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Ghost-in-the-Machine.GMAW!

Back in the late 1970s, one of the most exciting technologies that you could own was a digital watch. No more slow rotating hands from an old analog watch. You simply read the numbers from a bright red LED or LCD display. The first digital electronic watch was inspired by the digital timepiece by the then-futuristic digital clock made for the 1968 science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Today we are more used to digital technology, everything is smaller, faster and more user friendly, from cell phones, televisions, cameras and even books. Welding especially has benefited from digital technology. Welding power sources are now more user-friendly, more efficient, and smaller with faster response times, all culminating in improved weld quality and integrity. In a previous issue Bruce James wrote an excellent article; Why Welders Fail GMAW Tests. This article will look at the modern history of GMAW and how digital technology has been a positive influence on the evolution of the process and thereby reducing these defects. Lets begin by establishing industrys major concerns associated with short circuit GMAW; When used in the short circuit mode penetration and fusion can be adversely affected by the following:

The relationship between wire feed speed and its link to amperage. A reduction in wire feed speed also reduces amperage which in turn reduces penetration/fusion. Too large an increase in voltage tends to increase the plasma column and shape of the arc and can reduce fusion and penetration. Increased electrical stickout of the wire from the contact tube reduces amperage. 4

These problems arise, in part due to the relative sensitivity of parameters inherent within the process when using short circuit transfer. As previously mentioned, slight deviations with regards to wire feed speed, voltage or electrical stickout can drastically reduce the integrity

of the weldment. These factors are within full control of the operator, in the hands of an experienced welder the process can and does compete with other major welding processes, one such example being that it can produce x-ray quality root pass welds on pipe fabrications and pressure vessels. Additionally short circuit was fine for sheet metal and thinner materials. However on thicker sections it was more difficult to assure adequate penetration and fusion.

In direct response to these issues was the development of Pulsed Arc Welding which provided reassurance the welds would be free from these associated defects. Needham from The British Research Association filed a patent, number 3,249,735 assigned to them on July 1963 which defined the process. The basic principle is the arc shall work cyclically on at least two cyclically reoccurring levels In October 1968, Anderson filed patent 3,588,465 assigned to Airco that defined a line voltage compensated Pulsed Arc power supply. In January 1969, Daggett filed a patent also assigned to Airco for a Pulsed Arc power supply with a background level to help stabilize the process. In essence this meant that two currents were applied, a lower background current and also a higher pulsed current which would detach droplets of weld metal on each pulse. These early Pulsed Arc systems provided excellent results on heavy plate as well as on materials such as aluminum and bronze. In effect they provided the all position capabilities of short circuit with the high deposition and fusion of spray arc transfer. Unfortunately these advantages were somewhat negated by the fact that due to the large number of parameters which all had to be set correctly relative to each other, the machines were almost impossible to set and setting the background and peak current (To name but two parameters) was more hit or miss than science. The authors first encounter with these machines came in 1975 and was accompanied by a stern warning from one of the welders indicating that this hit-miss 4

approach had resulted in a lucky hit and that if I dared adjust the machine, unmentionable things would happen to my limbs. Being somewhat attached to them (Excuse the pun!) I decided that retreat was the more logical and safe choice. In the late 1970s early 80s one of the saving graces of Pulsed GMAW was the advent of the microprocessor. These tiny chips helped us tell the time, calculate simple and advanced calculations, pump gas, watch videos, play Space Invaders and control welding power sources. We were now able to control many more features and functions and also eliminate costs due to the elimination of hardware such as circuits, wiring and additional boxes. This was the beginning of the new world of welding technology and the inverter had arrived! Inverters offered low weight and compact dimensions and facilitated multi-process capabilities from one power source. Additionally they also provided far greater electrical efficiency (Up to 90%). At this time microprocessor technology was still in its infancy and initially Pulsed Transfer did not live up to its expectations in part due to the mismatch between the analog and digital components. The final development to date was still to come in the form of 100% digitization! To make a comparison, this was analogous to the development of the CD (Digital) relative to the old vinyl record (Analogue). Up until this point computer controlled power sources had to an extent been used but the heart of the machine had always been of analogue design. This meant that the rapid responses required to process the data required a huge computing capacity which was just not entirely possible. It was not until recent years that the use of digital signal processors (DSPs) has allowed full digitization of the welding power source to take place.the Ghost in the Machine had finally arrived! This meant the arc characteristics were now represented by software and not by inflexible, difficult to alter hardware, this resulted in higher performance and also improved weld integrity. What this meant to the welder was that the welding parameters could all be adjusted by what amounted to a one-knob control. All that was required was the operator enter the material type, diameter wire, process (MIG/MAG), gas shield

and then by adjusting the wire feed speed and voltage trim, the DSP would adjust all the additional parameters relative to the operators demands. The process had now become synergic (Synergy coming from the Greek word for Cooperating). Manufacturers have embraced this technology and have in recent years pushed the boundaries of what is possible in welding. Among these are;

Lincoln Electrics Waveform Control Technology and Surface Tension Transfer (STT) which uses the current control to adjust the heat independent of the wire feed speed. The arc is virtually spatter free and due to this control over droplet deposition practically eliminates lack of fusion defects.

Millers Regulated Metal Deposition (RMD). The RMD TM technology provides a modified short circuit transfer in which the power source anticipates and controls the short circuit, then reduces the weld current and creates a controlled metal transfer. Additionally it also maintains a consistent arc length regardless of stick-out. If required, the same power source can then be used to switch to Pulsed Transfer for the fill-and-cap passes.

Fronius of Austria has developed Cold Metal Transfer (CMT) an innovative new development in which the wire motion is directly incorporated into the digital process control. The digital control senses a short circuit and then retracts the wire thereby detaching the droplet. Although the term cold is a relative one, the thermal input does indeed go hot-cold-hot-cold. This produces spatter free MIG/MAG welds of ultra light gauge sheets from 0.3mm (0.012), and also joining of steel to aluminum.

The 21st century generation of welding machines now does the thinking for the operator removing much of the guesswork of previous generations, thus providing a synchronous and symbiotic bond between machine and welder/operator. Indeed todays modern welding power source would not look out of place in a remake of 2001: A Space Odyssey. John B. Fisher is Chair of CWA, New Brunswick Chapter and an Instructor at New Brunswick Community College, Moncton.