For release: 01/23/02
Release #: 02-009
NASA Marshall’s friction stir welding technology successfully commercialized by two companies
Two companies have successfully commercialized a specialized welding tool developed at the Marshall Center for the friction stir welding process. It marks another success for Marshall's Technology Transfer program, which seeks to stimulate broad use of NASA-developed technologies by American private enterprise.
Photo: Marshall-designed retractable pin tools (NASA/ MSFC)
Two companies have successfully commercialized a specialized welding tool developed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Commercialization of auto-adjustable pin tool technology — used in the friction stir welding process — marks another success for NASA’s technology transfer program. The program seeks to stimulate broad use of NASA-developed technologies by American private enterprise.
Friction stir welding uses the high rotational speed of a tool and the resulting frictional heat created from contact to crush, “stir” together, and forge a bond between two metal alloys. The technique is more reliable and maintains higher material properties than conventional welding methods. However, friction stir welding has had a major drawback — reliance on a single-piece pin tool. The pin is slowly plunged into the joint between two materials to be welded and rotated at high speed. At the end of the weld, the single-piece pin tool is retracted and leaves a “keyhole,” something which is unacceptable when welding cylindrical objects such as drums, pipes and storage tanks. Another drawback is the requirement for different-length pin tools when welding materials of varying thickness.
To overcome these drawbacks, a Marshall Center welding engineer helped design an automatic retractable pin tool that uses a computer-controlled motor to automatically retract the pin into the shoulder of the tool at the end of the weld — preventing keyholes. This design allows the pin angle and length to be adjusted for changes in material thickness and results in a smooth hole closure at the end of the weld. MTS Systems Corp., a leading supplier of mechanical testing and simulation equipment based in Eden Prairie, Minn., recently introduced an advanced friction stir welding process system employing Marshall’s retractable pin tool technology. Use of the tool by MTS has resulted in applications that are cost-competitive, efficient and versatile for automotive, shipbuilding and other industries. This Marshall technology also has helped the company gain market share in the growing friction
stir welding niche and develop additional business relationships.
Another company, MCE Technologies, Inc., (MCETEC) of Seattle, has developed a cutting-edge line of production stir welding equipment that uses Marshall’s retractable pin tool technology to provide flawless welds in high performance aluminum alloys, including those previously thought unweldable. The company’s use of the retractable pin tool has contributed to production advantages including minimal material distortion, lack of contamination and greater joint strength for friction stir welding applications in aerospace and other industries. Additionally, working with the Marshall Center has helped MCETEC remain a stable employer by improving its product offering to the friction stir welding market.
Applications for friction stir welding include aircraft, aerospace, marine shipbuilding and decks for car ferries, trucking, railroading and assembling large tank structures such as fuel tanks and radioactive waste containers.
Benefits of friction stir welding, using the Marshall Center’s retractable pin tool technology, include:
- Diverse materials: Welds a wide range of alloys, including previously unweldable and composite materials.
- Durable joints: Provides twice the fatigue resistance of fusion welds and no keyholes.
- Retention of material properties: Minimizes material distortion.
- Safe operation: Does not create hazards such as welding fumes, radiation, high voltage, liquid metals or arcing.
- No keyholes: Pin is retracted automatically at end of weld.
- Tapered-thickness weld joints: Pin maintains full penetration.
For more information on NASA and the Marshall Center’s technology transfer program, visit the Website:
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