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TIG Welding Aluminum

TIG Welding Aluminum



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Published by: aliasghar369 on Jan 15, 2009
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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.
Operators can adjust the welding output frequency in the range of 20 to 250 hertz.Increasing frequency produces a tight, focused arc cone. This narrows the weld bead,which helps when welding in corners, on root passes, and fillet welds; it also permitsfaster travel speed on some joints. Decreasing output frequency produces a broaderarc cone, which widens the weld bead profile and provides greater cleaning action.GTAW inverters accept single- or three-phase, 50- or 60-hertz, 230- or 460-volt inputpower. This provides flexibility when moving the machine between jobs sites oraround a large facility. Using three-phase power and welding at 300 amps (460 voltsprimary), an AC/DC GTAW inverter requires only 18 amps of primary current. A 5-to 300-amp AC/DC GTAW machine weighs about 90 pounds.GTAW AccessoriesIf most welding is done at 200 amps or less, an air-cooled torch works well. Forwelding above 200 amps, a water-cooled torch should be considered. For portability,water coolers can be mounted on a wheeled cart that also carries the power source andgas bottles.Remote control capabilities usually include current (amperage) and contactor control(the contactor keeps the torch electrically cold until energized and starts and stops thegas flow to the torch). The most popular remote control is a foot pedal that operatesmuch like an auto’s gas pedal; the more it is depressed, the more amperage flows.Another type of control - - one that affords greater mobility but is more difficult tolearn - - is a finger tip control, which is mounted on the torch.If most work is done on a bench or around structures that permit mobility, the footpedal remote control is probably a better option because it’s easier to use. Conversely,if most work is done in awkward positions, a finger tip control may be the betterchoice.Before Welding StartsThe following suggestions address the basic areas of GTAW setup. However, they areno substitute for carefully reading the operator’s manual, watching instructionalvideos, and following safety precautions, such as wearing protective gloves andglasses.
1. Determine amperage requirements.
Each 0.001 inch of metal to be meltedrequires about 1 amp of welding power. For example, welding 1/8-inch aluminumrequires about 125 amps.
2. Select the correct current.
AC should be used for aluminum, magnesium, andzinc die cast. When exposed to air, these metals form an oxide layer that melts at amuch higher temperature than the base metal. If not removed, this oxide causesincomplete weld fusion.Fortunately, AC inherently provides a cleaning action. While the EN portion of theAC cycle directs heat into the work and melts the base metal, the EP portion - - wherecurrent flows from the work to the electrode - - blasts off the surface oxides.
3. Use the right gas.
Usually, pure argon is employed, although thicker weldmentsmay require an argon/helium or other specialty mix. If the wrong gas is used, such as
the 75 percent argon/25 percent CO(2) mix commonly used for GMAW, the tungstenimmediately will begin to be consumed or deposited in the weld puddle.
4. Set the proper gas flow rate.
More is not better, so 15 to 20 cubic feet per hour(CFH) should suffice. Argon is about 1-1/3 heavier than air. When welding in a flatposition, the gas naturally flows out of the torch and covers the weld pool. Foroverhead welding, the gas flow rate should begin at 20 CFH, and small increments of 5 CFH can be made, if necessary.In any position, if the gas flows out at too high a velocity, it can bounce off theworkpiece and start a swirling motion parallel to the torch cup called a venturi. Aventuri can pull air into the gas flow, bring in contaminating oxygen and nitrogen, andcreate pinholes in the weld. Unfortunately, some operators automatically increase thegas flow when they see a pinhole, worsening the problem they tried to fix.
5. Select the right type of tungsten.
For AC welding, the traditional practice calls forselecting a pure tungsten electrode and forming a ball at the end of the electrode. Thisstill holds true for most applications and welding with a conventional power source.However, for making critical welds on materials thinner than 0.09 in., or when using aTIG power source with an adjustable frequency output, new recommendations call fortreating the tungsten almost as if the weld were being made in the DC mode. Select a2-percent-type tungsten (thorium, cerium, etc.) and grind it to a point in the longdirection, making the point roughly two times as long as the diameter. A 0.010- to0.030-inch flat should be made on the end to prevent balling and the tungsten frombeing transferred across the arc.With a pointed electrode, a skilled operator can place a 1/8-inch bead on a fillet weldmade from 1/8-inch aluminum plates. Without this technology, the ball on the end of the electrode would have forced the operator to make a larger weld bead and thengrind the bead down to final size.
6. Select the right diameter of tungsten.
The current-carrying capacity of a tungstenis directly proportional to the area of its cross section. For example, a 2 percentthoriated, 3/32-inch (0.093-inch) tungsten has a current-carrying capacity of 150 to250 amps, whereas a 2 percent thoriated, 0.040-inch tungsten has a current-carryingcapacity of 15 to 80 amps.There is no such thing as an all-purpose electrode, despite the reputation of the 3/32-inch electrode. Attempting to weld at 18 amps with a 3/32-inch electrode will createarc starting and arc stability problems; the current is insufficient to drive through theelectrode. Conversely, attempting to use a 3/32-inch tungsten to weld at 300 ampscreates tungsten "spitting" - - the excess current causes the tungsten to migrate to theworkpiece.
7. Avoid tungsten contamination.
If the tungsten electrode becomes contaminatedby accidentally touching the weld pool, welding must be stopped, because acontaminated electrode can produce an unstable arc. To break off the contaminatedportion, the tungsten should be removed from the torch, placed on a table with thecontaminated end hanging over the edge, and the contaminated portion struck firmly.The tungsten should then be resharpened.

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