TC-9-237 – Chapter-10-section-II-part-2


a. General. Gas tungsten arc welding (TIG welding or GTAW) is a process in which the joining of metals is produced by heating with an arc between a tungsten (non-consumable) electrode and the work. A shielding gas is used, normally argon. TIG welding is normally done with a pure tungsten or tungsten alloy rod, but multiple electrodes are sometimes used. The heated weld zone, molten metal, and tungsten electrode are shielded from the atmosphere by a covering of inert gas fed through the electrode holder. Filler metal may or may not be added. A weld is made by applying the arc so that the touching workpiece and filler metal are melted and joined as the weld metal solidifies. This process is similar to other arc welding processes in that the heat is generated by an arc between a non-consumable electrode and the workpiece, but the equipment and electrode type distinguish TIG from other arc welding processes. See figure 10-32.

gas tungsten arc (tig) welding (gtaw)

b. Equipment. The basic features of the equipment used in TIG welding are shown in figure 10-33. The major components required for TIG welding are:

gas tungsten arc welding equipment arrangement

(1) the welding machine, or power source

(2) the welding electrode holder and the tungsten electrode

(3) the shielding gas supply and controls

(4) Several optional accessories are available, which include a foot rheostat to control the current while welding, water circulating systems to cool the electrode holders, and arc timers.

There are ac and dc power units with built-in high frequency generators designed specifically for TIG welding. These automatically control gas and water flow when welding begins and ends. If the electrode holder (torch) is water-cooled, a supply of cooling water is necessary. Electrode holders are made so that electrodes and gas nozzles can readily be changed. Mechanized TIG welding equipment may include devices for checking and adjusting the welding torch level, equipment for work handling, provisions for initiating the arc and controlling gas and water flow, and filler metal feed mechanisms.

c. Advantages. Gas tungsten arc welding is the most popular method for welding aluminum stainless steels, and nickel-base alloys. It produces top quality welds in almost all metals and alloys used by industry. The process provides more precise control of the weld than any other arc welding process, because the arc heat and filler metal are independently controlled. Visibility is excellent because no smoke or fumes are produced during welding, and there is no slag or spatter that must be cleaned between passes or on a completed weld. TIG welding also has reduced distortion in the weld joint because of the concentrated heat source. The gas tungsten arc welding process is very good for joining thin base metals because of excellent control of heat input. As in oxyacetylene welding, the heat source and the addition of filler metal can be separately controlled. Because the electrode is non-consumable, the process can be used to weld by fusion alone without the addition of filler metal. It can be used on almost all metals, but it is generally not used for the very low melting metals such as solders, or lead, tin, or zinc alloys. It is especially useful for joining aluminum and magnesium which form refractory oxides, and also for the reactive metals like titanium and zirconium, which dissolve oxygen and nitrogen and become embrittled if exposed to air while melting. In very critical service applications or for very expensive metals or parts, the materials should be carefully cleaned of surface dirt, grease, and oxides before welding.

d. Disadvantages. TIG welding is expensive because the arc travel speed and weld metal deposition rates are lower than with some other methods. Some limitations of the gas tungsten arc process are:

(1) The process is slower than consumable electrode arc welding processes.

(2) Transfer of molten tungsten from the electrode to the weld causes contamination. The resulting tungsten inclusion is hard and brittle.

(3) Exposure of the hot filler rod to air using improper welding techniques causes weld metal contamination.

(4) Inert gases for shielding and tungsten electrode costs add to the total cost of welding compared to other processes. Argon and helium used for shielding the arc are relatively expensive.

(5) Equipment costs are greater than that for other processes, such as shielded metal arc welding, which require less precise controls.

For these reasons, the gas tungsten arc welding process is generally not commercially competitive with other processes for welding the heavier gauges of metal if they can be readily welded by the shielded metal arc, submerged arc, or gas metal arc welding processes with adequate quality.

e. Process Principles.

(1) Before welding begins, all oil, grease, paint, rust, dirt, and other contaminants must be removed from the welded areas. This may be accomplished by mechanical means or by the use of vapor or liquid cleaners.

(2) Striking the arc may be done by any of the following methods:

(a) Touching the electrode to the work momentarily and quickly withdrawing it.

(b) Using an apparatus that will cause a spark to jump from the electrode to the work.

(c) Using an apparatus that initiates and maintains a small pilot arc, providing an ionized path for the main arc.

(3) High frequency arc stabilizers are required when alternating current is used. They provide the type of arc starting described in (2)(b) above. High frequency arc initiation occurs when a high frequency, high voltage signal is superimposed on the welding circuit. High voltage (low current) ionizes the shielding gas between the electrode and the workpiece, which makes the gas conductive and initiates the arc. Inert gases are not conductive until ionized. For dc welding, the high frequency voltage is cut off after arc initiation. However, with ac welding, it usually remains on during welding, especially when welding aluminum.

(4) When welding manually, once the arc is started, the torch is held at a travel angle of about 15 degrees. For mechanized welding, the electrode holder is positioned vertically to the surface.

(5) To start manual welding, the arc is moved in a small circle until a pool of molten metal forms. The establishment and maintenance of a suitable weld pool is important and welding must not proceed ahead of the puddle. Once adequate fusion is obtained, a weld is made by gradually moving the electrode along the parts to be welded to melt the adjoining surfaces. Solidification of the molten metal follows progression of the arc along the joint, and completes the welding cycle.

(6) The welding rod and torch must be moved progressively and smoothly so the weld pool, hot welding rod end, and hot solidified weld are not exposed to air that will contaminate the weld metal area or heat-affected zone. A large shielding gas cover will prevent exposure to air. Shielding gas is normally argon.

(7) The welding rod is held at an angle of about 15 degrees to the work surface and slowly fed into the molten pool. During welding, the hot end of the welding rod must not be removed from the inert gas shield. A second method is to press the welding rod against the work, in line with the weld, and melt the rod along with the joint edges. This method is used often in multiple pass welding of V-groove joints. A third method, used frequently in weld surfacing and in making large welds, is to feed filler metal continuously into the molten weld pool by oscillating the welding rod and arc from side to side. The welding rod moves in one direction while the arc moves in the opposite direction, but the welding rod is at all times near the arc and feeding into the molten pool. When filler metal is required in automatic welding, the welding rod (wire) is fed mechanically through a guide into the molten weld pool.

(8) The selection of welding position is determined by the mobility of the weldment, the availability of tooling and fixtures, and the welding cost. The minimum time, and therefore cost, for producing a weld is usually achieved in the flat position. Maximum joint penetration and deposition rate are obtained in this position, because a large volume of molten metal can be supported. Also, an acceptably shaped reinforcement is easily obtained in this position.

(9) Good penetration can be achieved in the vertical-up position, but the rate of welding is slower because of the effect of gravity on the molten weld metal. Penetration in vertical-down welding is poor. The molten weld metal droops, and lack of fusion occurs unless high welding speeds are used to deposit thin layers of weld metal. The welding torch is usually pointed forward at an angle of about 75 degrees from the weld surface in the vertical-up and flat positions. Too great an angle causes aspiration of air into the shielding gas and consequent oxidation of the molten weld metal.

(10) Joints that may be welded by this process include all the standard types, such as square-groove and V-groove joints, T-joints, and lap joints. As a rule, it is not necessary to bevel the edges of base metal that is 1/8 in. (3.2 mm) or less in thickness. Thicker base metal is usually beveled and filler metal is always added.

(11) The gas tungsten arc welding process can be used for continuous welds, intermittent welds, or for spot welds. It can be done manually or automatically by machine.

(12) The major operating variables summarized briefly are:

(a) Welding current, voltage, and power source characteristics.

(b) Electrode composition, current carrying capacity, and shape.

(c) Shielding gas–welding grade argon, helium, or mixtures of both.

(d) Filler metals that are generally similar to the metal being joined and suitable for the intended service.

(13) Welding is stopped by shutting off the current with foot-or-hand-controlled switches that permit the welder to start, adjust, and stop the welding current. They also allow the welder to control the welding current to obtain good fusion and penetration. Welding may also be stopped by withdrawing the electrode from the current quickly, but this can disturb the gas shielding and expose the tungsten and weld pool to oxidation.

f. Filler Metals. The base metal thickness and joint design determine whether or not filler metal needs to be added to the joints. When filler metal is added during manual welding, it is applied by manually feeding the welding rod into the pool of molten metal ahead of the arc, but to one side of the center line. The technique for manual TIG welding is shown in figure 10-34.

techniques for manual gas tungsten arc welding (tig)

a. General. Plasma arc welding (PAW) is a process in which coalescence, or the joining of metals, is produced by heating with a constricted arc between an electrode and the workpiece (transfer arc) or the electrode and the constricting nozzle (nontransfer arc). Shielding is obtained from the hot ionized gas issuing from the orifice, which may be supplemented by an auxiliary source of shielding gas. Shielding gas may be an inert gas or a mixture of gases. Pressure may or may not be used, and filler metal may or may not be supplied. The PAW process is shown in figure 10-35.

process diagram - keyhole mode - paw

b. Equipment.

(1) Power source. A constant current drooping characteristic power source supplying the dc welding current is recommended; however, ac/dc type power source can be used. It should have an open circuit voltage of 80 volts and have a duty cycle of 60 percent. It is desirable for the power source to have a built-in contactor and provisions for remote control current adjustment. For welding very thin metals, it should have a minimum amperage of 2 amps. A maximum of 300 is adequate for most plasma welding applications.

(2) Welding torch. The welding torch for plasma arc welding is similar in appearance to a gas tungsten arc torch, but more complex.

(a) All plasma torches are water cooled, even the lowest-current range torch. This is because the arc is contained inside a chamber in the torch where it generates considerable heat. If water flow is interrupted briefly, the nozzle may melt. A cross section of a plasma arc torch head is shown by figure 10-36. During the non-transferred period, the arc will be struck between the nozzle or tip with the orifice and the tungsten electrode. Manual plasma arc torches are made in various sizes starting with 100 amps through 300 amperes. Automatic torches for machine operation are also available.

cross section of a plasma arc torch head

(b) The torch utilizes the 2 percent thoriated tungsten electrode similar to that used for gas tungsten welding. Since the tungsten electrode is located inside the torch, it is almost impossible to contaminate it with base metal.

(3) Control console. A control console is required for plasma arc welding. The plasma arc torches are designed to connect to the control console rather than the power source. The console includes a power source for the pilot arc, delay timing systems for transferring from the pilot arc to the transferred arc, and water and gas valves and separate flow meters for the plasma gas and the shielding gas. The console is usually connected to the power source and may operate the contactor. It will also contain a high-frequency arc starting unit, a nontransferred pilot arc power supply, torch protection circuit, and an ammeter. The high-frequency generator is used to initiate the pilot arc. Torch protective devices include water and plasma gas pressure switches which interlock with the contactor.

(4) Wire feeder. A wire feeder may be used for machine or automatic welding and must be the constant speed type. The wire feeder must have a speed adjustment covering the range of from 10 in. per minute (254 mm per minute) to 125 in. per minute (3.18 m per minute) feed speed.

c. Advantages and Major Uses.

(1) Advantages of plasma arc welding when compared to gas tungsten arc welding stem from the fact that PAW has a higher energy concentration. Its higher temperature, constricted cross-sectional area, and the velocity of the plasma jet create a higher heat content. The other advantage is based on the stiff columnar type of arc or form of the plasma, which doesn’t flare like the gas tungsten arc. These two factors provide the following advantages:

(a) The torch-to-work distance from the plasma arc is less critical than for gas tungsten arc welding. This is important for manual operation, since it gives the welder more freedom to observe and control the weld.

(b) High temperature and high heat concentration of the plasma allow for the keyhole effect, which provides complete penetration single pass welding of many joints. In this operation, the heat affected zone and the form of the weld are more desirable. The heat-affected zone is smaller than with the gas tungsten arc, and the weld tends to have more parallel sides, which reduces angular distortion.

(c) The higher heat concentration and the plasma jet allow for higher travel speeds. The plasma arc is more stable and is not as easily deflected to the closest point of base metal. Greater variation in joint alignment is possible with plasma arc welding. This is important when making root pass welds on pipe and other one-side weld joints. Plasma welding has deeper penetration capabilities and produces a narrower weld. This means that the depth-to-width ratio is more advantageous.

(2) Uses.

(a) Some of the major uses of plasma arc are its application for the manufacture of tubing. Higher production rates based on faster travel speeds result from plasma over gas tungsten arc welding. Tubing made of stainless steel, titanium, and other metals is being produced with the plasma process at higher production rates than previously with gas tungsten arc welding.

(b) Most applications of plasma arc welding are in the low-current range, from 100 amperes or less. The plasma can be operated at extremely low currents to allow the welding of foil thickness material.

(c) Plasma arc welding is also used for making small welds on weldments for instrument manufacturing and other small components made of thin metal. It is used for making butt joints of wall tubing.

(d) This process is also used to do work similar to electron beam welding, but with a much lower equipment cost.

(3) Plasma arc welding is normally applied as a manual welding process, but is also used in automatic and machine applications. Manual application is the most popular. Semiautomatic methods of application are not useful. The normal methods of applying plasma arc welding are manual (MA), machine (ME), and automatic (AU).

(4) The plasma arc welding process is an all-position welding process. Table 10-2 shows the welding position capabilities.

welding position capabilities

(5) The plasma arc welding process is able to join practically all commercially available metals. It may not be the best selection or the most economical process for welding some metals. The plasma arc welding process will join all metals that the gas tungsten arc process will weld. This is illustrated in table 10-3.

base metals weldable by the plasma arc process

(6) Regarding thickness ranges welded by the plasma process, the keyhole mode of operation can be used only where the plasma jet can penetrate the joint. In this mode, it can be used for welding material from 1/16 in. (1.6 mm) through 1/4 in. (12.0 mm). Thickness ranges vary with different metals. The melt-in mode is used to weld material as thin as 0.002 in. (0.050 mm) up through 1/8 in. (3.2 mm). Using multi-pass techniques, unlimited thicknesses of metal can be welded. Note that filler rod is used for making welds in thicker material. Refer to table 10-4 for base metal thickness ranges.

base metal thickness range

d. Limitations of the Process. The major limitations of the process have to do more with the equipment and apparatus. The torch is more delicate and complex than a gas tungsten arc torch. Even the lowest rated torches must be water cooled. The tip of the tungsten and the alignment of the orifice in the nozzle is extremely important and must be maintained within very close limits. The current level of the torch cannot be exceeded without damaging the tip. The water-cooling passages in the torch are relatively small and for this reason water filters and deionized water are recommended for the lower current or smaller torches. The control console adds another piece of equipment to the system. This extra equipment makes the system more expensive and may require a higher level of maintenance.

e. Principles of Operation.

(1) The plasma arc welding process is normally compared to the gas tungsten arc process. If an electric arc between a tungsten electrode and the work is constricted in a cross-sectional area, its temperature increases because it carries the same amount of current. This constricted arc is called a plasma, or the fourth state of matter.

(2) Two modes of operation are the non-transferred arc and the transferred arc.

(a) In the non-transferred mode, the current flow is from the electrode inside the torch to the nozzle containing the orifice and back to the power supply. It is used for plasma spraying or generating heat in nonmetals.

(b) In transferred arc mode, the current is transferred from the tungsten electrode inside the welding torch through the orifice to the workpiece and back to the power supply.

(c) The difference between these two modes of operation is shown by figure 10-37. The transferred arc mode is used for welding metals. The gas tungsten arc process is shown for comparison.

transferred and non-transferred plasma arcs

(3) The plasma is generated by constricting the electric arc passing through the orifice of the nozzle. Hot ionized gases are also forced through this opening. The plasma has a stiff columnar form and is parallel sided so that it does not flare out in the same manner as the gas tungsten arc. This high temperature arc, when directed toward the work, will melt the base metal surface and the filler metal that is added to make the weld. In this way, the plasma acts as an extremely high temperature heat source to form a molten weld puddle. This is similar to the gas tungsten arc. The higher-temperature plasma, however, causes this to happen faster, and is known as the melt-in mode of operation. Figure 10-36 shows a cross-sectional view of the plasma arc torch head.

(4) The high temperature of the plasma or constricted arc and the high velocity plasma jet provide an increased heat transfer rate over gas tungsten arc welding when using the same current. This results in faster welding speeds and deeper weld penetration. This method of operation is used for welding extremely thin material. and for welding multipass groove and welds and fillet welds.

(5) Another method of welding with plasma is the keyhole method of welding. The plasma jet penetrates through the workpiece and forms a hole, or keyhole. Surface tension forces the molten base metal to flow around the keyhole to form the weld. The keyhole method can be used only for joints where the plasma can pass through the joint. It is used for base metals 1/16 to 1/2 in. (1.6 to 12.0 mm) in thickness. It is affected by the base metal composition and the welding gases. The keyhole method provides for full penetration single pass welding which may be applied either manually or automatically in all positions.

(6) Joint design.

(a) Joint design is based on the metal thicknesses and determined by the two methods of operation. For the keyhole method, the joint design is restricted to full-penetration types. The preferred joint design is the square groove, with no minimum root opening. For root pass work, particularly on heavy wall pipe, the U groove design is used. The root face should be 1/8 in. (3.2 mm) to allow for full keyhole penetration.

(b) For the melt-in method of operation for welding thin gauge, 0.020 in. (0.500 mm) to 0.100 in. (2.500 mm) metals, the square groove weld should be utilized. For welding foil thickness, 0.005 in. (0.130 mm) to 0.020 in. (0.0500 mm), the edge flange joint should be used. The flanges are melted to provide filler metal for making the weld.

(c) When using the melt-in mode of operation for thick materials, the same general joint detail as used for shielded metal arc welding and gas tungsten arc welding can be employed. It can be used for fillets, flange welds, all types of groove welds, etc., and for lap joints using arc spot welds and arc seam welds. Figure 10-38 shows various joint designs that can be welded by the plasma arc process.

various joints for plasma arc

(7) Welding circuit and current. The welding circuit for plasma arc welding is more complex than for gas tungsten arc welding. An extra component is required as the control circuit to aid in starting and stopping the plasma arc. The same power source is used. There are two gas systems, one to supply the plasma gas and the second for the shielding gas. The welding circuit for plasma arc welding is shown by figure 10-39. Direct current of a constant current (CC) type is used. Alternating current is used for only a few applications.

circuit design - PAW

(8) Tips for Using the Process.

(a) The tungsten electrode must be precisely centered and located with respect to the orifice in the nozzle. The pilot arc current must be kept sufficiently low, just high enough to maintain a stable pilot arc. When welding extremely thin materials in the foil range, the pilot arc may be all that is necessary.

(b) When filler metal is used, it is added in the same manner as gas tungsten arc welding. However, with the torch-to-work distance a little greater there is more freedom for adding filler metal. Equipment must be properly adjusting so that the shielding gas and plasma gas are in the right proportions. Proper gases must also be used.

(c) Heat input is important. Plasma gas flow also has an important effect. These factors are shown by figure 10-40.

quality and common faults

e. Filler Metal and Other Equipment.

(1) Filler metal is normally used except when welding the thinnest metals. Composition of the filler metal should match the base metal. The filler metal rod size depends on the base metal thickness and welding current. The filler metal is usually added to the puddle manually, but can be added automatically.

(2) Plasma and shielding gas. An inert gas, either argon, helium, or a mixture, is used for shielding the arc area from the atmosphere. Argon is more common because it is heavier and provides better shielding at lower flow rates. For flat and vertical welding, a shielding gas flow of 15 to 30 cu ft per hour (7 to 14 liters per minute) is sufficient. Overhead position welding requires a slightly higher flow rate. Argon is used for plasma gas at the flew rate of 1 cu ft per hour (0.5 liters per minute) up to 5 cu ft per hour (2.4 liters per minute) for welding, depending on torch size and application. Active gases are not recommended for plasma gas. In addition, cooling water is required.

f. Quality, Deposition Rates, and Variables.

(1) The quality of the plasma arc welds is extremely high and usually higher than gas tungsten arc welds because there is little or no possibility of tungsten inclusions in the weld. Deposition rates for plasma arc welding are somewhat higher than for gas tungsten arc welding and are shown by the curve in figure 10-41. Weld schedules for the plasma arc process are shown by the data in table 10-5.

deposition rates
shielded metal arc welding

(2) The process variables for plasma arc welding are shown by figure 10-41. Most of the variables shown for plasma arc are similar to the other arc welding processes. There are two exceptions: the plasma gas flow and the orifice diameter in the nozzle. The major variables exert considerable control in the process. The minor variables are generally fixed at optimum conditions for the given application. All variables should appear in the welding procedure. Variables such as the angle and setback of the electrode and electrode type are considered fixed for the application. The plasma arc process does respond differently to these variables than does the gas tungsten arc process. The standoff, or torch-to-work distance, is less sensitive with plasma but the torch angle when welding parts of unequal thicknesses is more important than with gas tungsten arc.

g. Variations of the Process.

(1) The welding current may be pulsed to gain the same advantages pulsing provides for gas tungsten arc welding. A high current pulse is used for maximum penetration but is not on full time to allow for metal solidification. This gives a more easily controlled puddle for out-of-position work. Pulsing can be accomplished by the same apparatus as is used for gas tungsten arc welding.

(2) Programmed welding can also be employed for plasma arc welding in the same manner as it is used for gas tungsten arc welding. The same power source with programming abilities is used and offers advantages for certain types of work. The complexity of the programming depends on the needs of the specific application. In addition to programming the welding current, it is often necessary to program the plasma gas flow. This is particularly important when closing a keyhole which is required to make the root pass of a weld joining two pieces of pipe.

(3) The method of feeding the filler wire with plasma is essentially the same as for gas tungsten arc welding. The “hot wire” concept can be used. This means that low-voltage current is applied to the filler wire to preheat it prior to going into the weld puddle.

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