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Priority Welding, Joining and Associated Research in Europe


Priority Areas for Welding, Joining and Associated Engineering Research in Europe


R E Dolby

Paper presented at 6th International Conference on Trends in Welding Research, 15-19 April 2002, Pine Mountain, Georgia, USA


The paper considers the general drivers influencing strategy for those involved in welding, joining and related technologies in industry. Taking the aerospace, oil and gas, power generation and electronics/sensors industrial sectors as examples, a recent compilation of specific drivers for change are reviewed, with a corresponding list of research and technology needs. Finally, hot topics being researched in Europe are discussed with recent trends highlighted.

1. Introduction

The approach taken in this paper is to review the general drivers, which influence welding, joining and associated engineering strategy in all industry sectors. This borrows and adapts a previous statement on key drivers developed in an Industry Vision Workshop in the USA held in 1998. [1] Next, some specific drivers for four industrial sectors will be presented which TWI sees as important in the present context. These drivers lead to various research and technology (R&T) needs and these will be outlined for each of the four sectors. Although these needs have been compiled by senior staff and advisers to TWI, they are considered to be representative of the R&T needs for most European countries.

Finally, today's 'hot' topics being researched in Europe in Universities, Research & Technology Organisations and Industry will be presented. These have been put together by consultations with key players from individual European countries and the picture is an update of a similar exercise conducted by the author in 1997 [2] . The comparison with the 1997 exercise reveals some clear trends in R&T in the last 5 years which will be highlighted.

2. General Drivers for Welding & Joining

The Industry Vision Workshop held in 1998 in the USA, produced a key list of drivers of the general type, which are believed still to be accurate for most developed countries in the world and to hold good in 2002. Table 1 is a modification of the USA list showing the most important drivers which are influencing the future business of manufacturing and end-user companies and, therefore, welding and joining activities. Some are threats to those actively involved in welding and joining technology, 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 national infrastructures and, ultimately, on welding and joining issues. A decrease in manufacturing as a percentage of Gross National Product 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 1)

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
Regulation Certification for safety
Environmental impact
Quality/Reliability Fitness-for-purpose
Plant life extension

3. Sector Drivers & Technology Needs

3.1 Background

Staff at TWI are regularly consulting industry and other welding, joining and engineering 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 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 2001 and gives a strong indication as to the expected trends in technology that will be seen in the next 5 years. Only four sectors are discussed in this paper to illustrate the approach; namely aerospace, oil & gas, power generation, and electronics and sensors.

3.2 Aerospace

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 research and technology needs:

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

3.3 Oil, Gas, Petrochemical

The drivers are related to reducing costs of operation, managing risk and improving efficiency, as follows:
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, some of the R&T topics of importance related to welding and joining are:

Structural integrity of joints in deep water 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. use of hybrid welding processes
High strength line pipes, e.g. X100 types
Pipe in pipe systems
Underwater welding and cutting

3.4 Power Generation

Included in this sector are nuclear plant, gas turbines and fossil fuel power generation, together with advanced energy systems and renewables. 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 has shown that the following are important:


risk informed maintenance
advanced inspection
remote and high integrity repair methods
spent fuel encapsulation
better defect assessment procedures
improved creep-fatigue life assessment procedures

Gas Turbines

blade repair
integral rotor fabrication, e.g. linear friction welding
thermal protection systems

Fossil Steam

risk based maintenance
welding of advanced materials
high productivity power beam welding
avoidance of PWHT


fuel cell fabrication
hydro-electric plant integrity assessment

Electronics, Photonics and Sensors

This is a fast moving field which involves most other industry sectors and which has the following main drivers:
Reduced environmental impact
Harsher environments
Cost reduction

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

Reliability of electronic packaging
Photonics assembly and packaging
Agile manufacturing
High temperature device materials and packaging
Biodegradable materials
Lead free solders
Nanoscale joining

4. Priority Areas for Research and Technology in Europe

The 1997 review [2] has been updated by discussion with leading experts in the various countries and the 2002 analysis is shown below. The countries which identified the priority areas are given in brackets using agreed nomenclature. The topics shown are ones where several countries have the same priority, but the list is indicative rather than comprehensive in view of the limited consultation achieved in each country.

Structural Integrity
Toughness of aluminium alloy welds NL, F, D, UK
Improvement defect assessment methods F, DK, UK, A, S, N, P
Probabilistic and risk approaches Fin, UK
High temperature performance Fin, A, UK, S, P, I, B
Properties of non-arc welds A, Fin, UK, D, DK, S, I
Mismatch effects D, UK, DK, B

Automated UT NL, F, UK, S, P
Spot welds S, UK, D
UT defect sizing A, DK, UK, P, I

Weldability of Metals
Welded aluminium alloys DK, F, N, D, UK, S, P, B
+Computer modelling of microstructures A, UK, Fin, P, S
Ultra high strength steels S, NL, N, Fin, I, D
9-13Cr Steels UK, N, B, S
Superaustenitic/superduplex alloys F, NL, DK, S, B

Plastics and Ceramics Joining
Lasers for plastics UK, DK, F, S
Ceramic to metal joining A, Fin, NL, D, I
Polymer composites D, UK, DK

Arc Welding
High deposition rates (TIG, MIG, SA) F, NL, Fin, DK, D, UK, P, A, S, I
Sensors S, UK, DK, Fin, NL, F, I, P, D
Hybrid with laser D, P, UK, S, F, DK
Coated steels S, UK, B

Laser & Electron Beam
Laser hybrid with arc see above
High power Nd-YAG processing Fin, S, UK, F, B
Laser welding of aluminium DK, F, UK, NL, D, S
Diode lasers P, UK, D
Sensors D, UK, DK, I
EB reduced pressure/non vacuum UK, D

Durability Fin, S, NL, UK, D, P
High temperature NL, D

Friction & Forge
Friction Stir UK, DK, S, N, F, P, D, I
Linear A, UK
Magnetic pulse S

Resistance/Mechanical Fastening
Coated steels Fin, F, DK, B, UK
Fastening S, Fin, D
Modelling DK, D, S

Advanced packaging/interconnection NL, UK, D, DK, Fin
Lead free solders UK
Conductive adhesives D, UK

Thermal Spraying
HVOF E, UK, Fin, B, D

Compared to the survey 5 years ago, there have been some significant changes in research emphasis. In the structural integrity area, more countries are now working on flaw assessment methods and on weld high temperature performance. In metals welding, the weldability of Al alloys is attracting more effort and there remains a strong emphasis on ultra-high strength steels. Work on martensitic and supermartensitic steels has also increased markedly.

High deposition rate arc welding and associated sensor work is still a key topic and laser-arc hybrid processes are now being heavily researched in many countries. There is a bigger effort on light weighting of structures seen in the increased research into light alloys, particularly aluminium, where laser and friction stir research has expanded significantly. Coated steel welding is also popular, as is the move to a greater use of adhesive bonding.

Finally, the working environment is seeing a higher priority in research, with increasing attention being paid to effects of electromagnetic radiation and manganese in welding fume as well as hexavalent chromium.

5. Concluding Remarks

Technology Foresighting is an active process in most developed countries and is helpful in identifying the key issues and priorities for action. Foresighting exercises devoted to welding, joining and associated technologies are not as common but the International Institute of Welding, through its Study Group on Welding Research, attempts to pull together all Foresight reports published worldwide. It is important that these processes are fostered and encouraged because they are powerful in identifying technology needs which then lead to specific research needs and programmes. This paper has illustrated one approach which can result in clear targets for research providers whether in university, research organisations or industry. 

6. Acknowledgements

Thanks are due to Mr B Pekkari, Prof U Dilthey, Prof J Kristensen, Dr M Scasso, Prof. L Quintino, Prof H Cerjak, Prof R Karppi, Ir N Bosman and Ir A Dhooge, for their contributions on hot topics.

7. References

  1. J Eisenhauer 'Industry Vision Workshop on Welding' sponsored by US DOE & AWS, Gathersburg, (1998)
  2. R E Dolby 'Trends in Materials Joining Science & Technology in Western Europe' European Conference on Welding and Joining Science & Technology, Madrid, (1977), ASM International Europe, 1-8.

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