Welding is the process of joining metal parts through melting of the surface of the connection points on each piece using a blow torch or flame. This is then followed by hammering or pressing to bind the two parts together. This method of welding has been in use since the 19th century, but modern advancements like the discovery of acetylene have improved the process significantly. This technological revolution benefited the manufacturing of commercial aircraft greatly and would later prove to be a gateway to the engineering and design of lightweight aircraft made from materials such as aluminum, titanium, and magnesium.
Welding has been a critical process in the aircraft industry for a long time. The four most common types of welding used in the aircraft industry are gas welding, electric arc welding, electric resistance welding, and plasma arc welding. This blog will explain the unique processes of each type.
The first type of welding, gas welding, consists of an oxy-acetylene flame produced with a torch by burning acetylene in pure oxygen. This creates a flame with a temperature as high as 6,300 degrees Fahrenheit, easily hot enough to melt metal. The melted metal surfaces can then be bonded together to create a joint. Gas welding is a very popular method of welding when manufacturing or repairing aircraft. The most prevalent equipment in gas welding includes two cylinders to hold the oxygen and acetylene, cylinder gauges to monitor the pressure, a mixing head, color-coded hoses, and a spark lighter. Additional equipment such as welding goggles, a wrench for the specific acetylene tank valves, and a functional fire extinguisher is necessary to ensure procedural safety.
The next type of welding is electric arc welding. This is the most common technique because it is suitable for all weldable metals. In the aircraft industry, electric arc welding is critical in manufacturing and repair. There are three types of electric arc welding, each involving different equipment and procedure. They are shielded metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding, and gas tungsten arc welding. Despite their differences, they all involve the same basic function, which is to form an electric arc to concentrate heat, melt, and join two metals.
Electric resistance welding, the third type of aircraft welding, is used when joining thin metal sheets. Also known as seam or spot welding, electric resistance welding is a technique frequently used in the development and manufacturing stages of an aircraft. An electric resistance welding machine consists of two copper electrode jaws that hold in place the two thin metals being welded. Pressure and an electric current are then applied to a single, concentrated point, yielding a greater resistance than that of copper electrodes. This creates molten spots on the metal held in place by the jaws to unite and solidify the metal parts.
Finally, plasma arc welding is a new technique introduced in the late 20th century to help make welding applications more accurate and manageable. This method, as it is carried out by automated machinery, is used in highly precise and miniature applications. In plasma arc welding, a plasma torch is initiated within a tungsten electrode that contains a fine copper nozzle. The torch forms a constricted plasma arc that concentrates the heat at a single point to produce welds of exceptionally high quality. While less common than other methods, plasma arc welding will inevitably become more popular in the future of the aircraft industry.
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