energy absorption. Aluminum structures can be designed to absorb the same energy as steel at only 55% of the weight. This weight saving relates to less kinetic energy to be absorbed in a collision. Aluminum intensive vehicles provide better handling and braking capability, improving their crash-avoidance ability. A vehicle made of conventional material weighing 3,300 lbs. traveling at 60 mph requires 213 feet to stop. Given the same drive train, an equally sized aluminum-intensive vehicle would weigh 2,000 lbs. and could stop in 135 feet. Similar improvements are seen in acceleration abilities, when a little extra speed could make the difference in avoiding a collision. Welding procedures used within this industry will vary, but typically, wherever possible, will make use of robotics. The thin wall heat exchanger fabrication is making use of the 4047 filler alloy, which contains 11.0 to 13.0% silicon and provides exceptional fluidity that helps to reduce leakage rates and improve productivity. The thicker material structural applications within this industry are often able to make use of filler alloy 5356 for its improved strength and impact properties.

The fast ferries projects have advanced the use of aluminum in shipbuilding through the development of a new concept in marine transportation. With an eye on profits, shipping companies are looking at high-speed aluminum ferries as a means of fast, efficient, low-maintenance transport. The term “fast ferries” applies to hydrofoils, wave-piercing catamarans and both mono-hulled and multi-hulled vessels built to carry large payloads of passengers and cargo at high speeds. Typically, these vessels are around 100-130 feet in length and travel at 30-35 knots (35-40 mph). Aluminum-intensive mega-ferries are massive vessels measuring approximately 260 feet in length and carry up to 700 passengers and 150 cars. Quadrimarans are among the newest marine transportation innovations. Measuring 180 feet in length, newer versions are designed to carry 600 passengers.

These fast ferries will regularly travel at 60 knots (69 mph) but they could achieve speeds of up to 110 knots (126.5 mph).
The shipbuilding industry has made use of the high-strength magnesium base alloys such as 5083 welded with 5183 filler alloy in order to obtain the minimum tensile strength requirements as specified in the codes. Often argon/helium shielding gas mixes are used to reduce porosity and obtain broader and deeper penetration for these high quality welds. Aluminum’s unique combination of lightweight, high-strength and corrosion- resistance characteristics make these high-speed developing marine applications possible.

Recreation and Sporting Equipment:
The advancement of high-tech sporting equipment and the increased use of high-strength heat-treatable aluminum alloys such as the 7xxx series have revolutionized this industry. Many of the latest designs have incorporated these lightweight, high-performance aluminum materials. Bicycle frames, baseball bats, golf clubs, sleds, and snowmobiles are some of the many products within this industry dependent on aluminum alloys today. This industry, with its thin wall joining and its complex heat treatment, has promoted the development and use of specialized filler alloys designed to respond to thermal treatment and the development of welding techniques and equipment produced to meet their strength and cosmetic application.

Transportation and Containers:
For similar reasons as the automotive industry, transportation vehicles are adopting more aluminum. Heated rail cars with line heaters and steam lines make use of aluminum base alloy 5454, welded with filler alloy 5554 for their strength and high temperature characteristics. Cryogenic tanks are manufactured from base alloy 5083, welded with filler alloy 5183 for their high strength at low temperature characteristics. Truck bodies and panels are manufactured from 5052, 5086, 5083 and 6061 and often welded with filler alloy 5356 for its strength characteristics.

Defense and Aerospace:
These industries use high strength 5xxx series (Al-Mg) non-heat treatable base alloys for some applications, but also make use of some of the more specialized heat treatable aluminum alloys with superior mechanical properties.

Aluminum armor plating is used for its impact strength and strength-to-weight ratio. Alloy 5083 and 7039 base materials are welded with 5356 filler, and 2519 base is welded with 2319 filler material. Missiles are constructed of 2019, welded with 4145 and 2219 welded with 2319 filler. Perhaps the most exotic aluminum alloys, with exceptional strength over a wide range of operating temperatures, are used in the aerospace industry. Some of these alloys are 2219, 2014, 2090, 2024, and 7075. These base materials are typically used in specialized high performance applications and have their own welding characteristics and associated problems that require special considerations when joining.

AlcoTec Wire Corporation’s Involvement With The Advancement 0f Aluminum Welding Technology:
AlcoTec has continually worked with industry to provide them with product and services to meet their specific needs. AlcoTec has developed aluminum weld wire manufacturing methods that produce product that exceeds the standard manufacturing specifications. Some of these product characteristics are incorporated into the standard product, such as a diameter control of one-tenth the national standard requirement. Others are applied to customized product for specialized applications, such as proprietary chemistries to assist with desired weld characteristics. These advancements have been developed through working closely with industry in order to provide product, which will meet our customer’s requirements. AlcoTec has provided technical training to industry through its School for Aluminum Welding Technology. Hundreds of students, consisting of welding engineers, welding inspectors, welding supervisors, and welding operators have attended specialized training in order to upgrade their personal skills and assist their organization in advancement within the aluminum welding fabrication industry.
AlcoTec has applied their aluminum engineering experiences to many new projects throughout the aluminum welding fabrication industry by providing assistance with the development of welding procedures, welding and testing of new materials, evaluation of welding equipment for aluminum, investigation of welding problems, and failure analyses of welded components.
AlcoTec has worked for many years developing technical literature, welding guidelines and training material, and has had continued involvement, through our membership of society technical committees, in the development of national codes and standards relating to the manufacture of aluminum welding wire, and for the design and fabrication of welded aluminum structures.
AlcoTec has developed a unique reputation for providing a premium quality product complemented by the highest level of technical support. This combination has been designed to ensure that our customers receive the ultimate value-added package that provides them with the capability of producing the highest quality welded components at the lowest overall costs.
The use of aluminum continues to grow within the welding fabrication industry in both size and complexity, and with it the need for aluminum filler alloys which will meet these needs, the advancement of welding equipment specifically designed for welding aluminum, and the requirement for resources which can provide industry with technical support.