Electron Beam Welding
Electron beam welding (EBW) is a welding process which produces coalescence of metals with the heat obtained from a concentrated beam composed primarily of high-velocity electrons impinging upon the surfaces to be joined. Heat is generated in the workpiece as it is bombarded by a dense stream of high-velocity electrons. Virtually all of the kinetic energy-the energy of motion-of the electrons is transformed into heat upon impact.
The electron beam welding process had its inception in the 1950s in the nuclear field. There were many requirements to weld refractory and reactive metals. These metals, because of their affinity for oxygen and nitrogen of the air, are very difficult to weld.
The original work was done in a high vacuum. The process utilized an electron gun similar to that used in an X-ray tube. In an X-ray tube the beam of electrons is focused on a target of either tungsten or molybdenum which gives off X-rays. The target becomes extremely hot and must be water-cooled. In welding, the target is the base metal which absorbs the heat to bring it to the molten stage. In electron beam welding, X-rays may be produced if the electrical potential is sufficiently high.
As developments continued, two basic designs evolved: (1) the low-voltage electron beam system, which uses accelerating voltages in 30,000 volts or (30 kV) to 60,000-volt (60 kV) range and (2) the high-voltage system with accelerating voltages in the 100,000-
volt (100 kV) range. The higher voltage system emits more X-rays than the lower voltage system.
In both systems, the electron gun and the work piece are housed in a vacuum chamber. There are three basic components in an electron beam-welding machine. These are (1) the electron beam gun, (2) the power supply with controls, and (3) a vacuum work chamber with work-handling equipment. The electron beam gun emits electrons, accelerates the beam of electrons, and focuses it on the work piece.
Recent advances in equipment allow the work chamber to operate at a medium vacuum or pressure. In this system, the vacuum in the work chamber is not as high. It is sometimes called a "soft" vacuum. This vacuum range allowed the same contamination that would be obtained in atmosphere of 99.995% argon. Mechanical pumps can produce vacuums to the medium pressure level.
One of the major advantages of electron beam welding is its tremendous penetration. This occurs when the highly accelerated electron hits the base metal. It will penetrate slightly below the surface and at that point release the bulk of its kinetic energy which turns to heat energy. The addition of the heat brings about a substantial temperature increase at the point of impact. The succession of electrons striking the same place causes melting and then evaporation of the base metal. This creates metal vapors but the electron beam travels through the vapor much easier than solid metal. This causes the beam to penetrate deeper into the base metal. The width of the penetration pattern is extremely narrow. The depth-to-width can exceed a ratio of 20 to 1. As the power density is increased penetration is increased.
The heat input of electron beam welding is controlled by four variables: (1) the number of electrons per second hitting the work piece or beam current, (2) the electron speed at the moment of impact, the accelerating potential, (3) the diameter of the beam at or within the work-piece, the beam spot size, and (4) the speed of travel or the welding speed. The first two variables, beam current and accelerating potential, are used in establishing welding parameters. The third factor, the beam spot size, is related to the focus of the beam, and the fourth factor is also part of the procedure.
Since the electron beam has tremendous penetrating characteristics, with the lower heat input, the heat-affected zone is much smaller than that of any arc welding process. In addition, because of the almost parallel sides of the weld nugget, distortion is greatly minimized. The cooling rate is much higher and for many metals this is advantageous; however, for high-carbon steel this is a disadvantage and cracking may occur.
The weld joint details for electron beam welding must be selected with care. In high vacuum chamber welding special techniques must be used to properly align the electron beam with the joint. Welds are extremely narrow and therefore preparation for welding must be extremely accurate.
Filler metal is not used in electron beam welding; however, when welding mild steel highly deoxidized filler metal is sometimes used. This helps deoxidize the molten metal and produce dense welds.
Almost all metals can be welded with the electron beam welding process. The metals that are most often welded are the super alloys, the refractory metals, the reactive metals, and the stainless steels. Many combinations of dissimilar metals can also be welded.
One of the disadvantages of the electron beam process is its high capital cost. The price of the equipment is very high and it is expensive to operate due to the need for vacuum pumps. In addition, fit up must be precise and locating the parts with respect to the beam must be perfect.
Laser Beam Welding
Laser beam welding (LBW) is a welding process which produces coalescence of materials with the heat obtained from the application of a concentrated coherent light beam impinging upon the surfaces to be joined.
The focused laser beam has the highest energy concentration of any known source of energy. The laser beam is a source of electromagnetic energy or light that can be projected without diverging and can be concentrated to a precise spot. The beam is coherent and of a single frequency.
Producing a laser beam is extremely complex. The early laser utilized a solid-state transparent single crystal of ruby made into a rod approximately an inch in diameter and several inches long. The end surfaces of the ruby rod were ground flat and parallel and were polished to extreme smoothness.
The laser can be compared to solar light beam for welding. The laser can be used in air. The laser beam can be focused and directed by special optical lenses and mirrors. The laser can operate at considerable distance from the work piece.
When using the laser beam for welding the electromagnetic radiation impinges on the surface of the base metal with such a concentration of energy that the temperature of the surface is melted and volatilized. The beam penetrates through the metal vapor and melts the metal below. One of the original questions concerning the use of the laser was the possibility of reflectivity of the metal so that the beam would be reflected rather than heat the base metal. It was found, however, that once the metal is raised to its melting temperature the surface conditions have little or no effect.
The welding characteristics of the laser and of the electron beam are similar. The concentration of energy by both beams is similar, with the laser having a power density in the order of 106 watts per square centimeter. The power density of the electron beam is only slightly greater. This is compared to a current density of only 104 watts per square centimeter for arc welding.
Laser beam welding has a tremendous temperature differential between the molten metal and the base metal immediately adjacent to the weld. Heating and cooling rates are much higher in laser beam welding than in arc welding, and the heat-affected zones are much smaller. Rapid cooling rates can create problems such as cracking in high carbon steels.
The laser beam has been used to weld carbon steels, high strength low alloy steels, aluminum, stainless steel and titanium. Laser welds made in these materials are similar in quality to welds made in the same materials by electron beam process.
Thermit welding (TW) is a welding process which produces coalescence of metals by heating them with superheated liquid metal from a chemical reaction between a metal oxide and aluminum with or without the application of pressure.
Filler metal is obtained from an exothermic reaction between iron oxide and aluminum. The temperature resulting from this reaction is approximately 2500°C. The superheated steel is contained in a crucible located immediately above the weld joint. The superheated steel runs into a mold which is built around the parts to be welded. Since it is almost twice as hot as the melting temperature of the base metal melting occurs at the edges of the joint and alloys with the molten steel from the crucible. Normal heat losses cause the mass of molten metal to solidify, coalescence occurs, and the weld is completed.
The thermit welding process is apply only in the automatic mode. Once the reaction is started it goes to completion.