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Foresight - Future trends in materials joining (June 2001)

R E Dolby


To be published by the Office of Science and Technology (Department of Trade and Industry), 2001.


The Foresighting Process is described in relation to welding and joining technology. Foresight Exercises have led to a definition of various high level factors affecting all industries which use welding and joining, and these factors are reviewed along with the specific business drivers for key industry sectors. For each sector, a list of welding and joining technology needs is then presented based on a recent study. Finally, the future importance of corporate memory, knowledge management, qualifications and certification, and environmental concerns, is reviewed.

1. Introduction

Foresight and, more particularly, Technology Foresight, is a process in which interested groups and stakeholders work together in a forward looking exercise in order to identify the key issues and priorities for further action. Future economic and societal trends are taken into account in the analysis [1] . The Foresighting process has been around for many years and most developed countries now have their own National Technology Foresight Exercises. In the UK it is a relatively recent initiative, started by the Department of Trade and Industry in 1993, but Japan pioneered the approach and has had a Foresight Exercise running every 5 years since 1971, organised by the Science and Technology Agency. The techniques used vary but usually include Delphi questionnaires, expert panel discussions, scenario discussions and strategic conferences. 

The Exercises are frequently very broad in their coverage of sciences and technologies, and it is relevant to note that the first International Conference on Technology Foresight was held in Tokyo in March last year. However, welding and joining priorities usually emerge with only a few paragraphs in lengthy final reports on materials or manufacturing topics. More focused Foresighting Exercises on welding and joining have become available in the last 10 years, and a Study Group of the International Institute of Welding (IIW) is now attempting to collect relevant papers and publications for wider dissemination. Noteworthy are recent papers dealing with W Europe [2] , Germany [3] , the USA [4] and Japan [5] .

The purpose of this paper is to review first, the key drivers, both general and specific, for the main industry sectors which influence welding and joining strategy. Second, the results of a recent study in the UK on the priority topics for research and development needed over the next 5 years will be given and, third, other major trends likely to take place in all major companies with interests in welding and joining will be examined. Senior staff and the external Research Board of The Welding Institute (TWI) have been involved in the production of this paper and the findings are, therefore, based on views of a wide cross-section of experts in the UK from key industry sectors and universities.

2. General factors influencing industrial strategy

There are a number of high level factors or drivers which are currently affecting all industries which use welding and joining, and a second set of drivers which relate to specific industry sectors (aerospace, automotive, etc). The latter will be discussed in Section 3.

The Industry Vision Workshop in the USA [4] held in 1998 produced a key list of drivers of the general type which, although USA derived, are believed to be accurate for most developed countries and still hold in 2001. Table 1 is a modification of the USA list showing the most important drivers which are influencing the future of manufacturing and end-user companies and, therefore, welding and joining. Some are threats to those actively involved in welding and joining but, equally, there are opportunities. Markets are continually changing, but improved quality of life is now emerging as a new driver and could have a big impact on infrastructures and, ultimately, on welding and joining issues. A decrease in manufacturing as a percentage of Gross National Product (GDP) is occurring in most developed countries, as is a difficulty in attracting a continuous flow of skilled engineers. Computers and IT are transforming our industries and Governments are increasingly introducing regulations on environmental matters and on safety issues. Finally, structures and plant will need to be increasingly fit-for-purpose, reliable and easy to repair and maintain, whilst retaining safety.


Table 1 General drivers influencing welding and joining (based on Reference 4).

Markets and Customers Time to market
Globalisation of markets and companies
Quality of life
Education/workforce/image De-emphasis on manufacturing
Need for talented people
Loss of skills and expertise
Economics/IT Pressure on costs and productivity
Short term financing
Competition with alternative processes
Internet growth
Regulation Certification for safety
Environmental impact
Quality/Reliability Fitness-for-purpose
Plant life extension


3. Sector Drivers & Technology Needs


Staff at TWI are regularly consulting industry and welding and joining experts worldwide. Every year a compilation of industry drivers relating to welding and joining is made on a sector basis, and this leads to a series of research and development needs. The TWI Core Research Programme (CRP) is an underpinning series of research projects for all TWI services and has a 3-10 year horizon. The industry sector research needs are used as one input into formulating the programme and deciding on the projects. The following analysis of drivers and needs was completed at the end of Year 2000 and gives a strong indication as to the expected trends in technology that will be seen in the next 5 years.


The view of the sector shows the following drivers related to welding and joining:-
Improved manufacturing efficiency
Welding to reduce mass
Greater accuracy of assembly
Reduced inspection and qualification costs
Improved structural monitoring
Improved repair and refurbishment methods
Cost reductions

This leads to some specific technology needs:-

Friction stir welding of airframes
Laser cutting and welding
Adhesive bonding of composites
Distortion reduced welding techniques
Repair of gas turbines
Linear friction welding for aeroengines Shaped metal deposition

Automotive & road transport

The drivers here are well known:-
Cost reductions
Faster time to market
Lower fuel consumption
Recycling of components

The assessment of important technology needs is as follows:-

Hybrid welding (YAG/MIG)
Lightweighting - hydroforms, use of Mg
Repair of Al alloy structures
Resistance spot welding of very high strength steels
Disassembly of joints
Joints between dissimilar materials (plastic/metal, etc)
Improved adhesives
Magnetic pulse welding
Mechanical jointing
Brazing by MIG or laser

Construction & engineering

This sector covers ships, civil structures, rail and off-highway vehicles and, in general, the drivers are:-
Improved accuracy in assembly
Reduced fabrication hours
Reduced rework
Lower whole life costs
Flexible manufacture
Reduced environmental impact

There are many technology needs, but TWI considers that some of the most important ones in terms of welding and joining are:-

Lasers for cutting and welding
Friction stir welding of aluminium alloys
Long range inspection methods, e.g. rails
Tunnel repair techniques
Smart structures subject to fatigue
Hybrid laser-arc welding
Structural health monitoring

Oil, gas, petrochemical

The drivers are related to reducing costs of operation, managing risk and improving efficiency:-
Deep-water exploration and production
Reliability engineering
Materials and joints for extreme environments
Miniaturisation of process plant
Corrosion management
Reduced fabrication hours

Covering both upstream and downstream requirements, the technologies of future importance related to welding and joining are:-

Structural integrity of joints in deepwater pipelines and risers
Structural integrity of floating production systems
Risk based inspection of pipelines, tanks, etc
Use of 13% Cr steels
Wider use of welded Ti alloys
Long range inspection techniques
Integrity of duplex steels with cathodic protection
Lower cost pipe manufacture and laying e.g. by the use of hybrid welding processes
High strength line pipes, e.g. X 100 types
Pipe in pipe systems

Power generation

Included in this sector are nuclear plant, gas turbines and fossil fuel power generation, together with nuclear waste management. The drivers leading to welding and joining needs are:-
Plant life extension
Safety case assessments
Lower whole life costs
Reduction of environmental impact
Higher plant efficiencies
Renewable energy sources

The technology requirements seen by TWI depend on the energy source but analysis shows that the following are important:-

Nuclear risk informed maintenance
advanced inspection
remote and high integrity repair methods
waste encapsulation
better defect assessment procedures
Gas turbines blade repair
coating improvements
integral rotor fabrication (linear friction welding)
Fossil steam risk based maintenance
welding of advanced materials
high productivity power beam welding
avoidance of PWHT

Electronics, photonics and sensors

This is a fast moving field which has the following main drivers:-
Reduced environmental impact
Harsher environments
Higher speed/frequencies/power
Cost reduction

Translated into welding and joining needs, the high priorities appear to be:-

Reliability of electronic packaging
Photonics packaging
Agile manufacturing
High temperature device materials
Biodegradable materials
Pb-free solders
Design for disassembly
Nanoscale joining

4. Corporate memory

The analysis given above is very broad in its coverage. It shows that welding and joining technology is among the widest of all engineering fields and worthy of attracting the most skilled engineers. This aspect is, perhaps, the biggest of all the challenges facing the welding and joining community. Globalisation of companies and their consolidation can so easily lead to a loss of expertise, and corporate knowledge becomes fragmented or lost. This has led TWI to conclude that knowledge must be captured and made accessible in better ways and is the reason why it is investing heavily in its own Internet product known as JoinIT®. Engineers need information and knowledge at the right time, in the right format, and on their desk. The format of JoinIT® is based on providing (i) short summaries on specific topics, (ii) guides to best practice, (iii) answers to frequently asked questions, and (iv) software toolkits which can be used interactively to quantify answers on welding procedures, costs, etc.

The usage of JoinIT® and TWI's web site is increasing monthly and there are now 60,000 user sessions per month. Of course, knowledge transfer can take place in many ways. Figure 1 shows the various mechanisms used by TWI and, in 10 years from now, it is certain that all will still be in place. However, we can anticipate that there will be much more transfer of knowledge involving IT delivery, working more towards the right hand side of Figure 1. All companies will need to give consideration to retaining a 'corporate technical memory' and the magnitude and expense of the task should not be underestimated. It is one thing to have the necessary hardware and software tools, but another to capture knowledge from experienced staff in the appropriate form so as to create the necessary content for the corporate memory.

Fig.1. Analysis of TWI services
Fig.1. Analysis of TWI services


5. Education, qualifications and certification

Tremendous progress has been made by the international welding and joining community in the harmonisation of the requirements for welding engineers, welding technologists and welding specialists. For example, the establishment of the title 'International Welding Engineer' (IWE) across the world by the IIW is a major step forward. Almost every developed country now recognises the qualification and understands its significance. This is probably unique in any branch of engineering at this time.

The establishment of the IWE has been driven by the importance of welding and joining on engineering safety and by the recognition in key European and international standards of the importance of competence in welding technology. Whilst we can expect increasing contractual requirements for the use of IWE personnel for equipment and plant construction which is safety critical, historic qualifications of this kind may not be enough where there is a societal risk.

A qualification obtained say 10 years ago does not, in itself, demonstrate current competence. In certain specialist roles in the welding and joining context, we can expect, in the next 10 years, that current competence will need to be assessed in some way and that more individuals will be required to possess certificates to show that they are up-to-date, informed and licensed to practice. This is already true for welders, NDT operators and welding inspectors, and various international schemes exist against which individuals can be assessed and examined on a regular basis, say every 5 years. We can anticipate that this will be extended soon to a number of other practitioner roles, such as plastics welders, adhesive bonders, thermal spray technicians, rail welders, and so on, and also to people with engineer level responsibilities. In effect, we will see increasing regulation where public safety matters, and the welding and joining community must respond in an adequate and measured way.

6. Environmental and energy impact

This area has received very little attention in the welding and joining community until just recently. The IIW has set up a new working group on the topic and will be looking at issues related to:-
Energy efficiency and consumption
Reducing waste
Reducing packaging
Recycling and disposal

Pekkari [6] recently reviewed those matters which must be tackled by companies involved in welding, joining and cutting if we are to reduce the impact on our environment. He placed emphasis on the need for companies to work to ISO 14001 and to install an Environmental Management System, and he noted that some major organisations are already getting their vendors to put in appropriate management systems if they want to remain a supplier. Figure 2 shows a list of worldwide ISO 14001 certifications and reveals that there is significant growth taking place in Europe and Japan in the numbers of certifications, and this growth will undoubtedly continue in the next 5 years. Whilst regulation will have a big and immediate effect on welding consumable suppliers, all manufacturers will need to be concerned increasingly with waste management, recycling, disassembly and packaging, as well as with the usual issues of welding fume, electromagnetic fields, radiation, laser safety and other similar factors governing health, safety and the environment.

Fig.2. ISO 14001 certifications in the world ( ref.6)
Fig.2. ISO 14001 certifications in the world ( ref.6)

7. Closing remarks

This paper is an attempt to bring together a number of factors which will be important in the next 5-10 years. Foresighting has clarified the big issues facing the welding and joining community as was shown in Table 1, and the matters discussed in sections 3-6 above show the responses so far. These include forecasts of various research and development needs to tackle productivity issues, plant life extension, repair, infrastructure and so on, and much attention will need to be given to the areas of knowledge management, people skills and the environment. Much more could be written on the issue of improved quality of life and the opportunities which exist for the welding and joining community to assist in health care and the medical sector. This area should be watched since all countries have similar problems and needs.

8. References

  1. Gavigor, J P and Cahill, E 'Overview of recent European and Non-European National Technology Foresight Studies'. Technical Report TR97/02. European Commission EUR 17301 EN, March 1997.
  2. Dolby, R E, 'Trends in Materials Joining Science and Technology in Western Europe', European Conference on Welding & Joining Science & Technology, Madrid, March 1997, ASM International Europe,pp1-8.
  3. Von Hofe, D, 'Trends in R&D activities in Joining Technologies', IIW Document SG-GE-RES-119-98.
  4. Eisenhauer, J, 'Industry Vision Workshop on Welding'. Sponsored by US DoE and American Welding Society, Gathersburg, June 1998.
  5. Ueda Y, 'Strategic vision of materials joining in Japan', Transactions of JWRI, 23 2, Dec 1994, pp109-133.
  6. Pekkari, B 'Growing concern about Health, Safety and Environment in Welding', 'Welding in the World', 44, Supplementary Issue July/Aug 2000.

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