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Lorentz force in the molten tip of an arc electrode

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1965 Br. J. Appl. Phys. 16 1169
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1965, VOL. 16

Eorentz force in the molten tip of an arc electrode

Churchill College, University of Cambridge
MS. received 2nd February 1965, in revised form 31st March 1965

Abstract. A general expression for the Lorentz force in the molten tip of an arc
electrode is derived from the surface integral of Maxwell stress. The Lorentz force

in typical situations is calculated and its variation and eEect during the formation and
detachment of the molten tip are discussed. Values much larger than those customarily
associated with molten tips are seen to appear towards the end of the tip detachment

1. Introduction
Consider an electric arc in a gas atmosphere, one of whose electrodes (of either polarity)
is a thin rod o r wire. Heat from the arc process and the flow of current through the wire
can cause the tip of the wire to melt. The molten tip thus formed is often detached as a
droplet from the electrode and transferred through the arc by a combination of electromagnetic, fluid-dynamic, and gravitational forces. If the electrode wire as it melts is
advanced steadily to maintain a quasi-steady system in which the arc length and current
etc. fluctuate only slightly during the cycle of melting and detachment of the electrode tip,
the process of tip detachment can become regular. Such a well regulated system is the
basis, for example, of the automatic consumable-electrode welding process (see Amson
1962 for a short bibliography of the process). (Typical rates of droplet detachment from
the tip of an aluminium wire, & in. diameter, in an argon arc, vary between 1 per second
at 30 A to over 1000 per second at 350 A, the electrode feed speeds being 1 a2 and 14 cm sec-l
Gravity is not always a predominant force in tip detachment, since detachment can take
place coaxially with the electrode wire, regardless of the systems orientation, providing
the current is high enough. Forces other than gravity arise from the interaction of the
electric current and its own magnetic field. The direct electromagnetic forces are the
Lorentz forces within the body of the molten tip prior to detachment; the indirect ones are
those due to the flow of arc plasma and the gas about the tip of the wire, induced by the
Lorentz forces in the conducting arc plasma itself. These flows are often violent, and
plasma velocities of the order of 1 k m sec1 are not unusual, whilst detached droplets with
a mass of about 10 mg, ir, free flight along the arc axis, have often been observed cinematically to receive accelerations of over 100 g from such plasma jet streams (Amson 1962,
Maecker 1955, Wells 1962, Amson and Salter 1963).
In this paper we study the contribution to the forces of tip detachment arising from the
axial component of Lorentz force in the molten tip. For simplicity we only consider a
symmetrical arrangement, i.e. one in which the current, the magnetic field, the droplet at
the tip, and the arc are all disposed symmetrically with respect to the axis of the cylindrical
wire electrode. This restriction also ensures that whatever torques appear within the
molten tip shall have axial symmetry, and hence that the resulting force acting on the
droplet is torque-free. When the system is not symmetric, the combination of thrust and
torque in the detaching tip may well explain the very different motions of droplets observed
in this situation (Needham 1963, British Welding Research Association Report A1/38/63).
Whilst the radial components of Lorentz force produce an increase of pressure throughout
a conductor in general, this contributes nothing to the axial force on the conductor in the
absence of fluid motion in the latter. But when fluid motion is present, and especially for
example in the compound conductor formed by the interior of the molten tip of an arc


J. C. Amson

electrode and the arc plasma about its exterior, the situation can alter radically and ad&.
tional axial forces, the so-called magnetokinetic forces, can appear (Amson and Salter
1963, Serdjuk 1962). Both these two further aspects of Lorentz force in the molten tip
of an arc electrode lie beyond the scope of the present study, and must be reserved for a
later investigation.

2. General theory
We shall use a right-handed coordinate system and the notation shown in figure 1.

Unmelted elrctrode wire


Melting interface

Molten droplet

41 \


A Is.0

Figure 1. Typical form of a pendent droplet at the molten tip of an arc electrode, showing
notation used in the text. a maximum droplet radius, b wire radius, T stress vector, n normal
The Lorentz force L on a conductor in a magnetic field can always be represented by
the surace integral of the Maxwell stress tensor 9:


. dS.

The absolute magnitude of the stress tensor Y is & p p o H 2(Abraham and Becker 1944,
Landau and Lifshitz 1960), independent of the stress direction, where p is the relative
permeability of the conductor ( p = 1 in the molten tip since its temperature is then above
the Curie point), p o = 477 x IO-' is the permeability constant, H = I(r)/2nr is the magnitude of our magnetic field strength vector H and I(r) is the total current enclosed by the
circle of radius Y about the z axis. The direction of the stress at the surface of the conductor is such that the magnetic field H there always bisects the angle between the stress T
and the outwards surface normal vector n. It is easy to see that T is always directed inwards and perpendicular to the surfaces of our conductor.
In general the axisymmetric surfaces of a molten tip are described by two pairs of rela) the
tionships, namely Y = r(s), z = z(s) for the outer surface, and r = ?(U), y = y ( ~ for

Lorentz force in the molten tip of an arc electrode


interfacial surface between the molten tip and the still unmelted wire. The total Lorentz
force in the molten tip is then



F p


. dSp f

. dSB



from which we can calculate the magnitude of the axial component in a downwards direction as

wherej( ) is the current density distribution function with respect to s or U.

The following assertion shows that the non-conducting surfaces do not affect this quantity.
The Lorentz force in an axisymmetric conductor is independent of the suvfaceprojile of any
zone where the surface current density is zero.
For supposej(s) is defined over the interval [0,S ] such thatj(s) = 0 for s1 d s < spand
is arbitrary elsewhere, and sl, se are such that 0 s1 < s2 < S but otherwise arbitrary,
then the contribution to the Lorentz force from the outer surface of the conductor is


1 [(

- pOr



j ( s ) r(s) ds



j(s) r(s) ds

] 2 r:)*



Here the first and third members of Lo are obviously independent of the profile function
r(s) in the zone [s, s2]. The second member reduces to


where b,, b, are the radii of the points on the surface at sl, sp respectively, and I , is the
current enclosed by the circle of radius b, (or b2 for that matter, since no current emerges
from the zone [s, s,]). Thus the second member is also independent of the profile function
r(s) in Isl, s,] since I,, b,, b2 are each themselves independent of it there. Thus Lo is independent of the shape of the conductor in [s, sz]. Since s1 and s, are arbitrary in [0,S ]
the assertion follows.
The contribution from the non-conducting zone [sl,s2] is the same as if the actual conductors surface was replaced by a coaxial cylinder and an annular disk with radii b, and b2,
since the contribution from the cylinder is zero by symmetry, and from the disk is just
3 p o l l 2 log (b,/b,). Moreover, if b, > b, the contribution hinders detachment of a molten
tip, and if b2 < b, the contribution assists detachment. The contribution is nil when
s1 = 0, whatever s, may be, since
lim 112 log 2 = O
that is, a non-conducting cap at the apex of a molten tip contributes nothing to the
Lorentz force Lo.
We may assumej(u) = j , constant, in the first member of L above. Further, the interface BB can usually be approximated by a cone, and then this first member reduces to


J . C. Amson

(p,,/l6~) I d 2 (where I d (<I ) is the current actually passing through the molten tip). This
value is independent of the cone angle, as can easily be shown. Accordingly, the contribution Li from the interface BB is the same as if the interface was a flat disk. For the
remainder of this work we shall adopt these assumptions and in particular that the first
member of L is (p0/16r)16. When the current density is uniformly distributed over the

outer surface, we have j ( s )

= j = I/A = constant,

where A

= 277


ds is the area of

the outer surface. The contribution Lo from the outer surface is then



p(s) =

r(s) ds]




and P(S) is a function depending only on the profile of the tip. Thus Lo consists essentially
of the product of the square of the current passing through the tip, and a coefficient whose
value is determined solely by the shape of the molten tip. Similar expressions can readily
be calculated for linear or Gaussian distributions of the current density.
Two factors influence the value of the integrated stress over the outer surface of the tip
more than any others; these are the shape of the surface arid the way in which the current
is distributed over the surface.
The shape of the surface is the result of a number of difTerent forces. The mass of the
tip is influenced by gravity; the atmosphere about the drop is in motion, giving rise to aerodynamic and plasmadynamic forces ; thermal and electromagnetic convection inside the
tip produces additional surface forces. Though the surface energy of the tip reacts against
these many forces. its own nature is modified to an unknown extent by the arc root
mechanisms. (At the anode of our arcs, current densities range between 1 and 60 k A cm-l,
power densities between 6 and 1000 kw cm-I; at a cathode, values up to 100 times larger
than these can occur (Ecker 1961). Again, nearly all these factors depend on the polarity
of the tip, and on which metals, gases, gas pressures, impurity levels and operating modes
are being used in any given situation, Moreover, the magnitude and disposition of the
forces often depend on the shape of the tip itself. Consequently it is very difficult to
determine theoretical tip profiles. The best we can do at present is to observe experimental profiles, to assign approximate formulae to them, and then use these formulae in
our expressions for the Lorentz force.
In a similar way the current density distribution depends on so many arc-physical circumstances, that only the simples: specifications of its distribution function are reasonable.
For the anode of a non-consumable-electrode arc, the current distribution may be either
almost Gaussian or else concentrated in a fairly wide axially central zone at almost uniform
density (Nestor 1962). However, almost nothing is known about the comparable situation
in a consumable-electrode arc because of the practical difficulties that have so far prohibited its investigation. For the cathode, the current is always concentrated at such high
but uncertain densities in the small cathode spot, and nowhere else, that the distribution
may again be represented either as a disk of constant current density or by a Gaussian
function of very tight concentration. The overall shape of the molten cathodic tip is then
often irrelevant to the calculation of Lorentz force. With high melting point, high density
metals of good thermionic emittance, such as tungsten, molybdenum and zirconium, tip
detachment from the cathode often occurs not by whole droplets of roughly the same
diameter as the wire, but as a rapid succession of micro-droplets which first appear as small
protuberances somewhere near the apex of the molten tip (G. R. Salter private communication, Cooksey and Milner 1962). If we regard such protuberances as cathode tips

Lorentz force in the molten tip of an arc electrode


themselves, then the distribution of current will be with respect to the surface of the protuberance alone and not the whole of the molten tip, and the remarks made about the anode
tips will apply here as well.

3. Lorentz force in molten tips with empirically determined profiles

We shall take advantage of the many observations, made by high-speed cine photography
during recent years, of the shapes adopted by the molten tips of consumable arc-electrodes
(G. R. Salter private communication, Cooksey and Milner 1962, Needham et al. 1960,
Ishizaki 1963, Greene 1960),and calculate the Lorentz force in tips whose shapes are
simple geometrical approximations to those observed.


,'Arc mantle

Conduction zone




-- I


( i i ) a=b

ii) a r b


( i i i ) 04

Figure 2. Typical approximate droplet shapes in the (i) pre-transition, (ii) transition and (iii)
post-transition modes of droplet detachment from the molten tip of an arc electrode.
Figure 2 illustrates the typical approximations to the tip shapes usually encountered in
the three principal modes of operation in the so-called free flight type of transfer (in which
the arc gap is never short-circuited by the detaching tip of the electrode) when using aluminium, copper, or mild steel electrodes in an argon atmosphere, for example. As is
evident from the survey of metal transfer characteristics by Cooksey and Mi!ner (1962),
these particular forms are notable for their symmetry, regularity, and reproducibility, but
do by no means exhaust the extensive catalogue of forms of transfer recorded to date.
Case (i): n > b
Here we readily calculate that


a sin
+ log ___

- pLonal


j(+') sin +' d+'] cot

+ d+.

Assuming that j(+) is uniform, and hence related to j ( r ) (already assumed uniform in $2)
(1 - cos @)j(+)= nb2
we can complete the integration above and, after simplifying the result, obtain

J. C. Amson


where the shape coefficient P is

P =--og-l a sin CD - -1 b
4 1 - cos CD + (1 - cos C D ) Z log 1 -k cos @ '
This value for L was calculated by Greene (1960) using a more direct method only applicable
with ease when bothj(q5) andj(r) are constants.
The shape coefficient P can be conveniently written as the sum of two independent
functions, P = P(a) P(CD), where

a 1
P(a) = log - - b 4
P(@) = log sin Q, -

1 - cos @ (1 - cos CD)2 log 1

+ cos @

where P(a) depends only on the ratio between the maximum tip radius a and the wire
radius b, and P ( 0 ) depends only on the extent CD to which the conduction zone covers the
droplet surface (see figure 3). Whilst P(a) is a simple increasing function of its argument,



l o g '6- I 4' 0 2 6

- 1 . 0 " ' "


P(Q,) reveals the way in which the tip profile intervenes in the Lorentz force values: the
latter grow rapidly from negative to positive as the conduction zone spreads out over the
tip's lower surface, and then begin to shrink again as the conduction zone spreads even
further up the tip on to the diminishing area of the tip's shoulders.
Case (ii): a = b
This is a special case of case (i), where @ = $T, fixed, and a = b. When, as above,
j(+) andj(r) are constants and related, then their relation depends on the height c of the
cylindrical collar CB' :
I _ _1- ~
j(q5) = __
27b2 1 cia'
In this case

P(c) = -

(see figure 4).

I*.o PP(c)


- log

4)(1 f


Lorentz force in the molten t@ of an arc electrode


Figure 4. Variation of the Lorentz force coefficient P(c) with the relative droplet length c/a.

Case (iii): a < b

This is a further specialization, insofar as the current I d actually passing through the
molten tip proper is now only part of the total current I. Here L = (p&) Id2P(C), the
coefficient P(c) being the same as in case (ii).
It is useful, as shown by Amson and Salter (1963), to combine the separate equations
in the three cases above into the single equation

where the shape coefficient q is a function solely of the ratio a/b.

To do this we make two assumptions, both of which appear plausible in the light of
observation, but difficult to test directly. First, when a > b, the area A of the conduction
zone on the tip's outer surface remains constant and equal to A" (the area it has when
a = b); second, when a S b, then I d = C I and c is a function solely of alb. Then
cos@ = 1 -




and we can substitute for cos 0 in the coefficient P(aj (case (i)) thus converting it into
P{O(a/b)},a function not of @ but of aib. Also, for fixed c, the coefficient c2P(c)(case (iii))
is a function of a/b. Thus for fixed c, we have



(a > b)


(a d b)
q being a function solely of aib as required. This form of the function is shown in figure 5 ,
using the specific values c = +a and a = (a/b)?.


Figure 5. Variation of the Lorentz force coefficient q with the relative size of the droplet a/b.


J. C. Amson

The two assumptions behind q are in fact assumptions about the relationships be:ween
the current I, current density j , and tip size a. For if current I passes through just the
entire surface A* of the tip whose radius is a = b (case (ii))at a densityj* = I*/A*, then
since I < I when a > b, but A = A* by assumption, we have

which does not appear to contradict the experimental evidence. Similarly, since I
when a < b, and A = (a/b)2A X (by geometrical similarity), so

> I*

>j * whenever a(b/a)* 2 1, for example when a = ( ~ / bas) ~above, or when in
general a = a2/bb, with bib, 2 1 (where bo is the critical electrode radius as defined by
Amson (1962)). Here again j ( u < b ) >j * appears to be supported experimentally. Thus we
see that our two assumptions imply the wider assumption that current density and total
current are related, in that low or high values of each occur together.

4. Variation of Lorentz force during tip detachment

We now study the changes that take place in the korentz force during the growth-cycle
of the molten tip. This is an important aspect of the detachment of droplets from the
molten tip of an arc electrode that does not appear to have received any attention before.
Let us remind ourselves once again that we can expect no generality in our treatment at
this stage of our knowledge. We can however construct a sequence of droplet profiles
which approximate an actual droplets profile-cycle, one which has all the essential features
of the growth, necking-down, and detachment of a symmetric droplet from a molten tip
of an electrode. The korentz force can now be calculated for each profile in the sequence.
Such a profile is shown generally, in figure 6, and the corresponding sequence of such
profiles in figure 7. The geometrical construction of the profiles is deliberately naive and
yet remains quite representative at least of those associated with medium diameter wires
in commonly used metals; droplets from small diameter wires tend to have rounded
shoulders near the wires melting zone, their cycle usually starts further along the sequence
shown, and their neck during detachment is often more attenuated and filamentary-but

Figure 6. Geometrical construction of the

approximate pendent droplet profile, showing
the definition of the timing parameter B.

Figure 7. Sequence of approximate pendent

droplet profiles during one complete cycle of
droplet growth and detachment.

Lorentz force in the molten t@ of an arc electrode


these are details, and their inclusion here would not substantially change the form of the
conclusions reached in this section. The 'timing' of this droplet cycle is not on a uniform
natural time scale of course, but is referred instead to a simple geometrical parameter (in
this case the angle j3). Some relation between j3 and natural time can readily be obtained
from a suitable inspection of an actual growth-cycle (cf. the illustrations of Needham
et al. 1960, Ishizaki 1963); the relation is non-linear, especially near the value j3 = 90",
i.e. at the onset of neck-down.
The results of the Lorentz force calculations under the assumption of a uniform distribution of current density over the entire surface of the droplet, are shown in figures 8,
9, IO. The gross Lorentz force at constant current (i.e. the force that exists in the total
volume of the molten tip; see figure 8) is at first negative, acting to retain the incipient
droplet. After becoming positive, the force reaches a maximum value of about
0.18 (p,,/47) I 2 newtons, the value adopted for the stylized droplets employed by Amson
(1962). Thereafter the force diminishes as the neck forms rapidly, and it becomes once


Figure 8. Variation of the gross Lorentz force coefficientl(p) in a detachhg droplet (assmir,g
uniform current density distribution over all the droplet surface, and constant droplet current).


Net Lorentz tension T=$ 1 2 n(PI



I Net Lorentz force L,,=$





135" 142.5' 150"


Figure 9. Variation of the net Lorentz force
coefficients ma(& and mb(p) in a detaching
droplet (assuming uniform current density
over all the droplet surface, and comtant
droplet current).

Figure 10. Variation of the Lorentz tension

coefficient n(p) at the equator of the neck of a
detaching droplet (assuming uniform current
density distribution over all the droplet
surface, and constant droplet current).


J. C. Amson

again negative (retentive). This last reversal of sign shows that the gross Lorentz force
can obviously not be wholly responsible for detachment. We must look further at the
division of Lorentz force between the parts of the droplet above and below the equator
of the droplet's neck, as soon as the latter appears (figure 9).
Let La and Lb stand for the values of the Eorentz force in the parts of the molten tip
above and below the droplet equator, respectively. Since there is no neck before ,B = go',
we have La = 0 and the gross Lorentz force L = the net Lorentz force Lb, for 0 ,f3 90'.
Between ,8 = 90" and R, N l l l " , La and Lb are both positive and both are aiding detachment. But at about ,B = l l l " , the net Lorentz force Lain the shoulders of the droplet
has once again vanished and a detaching force now exists in the lower droplet alone, whose
value is again about 0.18 (po/47r)P newtons, the same as the gross value for the whole
droplet at that point. Thus at his critical value ,B = 111" in the droplet cycle, the positive
(detaching) Lorentz force ceases to occupy the whole droplet and becomes concentrated
in the lower droplet. Thereafter the upper part of the droplet is the seat of only a retaining
force. We might say that up to /3 = 111" the droplet is merely growing ready for detachment, but that detachment properly commences when ,B = 111" and L = 0.18 (p0/4ir)1s
newtons, and continues throughout the shrinking of the droplet's neck. The upper part
of the droplet is then being forced upwards (La negative) whilst the lower part is being
forced downwards (Lb positive), and the combined result is the appearance of a 'Lorentz
tension' at the neck's equator (figure 10) with values T = Lb - La which increase very
rapidly indeed as the necking-down proceeds. At the same time the ability of the neck
to withstand this tension is shrinking as rapidly as the neck's radius. This combination of
rising tension and falling retention will readily account for the marked and puzzling acceleration of a tethered droplet approaching detachment so often observed in practice, quite
apart from the additional acceleration to be derived from the increasing surface area of
the droplet exposed to the plasma streams about it.
The infinitely large values apparently attainable by Laand Lb as /? tends to 150" (and
the neck radius tends to zero) will not of course be attained in reality, since these values
are calculated on the assumption that the current density remains uniform over the whole
droplet surface, which in turn implies that a large proportion of the current will continue
to flow into the detaching droplet through the vanishing neck. Clearly this will not
happen; there will come a point when the current must dispose itself afresh throughout the
entire conductor comprising the electrode tip, droplet, and arc, in order to secure for
itself the paths of least overall resistance, and then the arc root will vacate the almost
insulated lower droplet and concentrate itself anew on the fresh shoulders of the wire.
In fact this point will be delayed for some time even though the resistance of the filamenting
neck is increasing rapidly in response to its shrinking diameter and rising temperature.
For apart from any arc heat proper, the resistive heating of the neck and its vicinity will
augment the supply of metal vapour from this region and this will produce a compensating
reduction in the local arc resistance. Unfortunately the shift of current from the droplet
to the shoulders is not yet identifiable under observation, since this copious production of
metal vapour is nearly always seen to persist even after the droplet has become detached
and is in flight across the arc. The actual values of T, La, L b , as the droplet approaches
very close to detachment will reach maxima which may still be very large; after this, T
and Lb will cease to grow, will diminish, and then vanish as the neck severs, La will then
become L again at a value equal to that of an incipient droplet at some earlier point in the
cycle; and the whole cycle will repeat itself.

< <

5. Conclusions

(1) The Lorentz force in the molten tip of an arc electrode can be found by integrating
the Maxwell stress over the total surface of the tip; when current density is uniformly
distributed over the surfaces the result can be expressed as the product of a constant, the
square of the total current passing through the tip, and a coefficient which depends on
the shape of the tip.

Lorentz force in the molten tip of an arc electrode


(2) The Lorentz force in an axially symmetric tip is independent of the shape and size
of the melting interface if this is conical or flat.
(3) The Lorentz force in an axisymmetric conductor is independent of the surface profile
of any zone where the surface current density is zero; the integrated Maxwell stress there
has a particularly simple form.
(4) The Lorentz force in molten tips with empirically determined profiles can be readily
evaluated when these profiles lend themselves to simple geometric approximation; in
certain instances the Lorentz force can then be expressed as the product of a constant,
the square of the total current passing through the tip, and a coefficient depending solely
on the ratio of the diameters of the tip and the electrode wire.
(5) Calculation of the Lorentz force in a sequence of tip profiles, representative of the
growth and detachment cycle of a droplet on the molten tip, reveals that Lorentz force at
first hinders detachment, then assists it, and finally promotes it as soon as the neck of the
droplet has been substantially formed.
(6) A new concept-'Lorentz tension'-can be defined and seen to play an important
part in the severance of a detaching droplet from the parent tip of an arc electrode; an
evaluation of the components of the Lorentz tension in the shrinking neck of a droplet
reveals the rapid rise to large values of the forces aiding detachment in the last phase of
the detachment cycle ; this behaviour could then account for the frequently observed inrush of acceleration to the droplet.
This paper is condensed from Report A1/35/63 prepared for the A1 Committee of the
British Welding Research Association, whose permission to publish is gratefully recorded.
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D. R., 1962, Proc. Conf. Physics of Welding Arc, London (London:
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