Over the past 15 years the major airframe manufacturers around the world have been investigating alternatives to riveted airframe structures. This development work has been driven by the opportunity to save weight by the removal of overlapping aluminium skins and hundreds of thousands of rivets.
The two major joining techniques that have been investigated are friction stir welding (FSW) and laser beam welding.
Friction stir welding of airframe structures
FSW was adopted for the joining of fuel tanks on satellite launch vehicles in the late 1990s with spectacular results in terms of improved joint efficiency, strength, reduced rework and substantial cost savings. Its use in commercial aircraft manufacture has been slower to develop, but is starting to increase due to the weight and cost savings associated with its use.
Laser beam welding of airframe structures
Laser welding of aluminium materials for airframe manufacture is growing in interest, and the large aerospace companies are investing more time in this technology in an effort to replace riveting wherever possible.
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