The successful, and simultaneous, staging of two major events on opposite sides of the World, each featuring Friction Stir Welding (FSW), demonstrated the enormous global importance of this revolutionary, solid state, joining process to manufacturing industry.
The 2nd Friction Stir Welding Symposium in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Aeromat 2000 Conference in Seattle U.S.A., each held between the 27th & 29th of June 2000, revealed the speed with which industrial companies are now applying FSW technology, invented and patented by TWI in the UK in 1991, to a great range of products.
In Gothenburg, 155 delegates from 16 countries including Australia, Japan and the USA, as well as nearer to home, listened to 35 papers. In Seattle, the Aeromat 2000 Conference was organised into eight parallel themes. FSW was one of these themes. It occupied two full days in which 25 papers were presented to audiences of between 50 and 100 at each paper.
Distilling the key issues from both events, it was clear that the aerospace industry sees FSW as a major enabling technology. Bill Bozich & Doug Waldron ,of The Boeing Company, updated the status of FSW in the Delta rocket programme. So important has FSW become to Boeings space vehicle manufacture that Bill Bozich reported that 'they had focussed the factory layout around the process'. A new topic to emerge at both venues was the contribution of FSW to airframe construction. Friction Stir Welded items are already incorporated into a growing number of aircraft structural components. Some of these components are already built into aircraft for test flights and are performing well. More will take to the skies in the next year.
The concept of the 'welded airplane', and other demanding applications such as high speed rail vehicles, stimulated a large number of papers reporting mechanical and corrosion properties. In every instance FSW performs as well as, and frequently better than, an arc weld.
Extensively covered at both events were: FSW by robot; FSW of copper, titanium, metal matrix composites, and plastics; and applications to repair and reclamation. Attempts to understand the process by mathematical modeling and other means, together with non destructive examination technologies, were discussed.
Unquestionably, Friction Stir Welding is a joining technology that has come of age. The transport industry is the pioneer for FSW industrial penetration. The process is in commercial use in ships, automobiles, commercial & military road vehicles, rail vehicles, aircraft and space.
TWI currently has licencees in all parts of the world who are using the process and there is no sign of the applications slowing down. The Friction Stir Licencees Association will be sponsoring the next big opportunity to measure the march of FSW in Japan in September 2001.