JOINING ALUMINUM WITH GTAWAdvice for the novice
By Mike Sammons, Miller Electric Mfg. Co.
Aluminum: beautiful, lightweight, strong, versatile...and a real challenge to weld,especially for beginning welders.Fortunately, some newer gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) systems have beendesigned specifically for aluminum welding. This article describes some of the newequipment available and its benefits, accessories required, points to consider beforewelding, and the techniques required to make a good weld bead.GTAW Power SourcesIn general, GTAW power sources with an AC/DC output come in four categories,which are listed here in order of lowest to highest price:
1. Light fabrication.
Machines designed for light fabrication usually have an ACoutput from 20 to 165 amps. While they do not incorporate a square wave output orbalance control technology, they do produce an arc suitable for a variety of work,including applications for the home hobbyist.
2. Light industrial, maintenance/repair, metal fabrication.
This newer class of light industrial machine provides roughly a 15 to 180 AC output and a professional-quality arc. Key features include: a square wave output, a fixed balance control set formore penetration than cleaning (a 60/40 electrode negative (EN) to electrode positive(EP) ratio works best for most applications), built-in high-frequency starting forpositive starts without arc wandering, and a built-in stabilizer for a more consistentarc while welding.
3. Industrial production, fabrication, aerospace, repair.
Industrial productionGTAW power sources have a square wave output with an adjustable balance control.Greater amounts of EN create a deeper, narrower weld bead and better jointpenetration. Greater EP values remove more oxide and create a shallower, wider bead.Transformer-rectifier GTAW machines can adjust EN values from 45 to 68 percent.Machines are available with a variety of outputs, typically rated at 250, 350, and 500amps with a 40 or 60 percent duty cycle. The low-end amperage range listed for thesemachines is usually 5, 3 or 25 amps, respectively. These power sources have createdmillions of code-quality GTA welds.
4. Inverter-based AC GTAW machines.
Also considered industrial power sources,an inverter gives the professional welder more capability to tailor the width, depth andappearance of the weld bead for an application.Inverters can adjust EN duration from 50 to 90 percent. Adding more EN to the cyclemay: increase travel speed by up to 20 percent, narrow the weld bead, achieve greaterpenetration, permit using a smaller-diameter tungsten (to more precisely direct theheat or to make a narrower weld bead), and reduce the size of the etched zone forimproved cosmetics.