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A flying success story for friction stir welding

Connect, no. 122, January/February 2003, p.1

Friction stir welding took to the skies recently when Eclipse Aviation piloted its new, and largely FSW joined, twin engined 500 model jet on its maiden flight.

The Eclipse 500 on its maiden flight in Albuquerque in August 2002. ( Photograph courtesy of Eclipse Aviation Corporation)
The Eclipse 500 on its maiden flight in Albuquerque in August 2002. ( Photograph courtesy of Eclipse Aviation Corporation)

Friction stir welding (FSW) has been used in place of rivets in the production of most major assemblies of the Eclipse 500 jet including the cabin, aft fuselage, wings and engine mounts. FSW replaces more than 60% of the rivets normally used in the assembly process.

'The benefits of friction stir welding are numerous,' said Oliver Masefield, vice president of engineering for Eclipse. 'It eliminates the need for thousands of rivets resulting in reduced assembly costs, better quality joining and stronger and lighter joints. Because this process is significantly faster than other structural joining processes we can drastically reduce the cycle time in production.'

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently approved the FSW process specification created for use in the assembly of the Eclipse 500 jet. The approval was received approximately one year ahead of schedule.

Skin, stringers and frames have been joined via friction stir welding to complete the cabin right-hand panel assembly. ( Photograph courtesy of Eclipse Aviation Corporation)
Skin, stringers and frames have been joined via friction stir welding to complete the cabin right-hand panel assembly. ( Photograph courtesy of Eclipse Aviation Corporation)

Friction stir welding is a machine-based process in which a special tool with a protruding pin is inserted into two pieces of material to be joined. While rotating, the tool moves along the area to be joined. The relative movement between the tool and the aluminium creates frictional heat, which softens the material but does not melt it. The plasticised material is then, in essence, consolidated to create one piece of metal where there were originally two. Most of the process development to date has involved aluminium, although other metals are also under investigation by TWI and others.

On the exterior, the metal joining process of friction stir welding produces a smooth finish (no rivets or edges to fill, just a smooth easy-to-paint surface). ( Photograph courtesy of Eclipse Aviation Corporation)
On the exterior, the metal joining process of friction stir welding produces a smooth finish (no rivets or edges to fill, just a smooth easy-to-paint surface). ( Photograph courtesy of Eclipse Aviation Corporation)
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