TC-9-237 – Chapter-10-section-II-part-1

Section II. ARC PROCESSES
10-8. SHIELDED METAL-ARC WELDING (SMAW)

a. General. This is the most widely used method for general welding applications. It is also referred to as metallic arc, manual metal-arc, or stick-electrode welding. It is an arc welding process in which the joining of metals is produced by heat from an electric arc that is maintained between the tip of a covered electrode and the base metal surface of the joint being welded.

b. Advantages. The SMAW process can be used for welding most structural and alloy steels. These include low-carbon or mild steels; low-alloy, heat-treatable steels; and high-alloy steels such as stainless steels. SMAW is used for joining common nickel alloys and can be used for copper and aluminum alloys. This welding process can be used in all positions–flat, vertical, horizontal, or overhead–and requires only the simplest equipment. Thus, SMAW lends itself very well to field work (fig. 10-21).

schematic drawing of smaw equipment

c. Disadvantages. Slag removal, unused electrode stubs, and spatter add to the cost of SMAW. Unused electrode stubs and spatter account for about 44 percent of the consumed electrodes. Another cost is the entrapment of slag in the form of inclusions, which may have to be removed.

d. Processes.

(1) The core of the covered electrode consists of either a solid metal rod of drawn or cast material, or one fabricated by encasing metal powders in a metallic sheath. The core rod conducts the electric current to the arc and provides filler metal for the joint. The electrode covering shields the molten metal from the atmosphere as it is transferred across the arc and improves the smoothness or stability of the arc.

(2) Arc shielding is obtained from gases which form as a result of the decomposition of certain ingredients in the covering. The shielding ingredients vary according to the type of electrode. The shielding and other ingredients in the covering and core wire control the mechanical properties, chemical composition, and metallurgical structure of the weld metal, as well as arc characteristics of the electrode.

(3) Shielded metal arc welding employs the heat of the arc to melt the base metal and the tip of a consumable covered electrode. The electrode and the work are part of an electric circuit known as the welding circuit, as shown in figure 10-22. This circuit begins with the electric power source and includes the welding cables, an electrode holder, a ground clamp, the work, and an arc welding electrode. One of the two cables from the power source is attached to the work. The other is attached to the electrode holder.

elements of a typical welding circuit for shielded metal arc welding

(4) Welding begins when an electric arc is struck between the tip of the electrode and the work. The intense heat of the arc melts the tip of the electrode and the surface of the work beneath the arc. Tiny globules of molten metal rapidly form on the tip of the electrode, then transfer through the arc stream into the molten weld pool. In this manner, filler metal is deposited as the electrode is progressively consumed. The arc is moved over the work at an appropriate arc length and travel speed, melting and fusing a portion of the base metal and adding filler metal as the arc progresses. Since the arc is one of the hottest of the commercial sources of heat (temperatures above 9000°F (5000°C) have been measured at its center), melting takes place almost instantaneously as the arc contacts the metal. If welds are made in either the flat or the horizontal position, metal transfer is induced by the force of gravity, gas expansion, electric and electromagnetic forces, and surface tension. For welds in other positions, gravity works against the other forces.

(a) Gravity. Gravity is the principal force which accounts for the transfer of filler metal in flat position welding. In other positions, the surface tension is unable to retain much molten metal and slag in the crater. Therefore, smaller electrodes must be used to avoid excessive loss of weld metal and slag. See figure 10-23.

three types of free flight metal transfer in a welding arc

(b) Gas expansion. Gases are produced by the burning and volatilization of the electrode coating, and are expanded by the heat of the boiling electrode tip. The coating extending beyond the metal tip of the electrode controls the direction of the rapid gas expansion and directs the molten metal globule into the weld metal pool formed in the base metal.

(c) Electromagnetic forces. The electrode tip is an electrical conductor, as is the molten metal globule at the tip. Therefore, the globule is affected by magnetic forces acting at 90 degrees to the direction of the current flow. These forces produce a pinching effect on the metal globules and speed up the separation of the molten metal from the end of the electrode. This is particularly helpful in transferring metal in horizontal, vertical, and overhead position welding.

(d) Electrical forces. The force produced by the voltage across the arc pulls the small, pinched-off globule of metal, regardless of the position of welding. This force is especially helpful when using direct-current, straight-polarity, mineral-coated electrodes, which do not produce large volumes of gas.

(e) Surface tension. The force which keeps the filler metal and slag globules in contact with molten base or weld metal in the crater is known as surface tension. It helps to retain the molten metal in horizontal, vertical, and overhead welding, and to determine the shape of weld contours.

e. Equipment. The equipment needed for shielded metal-arc welding is much less complex than that needed for other arc welding processes. Manual welding equipment includes a power source (transformer, dc generator, or dc rectifier), electrode holder, cables, connectors, chipping hammer, wire brush, and electrodes.

f. Welding Parameters.

(1) Welding voltage, current, and travel speed are very important to the quality of the deposited SMAW bead. Figures 10-24 thru 10-30 show the travel speed limits for the electrodes listed in table 10-1 below. Table 10-1 shows voltage limits for some SMAW electrodes.

travel speed limits for current levels used for 1/8
travel speed limits for current levels used for 1/8
travel speed limits for current levels used for 1/8
travel speed limits for current levels used for 1/8
travel speed limits for current levels used for 1/8
travel speed limits for current levels used for 5/32
travel speed limits for current levels used for 1/8
travel speed limits for current levels used for 1/8

(2) The process requires sufficient electric current to melt both the electrode and a proper amount of base metal, and an appropriate gap between the tip of the electrode and base metal or molten weld pool. These requirements are necessary for coalescence. The sizes and types of electrodes for shielded metal arc welding define the arc voltage requirements (within the overall range of 16 to 40 V) and the amperage requirements (within the overall range of 20 to 550 A). The current may be either alternating or direct, but the power source must be able to control the current level in order to respond to the complex variables of the welding process itself.

g. Covered Electrodes. In addition to establishing the arc and supplying filler metal for the weld deposit, the electrode introduces other materials into or around the arc. Depending upon the type of electrode being used, the covering performs one or more of the following functions:

(1) Provides a gas to shield the arc and prevent excessive atmospheric contamination of the molten filler metal as it travels across the arc.

(2) Provides scavengers, deoxidizers, and fluxing agents to cleanse the weld and prevent excessive grain growth in the weld metal.

(3) Establishes the electrical characteristics of the electrode.

(4) Provides a slag blanket to protect the hot weld metal from the air and enhance the mechanical properties, bead shape, and surface cleanliness of the weld metal.

(5) Provides a means of adding alloying elements to change the mechanical properties of the weld metal.

Functions 1 and 4 prevent the pick-up of oxygen and nitrogen from the air by the molten filler metal in the arc stream and by the weld metal as it solidifies and cools.

The covering on shielded metal arc electrodes is applied by either the extrusion or the dipping process. Extrusion is much more widely used. The dipping process is used primarily for cast and some fabricated core rods. In either case, the covering contains most of the shielding, scavenging, and deoxidizing materials. Most SMAW electrodes have a solid metal core. Some are made with a fabricated or composite core consisting of metal powders encased in a metallic sheath. In this latter case, the purpose of some or even all of the metal powders is to produce an alloy weld deposit.

In addition to improving the mechanical properties of the weld metal, the covering on the electrode can be designed for welding with alternating current. With ac, the welding arc goes out and is reestablished each time the current reverses its direction. For good arc stability, it is necessary to have a gas in the arc stream that will remain ionized during each reversal of the current. This ionized gas makes possible the reignition of the arc. Gases that readily ionize are available from a variety of compounds, including those that contain potassium. It is the incorporation of these compounds in the electrode covering that enables the electrode to operate on ac.

To increase the deposition rate, the coverings of some carbon and low alloy steel electrodes contain iron powder. The iron powder is another source of metal available for deposition, in addition to that obtained from the core of the electrode. The presence of iron powder in the covering also makes more efficient use of the arc energy. Metal powders other than iron are frequently used to alter the mechanical properties of the weld metal.

The thick coverings on electrodes with relatively large amounts of iron powder increase the depth of the crucible at the tip of the electrode. This deep crucible helps contain the heat of the arc and maintains a constant arc length by using the “drag” technique. When iron or other metal powders are added in relatively large amounts, the deposition rate and welding speed usually increase. Iron powder electrodes with thick coverings reduce the level of skill needed to weld. The tip of the electrode can be dragged along the surface of the work while maintaining a welding arc. For this reason, heavy iron powder electrodes frequently are called “drag electrodes.” Deposition rates are high; but because slag solidification is slow, these electrodes are not suitable for out-of-position use.

h. Electrode Classification System. The SMAW electrode classification code contains an E and three numbers, followed by a dash and either “15” or “16” (EXXX15). The E designates that the material is an electrode and the three digits indicate composition. Sometimes there are letters following the three digits; these letters indicate a modification of the standard composition. The “15” or “16” specifies the type of current with which these electrodes may be used. Both designations indicate that the electrode is usable in all positions: flat, horizontal, vertical and overhead.

(1) The “15” indicates that the covering of this electrode is a lime type, which contains a large proportion of calcium or alkaline earth materials. These electrodes are usable with dc reverse-polarity only.

(2) The designation “16” indicates electrodes that have a lime-or titania-type covering with a large proportion of titanium-bearing minerals. The coverings of these electrodes also contain readily ionizing elements, such as potassium, to stabilize the arc for ac welding.

i. Chemical Requirements. The AWS divides SMAW electrodes into two groups: mild steel and low-alloy steel. The E60XX and E70XX electrodes are in the mild steel specification. The chemical requirements for E70XX electrodes are listed in AWS A5.1 and allow for wide variations of composition of the deposited weld metal. There are no specified chemical requirements for the E60XX electrodes. The low-alloy specification contains electrode classifications E70XX through E120XX. These codes have a suffix indicating the chemical requirements of the class of electrodes (e. g., E7010-A1 or E8018-C1). The composition of low-alloy E70XX electrodes is controlled much more closely than that of mild steel E70XX electrodes. Low-alloy electrodes of the low-hydrogen classification (EXX15, EXX16, EXX18) require special handling to keep the coatings from picking up water. Manufacturers’ recommendations about storage and rebaking must be followed for these electrodes. AWS A5.5 provides a specific listing of chemical requirements.

j. Weld Metal Mechanical Properties. The AWS requires the deposited weld metal to have a minimum tensile strength of 60,000 to 100,000 psi (413,700 to 689,500 kPa), with minimum elongations of 20 to 35 percent.

k. Arc Shielding.

(1) The arc shielding action, illustrated in figure 10-31, is essentially the same for the different types of electrodes, but the specific method of shielding and the volume of slag produced vary from type to type. The bulk of the covering materials in some electrodes is converted to gas by the heat of the arc, and only a small amount of slag is produced. This type of electrode depends largely upon a gaseous shield to prevent atmospheric contamination. Weld metal from such electrodes can be identified by the incomplete or light layer of slag which covers the bead.

shielded metal arc welding

(2) For electrodes at the other extreme, the bulk of the covering is converted to slag by the arc heat, and only a small volume of shielding gas is produced. The tiny globules of metal transferred across the arc are entirely coated with a thin film of molten slag. This slag floats to the weld puddle surface because it is lighter than the metal. It solidifies after the weld metal has solidified. Welds made with these electrodes are identified by the heavy slag deposits that completely cover the weld beads. Between these extremes is a wide variety of electrode types, each with a different combination of gas and slag shielding.

(3) The variations in the amount of slag and gas shielding also influence the welding characteristics of the different types of covered electrodes. Electrodes that have a heavy slag carry high amperage and have high deposition rates. These electrodes are ideal for making large beads in the flat position. Electrodes that develop a gaseous arc shield and have a light layer of slag carry lower amperage and have lower deposition rates. These electrodes produce a smaller weld pool and are better suited for making welds in the vertical and overhead positions. Because of the differences in their welding characteristics, one type of covered electrode will usually be best suited for a given application.

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