Gas Metal Arc Welding (TIG Welding) (Part Two)

in Aircraft Welding

TIG Welding Aluminum

TIG welding of aluminum uses similar techniques and filler materials as oxy-fuel welding. Consult with the particular welding machine manufacturer for recommendations on tungsten type and size, as well as basic machine settings for a particular weldment because this varies with specific machine types. Typically, the machine is set to an AC output waveform because it causes a cleaning action that breaks up surface oxides. Argon or helium shielding gas may be used, but argon is preferred because it uses less by volume than helium. Argon is a heavier gas than helium, providing better cover, and it provides a better cleaning action when welding aluminum.

Filler metal selection is the same as used with the oxy-fuel process; however, the use of a flux is not needed as the shielding gas prevents the formation of aluminum oxide on the surface of the weld pool, and the AC waveform breaks up any oxides already on the material. Cleaning of the base metal and filler follows the same guidelines as for oxy-fuel welding. When welding tanks of any kind, it is a good practice to back-purge the inside of the tank with a shielding gas. This promotes a sound weld with a smooth inner bead profile that can help lessen pinhole leaks and future fatigue failures.

Welding is done with similar torch and filler metal angles as in oxy-fuel welding. The tip on the tungsten is held a short distance (1⁄16 –1⁄8-inch) from the surface of the material, taking care not to ever let the molten pool contact the tungsten and contaminate it. Contamination of the tungsten must be dealt with by removal of the aluminum from the tungsten and regrinding the tip to the factory recommended profile.

TIG Welding Magnesium

Magnesium alloys can be welded successfully using the same type joints and preparation that are used for steel or aluminum. However, because of its high thermal conductivity and coefficient of thermal expansion, which combine to cause severe stresses, distortion, and cracking, extra precautions must be taken. Parts must be clamped in a fixture or jig. Smaller welding beads, faster welding speed, and the use of a lower melting point and lower shrinkage filler rods are recommended.

DC, both straight or reverse polarity, and AC, with superimposed high frequency for arc stabilization, are commonly used for welding magnesium. DC reverse polarity provides better cleaning action of the metal and is preferred for manual welding operations.

AC power sources should be equipped with a primary contactor operated by a control switch on the torch or a foot control for starting or stopping the arc. Otherwise, the arcing that occurs while the electrode approaches or draws away from the work piece may result in burned spots on the work.

Argon is the most common used shielding gas for manual welding operations. Helium is the preferred gas for automated welding because it produces a more stable arc than argon and permits the use of slightly longer arc lengths. Zirconiated, thoriated, and pure tungsten electrodes are used for TIG welding magnesium alloys.

The welding technique for magnesium is similar to that used for other non-ferrous metals. The arc should be maintained at about 5⁄16-inch. Tack welds should be used to maintain fit and prevent distortion. To prevent weld cracking, weld from the middle of a joint towards the end, and use starting and run off plates to start and end the weld. Minimize the number of stops during welding. After a stop, the weld should be restarted about ½-inch from the end of the previous weld. When possible, make the weld in one uninterrupted pass.

TIG Welding Titanium

The techniques for welding titanium are similar to those required for nickel-based alloys and stainless steels. To produce a satisfactory weld, emphasis is placed on the surface cleanliness and the use of inert gas to shield the weld area. A clean environment is one of the requirements to weld titanium.

TIG welding of titanium is performed using DC straight polarity. A water-cooled torch, equipped with a ¾-inch ceramic cup and a gas lens, is recommended. The gas lens provides a uniform, nonturbulent inert gas flow. Thoriated tungsten electrodes are recommended for TIG welding of titanium. The smallest diameter electrode that can carry the required current should be used. A remote contactor controlled by the operator should be employed to allow the arc to be broken without removing the torch from the cooling weld metal, allowing the shielding gas to cover the weld until the temperature drops.

Most titanium welding is performed in an open fabrication shop. Chamber welding is still in use on a limited basis, but field welding is common. A separate area should be set aside and isolated from any dirt producing operations, such as grinding or painting. Additionally, the welding area should be free of air drafts and the humidity should be controlled.

Molten titanium weld metal must be totally shielded from contamination by air. Molten titanium reacts readily with oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen; exposure to these elements in air or in surface contaminants during welding can adversely affect titanium weld properties and cause weld embrittlement. Argon is preferred for manual welding because of better arc stability characteristics. Helium is used in automated welding and when heavier base metals or deeper penetration is required.

Care must be taken to ensure that the heat affected zones and the root side of the titanium welds are shielded until the weld metal temperature drops below 800 °F. This can be accomplished using shielding gas in three separate gas streams during welding.

  1. The first shielding of the molten puddle and adjacent surfaces is provided by the flow of gas through the torch. Manufacturer recommendations should be followed for electrodes, tip grinding, cup size, and gas flow rates.
  2. The secondary, or trailing, shield of gas protects the solidified weld metal and the heat affected zone until the temperature drops. Trailing shields are custom-made to fit a specific torch and a particular welding operation.
  3. The third, or backup, flow is provided by a shielding device that can take many forms. On straight seam welds, it may be a grooved copper backing bar clamped behind the seam allowing the gas flow in the groove and serving as a heat sink. Irregular areas may be enclosed with aluminum tents taped to the backside of welds and purged with the inert gas.

Titanium weld joints are similar to those employed with other metals. Before welding, the weld joint surfaces must be cleaned and remain free of any contamination during the welding operation. Detergent cleaners and nonchlorinated cleaners, such as denatured isopropyl alcohol, may be used. The same requirements apply to the filler rod, it too must be cleaned and free of all contaminates. Welding gloves, especially the one holding the filler, must be contaminate free.

A good indication and measure of weld quality for titanium is the weld color. A bright silver weld indicates that the shielding is satisfactory and the heat affected zone and backup was properly purged until weld temperatures dropped. Straw-colored films indicate slight contamination, unlikely to affect mechanical properties; dark blue films or white powdery oxide on the weld would indicate a seriously deficient purge. A weld in that condition must be completely removed and rewelded.