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Materials and Design 32 (2011) 48254831

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Materials and Design


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Improvement of weld temperature distribution and mechanical properties of 7050 aluminum alloy butt joints by submerged friction stir welding
Rui-dong Fu a,b,, Zeng-qiang Sun a, Rui-cheng Sun a, Ying Li a, Hui-jie Liu c, Lei Liu a
a

State Key Laboratory of Metastable Materials Science and Technology, Qinhuangdao 066004, Hebei Province, PR China College of Materials Science and Engineering, Yanshan University, Qinhuangdao 066004, Hebei Province, PR China c State Key Laboratory of Advanced Welding Production Technology, Harbin 150001, Heihongjiang Province, PR China
b

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
Submerged friction stir welding (FSW) in cold and hot water, as well as in air, was carried out for 7050 aluminum alloys. The weld thermal cycles and transverse distributions of the microhardness of the weld joints were measured, and their tensile properties were tested. The fracture surfaces of the tensile specimens were observed, and the microstructures at the fracture region were investigated. The results show that the peak temperature during welding in air was up to 380 C, while the peak temperatures during welding in cold and hot water were about 220 and 300 C, respectively. The temperature at the retreated side of the joint was higher than that at the advanced side for all weld joints. The distributions of microhardness exhibited a typical W shape. The width of the low hardness zone varied with the weld ambient conditions. The minimum hardness zone was located at the heat affected zone (HAZ) of the weld joints. Better tensile properties were achieved for joint welded in hot water, and the strength ratio of the weld joint to the base metal was up to 92%. The tensile fracture position was located at the low hardness zone of the weld joints. The fracture surfaces exhibited a mixture of dimples and quasi-cleavage planes for the joints welded in cold and hot water, and only dimples for the joint welded in air. 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 29 March 2011 Accepted 13 June 2011 Available online 21 June 2011 Keywords: A. Non-ferrous metals and alloys D. Welding E. Mechanical

1. Introduction FSW was invented by The Welding Institute in 1991, and has been successfully applied in welding of aluminum alloys, particularly 2XXX or 7XXX series aluminum alloys, which are difcult to weld using traditional melting welding methods [13]. However, degradation of the mechanical properties of weld joints of heat treatable strengthening aluminum alloys in the HAZ due to the effects of the welding thermal cycle remains a key issue. Many technical methods have been developed to limit the degradation of joint performance in the HAZ. Submerged welding is considered an effective method of welding, and is employed in various welding processes. In simple terms, the principle of submerged welding process is that the welds are placed in a liquid medium, and weld processing takes place under a specic ambient temperature. This process is suitable for alloys that are sensitive to overheating during the welding process. Tokisue et al. were the rst to use submersion in a rotary friction weld for 6061 aluminum alloys [4]. The results of their study showed that it was possible to
Corresponding author at: State Key Laboratory of Metastable Materials Science and Technology, Qinhuangdao 066004, Hebei Province, PR China. E-mail address: rdfu@ysu.edu.cn (R.D. Fu).
0261-3069/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.matdes.2011.06.021

generate enough friction for welding even though the samples were submerged. In recent years, some remarkable results were obtained through the use of submerged FSW. Thomas adopted submerged FSW to improve the strength of the FSW joint of 6061 aluminum alloy [5]. Upadhyay and Reynolds investigated thermal boundary conditions and their effects on the mechanical properties of AA7050-T7 FSW joints welded in sub ambient water and a 25 C liquid medium. The ultimate tensile strength throughout the range of parameters tested showed improvements [6]. Nelson et al. demonstrated that 7075-T7351 aluminum alloys could be considered quench sensitive, where the cooling rate from thermal exposure has an important inuence on the mechanical properties of the friction stir welds, specically in the case of natural aging. The addition of cooled water mist behind the FSW tool or a water-cooled anvil resulted in 10% and 8% increase in strength, respectively [7]. Liu et al. found that submerged FSW improved the tensile strength of FSW joints of 2219 aluminum alloy [8]. However, the range of temperature used in the above research was limited below room temperature. There are few reports on FSW under the welding ambient temperature, which is above room temperature. In the present study, the submerged FSW in cold and hot water for 7050 aluminum alloys is conducted. For comparison, normal FSW in air is also performed. Variations in the weld temperature

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elds and mechanical properties of the weld joints with weld ambient conditions are investigated and discussed. 2. Experiment procedures As-received hot rolled and then naturally aged plates of 7050 high strength aluminum alloy with a gauge thickness of 5.5 mm were selected as experimental materials. The chemical composition of this alloy is 6.00% Zn, 2.2% Mg, 2.24% Cu, and 0.05% Ni, with the balance made up of Al. The ultimate tensile strength of the plates was 396 MPa. Friction stir welds were produced under cold (about 8 C) and hot (about 90 C) water. For comparison, friction stir welds exposed to air were also produced. A H13 tool steel FSW tool consisting of a 12 mm diameter shoulder and a 6.2 mm diameter pin was employed in submerged FSW. The weld travel speed was 100 mm/min and the rotational speed of the FSW tool was 800 rpm. The welding direction was parallel to the plate rolling direction, and the tool rotation axis was normal to the plane of the plate. During the welding process, an eight-channel thermodetector was used for the measurement of the transverse distribution of the weld temperature. The positions and the marks of the thermocouple are illustrated in Fig. 1. The samples for metallographic observation were ground, polished, and etched using Kellers reagent. DSC test samples were cut from the welded zone and the HAZ of the weld joints using a wire electric discharge machine. The sample dimension was 5.5 mm in diameter and 2.5 mm in thickness. Thermal analysis was conducted using a NETZSCH differential scanning calorimeter (DSC). Samples were heated in an inert atmosphere (Ar2) at a constant heating rate of 20 K/min from room temperature to 500 C. The Vickers microhardness distribution was measured under a load of 1.96 N for a dwell time of 10 s along the centerlines of the cross-section with an interval of 0.5 mm. Foil specimens were prepared by the twin-projecting method under low temperature and observed on a JEOL-2010 transmission electron microscope (TEM) at 200 keV. Tensile samples were cut along the transverse direction of the weld joints. The tensile tests were conducted at room temperature and a cross-head speed of 3 mm/min. The fracture surfaces were observed after the tensile tests using a HITACHI S-4800 scanning electron microscope (SEM). 3. Results 3.1. Distribution of the temperature and microhardness The transverse distribution of the temperature and microhardness under different weld ambient conditions are shown in

Fig. 2a and b, respectively. In Fig. 2a, the weld temperature distribution under different weld ambient conditions exhibits the same variation with the distance away from the central line of the weld seam. Furthermore, the temperature at the retreated side is higher than that at the advanced side under three weld ambient conditions. The differences in the three weld temperature distribution curves are the peak temperature and the width of the critical temperature above which the dissolution or precipitation of some secondary phase particles in the alloys occurs. It is evident that the peak temperature for the joint welded in air is up to 380 C, the highest amongst the three cases. This indicates that the weld heat input in this case is higher than that in cold and hot water. Meanwhile, due to the diffusion of weld heat mainly relying on the base metal, its HAZ is the widest, while the peak temperatures at the same position are only about 220 and 300 C, respectively, for joints welded in cold and hot water. This also results in the reduction of the HAZ width. The microhardness distribution of the three weld joints are shown in Fig. 2b. It is known that the hardness variation of a weld joint is related to the microstructure variation, which is a result of the weld heat affecting. For heat treatable strengthening aluminum alloy, grain growth, dissolution or coarsening of the secondary phase particles often occur in the HAZ. These variations in the microstructure, which strongly rely on the weld temperature distribution, result in the decrease of the hardness of the weld joints. Therefore, the widths of the low hardness zone of the weld joint increase with rising heat input and falling cooling rate. For example, when welded in air, the width of the region above the temperature of 200 C was estimated to be about 40 mm (Fig. 2a), corresponding to the width of the low microhardness zone in Fig. 2b. Similarly, it is easy to understand the microhardness distribution of the joints welded in cold and hot water. The minimum hardness values for the weld joints welded in air, cold water, and hot water are 105, 114, and 115 HV, respectively. 3.2. Metallographic observations The macrocross-sectional morphologies of weld joints under different welding ambient conditions are shown in Fig. 3. Due to the difference in the weld conditions, the macrofeatures of the three joints exhibit different characters. For the joint welded in air, the welded zone can be divided into two zones, i.e., a shoulder active zone (upper section in the crosssection) and a stir pin active zone (bottom section in the cross-section), where the onion feature is clearly seen (Fig. 3a). Fig. 2b shows the macrocross-sectional features of the joint welded in cold water. Due to the stronger cooling rate during welding, the boundary line between the HAZ and parent metal is easily seen (the black arrow in Fig. 3b). Moreover, the separated zone feature as that in Fig. 2a has disappeared. The normal feature of a V shape is very distinct. The macrofeature of the joint welded in hot water (Fig. 3c) is similar to that in cold water. The difference is that the boundary line of the HAZ cannot be seen in the gure due to the weaker cooling rate in hot water. In addition, a feature called the S line (white arrow shown in Fig. 3b and c) is clearly observed in the weld zone of the joints welded in cold and hot water. Some researchers consider this S a weld defect because it is a weaker interface and the tensile fracture occurs at this position. 3.3. Tensile properties

180mm
Welding direction R4 R3 R2 R1 A1 A2 A3 A4 Advancing side

Retreating side

160mm

12mm

Fig. 1. Illustration of friction stir welds and the positions of the thermocouples.

The tensile test results of the weld joints welded under different ambient temperatures are shown in Fig. 4. From Fig. 4a, it can be seen that the joint welded in hot water has the best tensile property, i.e., it has higher strength and better elongation. The weld

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400 360

(a)
R3 R4

R1 R2 A1 A2 A3

in air in cold water in hot water

170 160

(b)
shoulder

in air in cold water in hot water

320

Temperature /

280 240 200 160 120 80


Retreating side

A4

Hardness (HV)

150 140 130 120 110

Advancing side

advanced side

retreated side

100 -30 -20 -10 0 10 20 30

-14

-9

-6

-3

14

Distance from the central line (mm)

Distance from the central line (mm)

Fig. 2. Distribution of the weld temperature eld and microhardness under different welding ambient conditions.

(a)
retreated side advanced side 1mm

(b)
retreated side advanced side 1mm

(c)
retreated side advanced side 1mm

Fig. 3. Macromorphology of weld joints under different welding ambient conditions (a) in air, (b) in cold water, and (c) in hot water.

joint efciency (dened as the ratio of the strength of the weld joint to that of the base metal) achieved 92% of the base metal. The gauge elongation is 9.2%, which is higher than the 6.5% of the base metal. In comparison, the strength of the joint welded in cold water was slightly higher than that welded in air, although the gauge elongation decreased. In comparing the variations of the tensile strength and the elongation of weld joints with the welding ambient conditions (Fig. 4b), it can be observed that controlling weld temperature distribution improves the ultimate tensile strength of the weld joint. However, overcooling does not improve its elongation. Due to the lower formation temperature of the weld zone, the hardening of the weld joint resulted in decreased elongation. Based on the present weld parameters, variation of the ambient conditions of welding in hot water is an alternative approach to improve the mechanical properties of weld joints. 3.4. Fracture surface observations The fracture positions of tensile specimens are shown in Fig. 5. For the joint welded in air (Fig. 5a), the tensile fracture position is located at the HAZ of the advanced side. The distance of the fracture region to the central line of the weld seam corresponds to

the position with the lowest hardness (Fig. 2b). However, the failures of the joints welded in cold and hot water occur at the retreated side (Fig. 5b and c). Similarly, the fracture positions are also located at the regions with the lowest hardness. The transverse tensile specimens consist of several different microstructural regions, which allow deformation to localize at the weakest region. This phenomenon is known as strain localization and has been demonstrated to occur within the HAZ (strength can be as low as 60% of the base metal strength) of friction stir welds produced from precipitation strengthened aluminum alloys [914]. Severe strain localization can reduce elongation to very low values, much lower than would be expected for aluminum alloys. Strain localization in transverse tensile tests inuences the measured strength since the specimen will always neck and fail within the weakest location (corresponding to the low hardness location). For weld joints welded in air and hot water, evident necking can be seen and occurs only at the HAZ before fracture (Fig. 5a and c), whereas for the joint welded in cold water, strain localization occurs at both the welded zone and the HAZ. In Fig. 5, the cracks propagate along the direction of an angle of 45 parallel to the plate plane. The differences in the failure features of the three joints include the distance and manner of crack propagation. For the joint welded in cold water, the fracture occurs in simple shearing mode, which implies poor elongation. For the joint welded in air and hot water, the cracks propagate in a Z shaped manner, which indicates increased resistance to crack propagation even though the fracture also occurs in shearing mode. Consequently, the elongation of the weld joint may be increased. This is proven by the results of the tensile test presented in Fig. 4b. The variations of the strength do not exhibit the same relation to the fracture feature. Further observations of the fracture surfaces of the tensile specimens are presented in Fig. 6. The macrofeatures of the three fracture surfaces show that the fracture mode is transformed from multi-shearing for the joint welded in air (Fig. 6a) to solo-shearing for the joint welded in cold water (Fig. 6c). By increasing the ambient temperature, the fracture mode is transformed back to multi-shearing (Fig. 6e). Considering the fracture positions and weld temperature eld distribution, the evolution of the fracture mode is not difcult to understand. However, the microfeatures of the central region in the fracture surfaces are different for the three weld joints. Although the fracture surfaces of the three weld joints exhibit ductile characteristics with respect to having large quantities of dimples, the size and depth of the dimples in the fracture surface of the joint welded in air (Fig. 6b) are different from

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450 400 350 300

(a)
Ultimate Tensile Strength / MPa

400 390 380 370 360 350 340 330 320 310

(b)

10.0 9.5 9.0

Stress / MPa

250 200 150 100 50 0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


Base metal in air in cold water in hot water

8.0 7.5 7.0 6.5


Strength Elongation

6.0 5.5 5.0

300

in air

Strain

in cold water

in hot water

Fig. 4. Tensile properties of weld joints welded in different welding ambient conditions.

(a)
Advanced side

(b)
Advanced side Retreated side

(c)
Advanced side Retreated side

Fig. 5. The tensile fracture position of weld joints welded in different ambient conditions (a) in air, (b) in cold water, and (c) in hot water.

those of the joints welded in water. The dimples in the fracture surface of the joint welded in water (Fig. 6d and e) look small and even. In addition, quasi-cleavage planes and secondary cracks can also been found in some positions. These indicate high ultimate tensile strength and are consistent with the results presented in Fig. 4. 4. Discussion It has been reported in the literature that temperature history plays a signicant role in determining properties within a friction stir weld [15,16]. Typically, if the peak temperature is greater than the solution heat treatment temperature for the FSW joints of aging strengthening aluminum alloys, a characteristic W shaped hardness distribution is observed. This arises due to solution heat treatment of the nugget and overaging of the heat affected zone (HAZ) [1719]. If the weld is performed at relatively low power (with a stir zone peak temperature less than approximately 300 C) the characteristic W shape in the hardness prole will not be observed. It can be proved by the present results of microhardness distribution under different weld conditions. However, the average value of microhardness in the nugget zone for the joint welded in hot water is higher than that in cold water, although the minimum value in the HAZ is lower. It indicates that reprecip-

itating process of the second phase particles in the nugget zone is accelerated by hot water, whereas, the coarsening process of the particles in the HAZ is restricted. Compared with the joint welded in air, the increments of strength for the weld joints welded in cold and hot water were 5% and 14%, respectively. This agrees to the results reported in the literature [7,20,21]. However, the increment of the elongation for the joint welded in cold water was negative, i.e., submerged FSW in cold water decreases the elongation of the weld joint, while the considerable increase in elongation was up to 9% for the joint welded in hot water. The results conrm that submerged FSW in hot water is the best way to achieve optimal mechanical properties with higher strength and elongation to reduce the integrated thermal exposure of a given location. Another nding from the tensile tests is that all failure positions of the weld joints are located in the HAZ. The variation of the volume fractions and the size of the precipitates in the HAZ play an important role in the nal mechanical properties of the weld joint. The grain growth resulting from overheat input in the HAZ is another factor that affects its mechanical property. Regardless of the weld parameters, the improvement of the tensile properties for the joint welded in hot water is related to the restriction effects of the hot water cooling on the coarsening process of the second phase particles in the HAZ. Numerous studies have been devoted to understand the relationships between properties and welding parameters for 7XXX series alloys [1519,22,23]. The extent of the modication in microstructure during FSW process will be primarily governed by the temperature history which in turn is dependent on welding parameters used and the thermal boundary conditions during the weld [6]. TEM observations of the fracture regions of the as-weld joints welded in different ambient conditions are shown in Fig. 7. This illustrates that not only has the grain size in the HAZ of the joint welded in air (Fig. 7a) grown, the population of the precipitates has also signicantly increased. Meanwhile, some of the particles in this joint became coarse compared with the other two joints welded in cold and hot water (Fig. 7b and c). In order to further investigate the features of the particles at the fracture regions of the weld joint, DSC analysis of the HAZ and the weld thermal cycles at the fracture regions was performed. Fig. 8 shows the DSC curves for the HAZ of the weld joints welded in different ambient conditions. In general, the endothermic peaks of the DSC curve indicate the occurrence of dissolution reaction; the exothermic peaks indicate the occurrence of precipitation reaction.

Elongation (%)

8.5

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(a)

(b)

1mm

20m

(c)

(d)

1mm

20m

(e)

(f)

1mm

20m

Fig. 6. The tensile fracture surfaces of weld joints welded in different ambient conditions (a and b) in air, (c and d) in cold water, and (e and f) in hot water.

(a)

(b)

(c)

Fig. 7. The second phase particles in the fracture region of the joints welded in different ambient temperatures (a) in air, (b) in cold water, and (c) in hot water.

The area under a given DSC peak is related to the precipitate volume fraction, and the peak temperature is related to the average precipitate size [24,25]. In AlZnMg series aluminum alloys, the supersaturated solidsolution decomposes in the following sequence: Supersaturated solid-solution ? GP zone ? g0 (MgZn2) ? g (MgZn2) [26,27]. The temperature of a given reaction is dependent on the alloy composition, sample quench rate, and DSC heating rate [24]. The reaction peak (labeled I) below 160 C in the DSC curve is attributed to the dissolution of unstable GP zones or g0 phases. The reaction peak (labeled II) at a temperature range of 160300 C is attributed to

the precipitation of stable g phases. The reaction peak (labeled III) above 300 C is attributed to the dissolution of the remaining phases in the alloy. From the areas under the peak I in Fig. 8, we can deduce the volume fraction of the GP zone or g0 phases in the HAZ of the aswelded joints. The larger the area under the peak, the larger the volume fraction of the precipitates in the HAZ. The area under the peak II cannot be used to deduce the factual volume fractions of the precipitates in the HAZ due to the effects of the dissolution of the GP zone or g0 phases, which increase the variation of the matrix composition before the formation of the peak II. However, the

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variations of the amplitudes of the peak II are evidently based on the peak I for the three DSC curves in Fig. 8. This implies that the increments of the g phase rely on the decrements of the GP zone or g0 phase in the DSC specimens. Furthermore, if the areas under the peaks II, and I, for a DSC curve are larger than those of the others, the volume fractions of the precipitates in the corresponding as-welded joints should be smaller, and vice versa. Thus, it can be deduced that the volume fractions of the precipitated particles observed in Fig. 7c are larger than those in Fig. 7a and b. The above evolutions of the precipitated phases can be explained by the features of weld thermal cycles in the HAZ. The weld thermal cycles at the fracture positions of the joints welded in different weld ambient conditions are shown in Fig. 9. The labels A4, R1, and R3 in Fig. 9 represent the thermal couples embedded in welds corresponding to the fracture positions. For the joint welded in air, the peak temperature of the weld thermal cycle at the A4 position is up to 275 C, exceeding the peak temperature of the precipitating g phases (refer to the peak II in Fig. 8). For joints welded in cold and hot water, the peak temperature of the weld thermal cycle at the fracture regions is about 220 C. At this temperature, the GP zone or g0 phases have dissolved and the g phases have begun to form for the joint welded in hot water. Meanwhile, for the joint welded in cold water, there only occurred the dissolution of the GP zone or g0 phases (see peak I in Fig. 8). The variations of the microstructures in the HAZ of the weld joints welded in hot and cold water are not only related to the peak temperature of the weld thermal cycles but also to the residence time above the critical temperature of the precipitates. Although the peak temperatures at the R1 and R3 positions are almost same, the residence time above the critical temperature at the R1 position is twice that at the R3 position. The difference in the weld thermal cycle results in variations in the microstructures. Based on the above discussion, the volume fraction of the unstable GP zone or g0 phases in the HAZ for the joint welded in hot water is the largest amongst the three as-welded joints. These unstable phases are the more important strengthening phases for heat treatable aluminum alloys and determine their nal mechanical properties. Thus, the tensile property of the joint welded in hot water is the best among the three weld joints. In the case of the joint welded in cold water, due to the lower weld peak temperature, the volume fraction of the unstable GP zone or g0 phases in the HAZ is small and similar to that of the base metal. The factor that affects the failure of the joint welded in cold water is not the variation of the precipitates but strain hardening, which occurs

300 280 260 240

A4 R3

in air in cold water in hot water

Temperature / C

220 200 180 160 140 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 5 10 15 20

R1

25

30

35

40

45

50

Time / s
Fig. 9. The weld thermal cycles of the fracture position in the HAZ.

at the fracture position in the as-welded joints. In conclusion, welding in either cold or hot water, rather than air, improves the weld temperature distribution and mechanical properties of joints. However, the optimal weld parameters for submerged FSW should be further investigated. 5. Conclusion The present study on submerged FSW for 7050 aluminum alloys aimed to determine an optimized process to improve the strength and toughness of weld joints. Several general trends were observed, and some useful correlations were found: (1) The transverse distribution of weld temperature elds for joints welded in three ambient conditions showed that the temperature at the retreated side is higher than that at the advanced side. The peak temperature of the weld temperature eld when welded in air was the highest at 380 C. In the case of joints welded in cold and hot water, the peak temperatures of the weld temperature elds were about 220 and 300 C, respectively. (2) The microhardness distribution of the as-welded joints under three ambient conditions exhibited typical W shape features. The width of the minimum hardness zone varied with the ambient conditions and corresponded accordingly with the range of the HAZ. (3) The mechanical properties of weld joints welded in hot water are the best amongst all weld joints tested. The ratio of the ultimate tensile strength and elongation of the joint welded to the base metal in hot water reached 92% and 150%, respectively. (4) The failure positions of weld joints were all located in HAZ zones, where the microhardness value was the lowest in the entire weld joint. However, due to differences in the volume fractions of the unstable precipitates and the grain size of the fracture region, the features and lengths of crack propagation differ for all the weld joints.

3.5

3.0

in air in cold water in hot water

Exothermic

Heat flow/ (mw/mg)

2.5 2.0 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0

Acknowledgments
-0.5 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 450

Temperature/
Fig. 8. DSC analysis in the HAZ of weld joints welded at different ambient temperatures.

The authors thank the Modern Welding Production Technology State Key Laboratory and the National Science Foundation for Distinguished Young Scholars (No. 50925522) for their nancial support.

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