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Metal Cored electrode Basics

This tubular welding wire offers the unique benefits of both a solid and a flux cored wire
By Steve Barhorst
Fig. 1 -- Metal cored welding produces low visible fumes.
For the right application, metal cored welding wire paired with an inverter power source can
typically save $100 to $200 for every 100 lb of weld metal deposited. In fact, production rates can
double for many applications currently using another welding process or wire type. Applications
that make good candidates for metal cored wire include single-pass welds more than 3 in. long;
flat and horizontal position applications where a solid wire in the spray transfer mode is used;
many gas-shielded flux cored and some submerged arc applications; and in multiple-pass robotic
or automatic welding.
Metal cored wire, technically called a tubular electrode, combines the best properties of a solid
wire and a flux cored wire. Benefits of metal cored wire include the following:
High deposition rates and travel speeds.
Minimal slag and low spatter.
Little to no postweld cleanup or cleaning between passes.
Excellent sidewall fusion and root penetration.
Ability to bridge uneven fitup without melt-through.
Ability to weld thin materials without melt-through.
Typically able to use the next larger electrode diameter compared to solid wire.
Specialized alloys available for a variety of applications.
Weld out-of-position with pulsed spray or short circuit transfer.
Low diffusible hydrogen levels, typically less than 4 mL/100 g of deposited weld metal, meets
ABS, DNV, API, Lloyds, ANSI/AWS D1.1 and other standards.
Reduced smoke and fumes compared to flux cored wire Fig. 1.
Handles rust and mill scale well.

No Smoke or Mirrors

Fig. 2 -- Cross section comparison shows the deep "finger" of penetration with a solid welding
wire.
There's no catch to switching to metal cored wire. It makes economic sense in the right
applications. However, metal cored electrodes do cost more than solid wires and about the same
as flux cored wires. Like solid wires, metal cored wires require a shielding gas with an argon
content of 75% or more (the balance is typically CO2) to obtain spray transfer, where flux cored
electrodes can use less expensive 100% CO2.

Recognize, however, that filler metals only make up 10% of a weld's


cost and gas just 3%. Labor accounts for 85% of welding costs
(power accounts for the remainder). Any significant productivity
increase created by metal cored wire outweighs an increase in
consumable costs.
Metal cored wire operates in all GMAW transfer modes, including
short circuit, spray transfer and pulsed spray transfer. Because metal
cored wire becomes more cost attractive at higher amperages, it is
not necessarily a substitute for solid wire in an application requiring
short circuit transfer (i.e., less than 200 A). One exception is when savings can be realized by
improving the quality of the weld bead. In the spray transfer mode, however, metal cored wire
offers benefits over solid wire, so it is important to understand their differences.

Melt-Off Characteristics
The entire cross section of a solid wire carries the welding current, and the molten droplets are
rather large in comparison. With a metal cored wire, the current concentrates on the sheath, with
the metal powders inside being less conductive due to their granular nature. Focusing current on
the wire's outer diameter creates a broader, bowl-shaped arc cone. It also creates fine molten
droplets and a less turbulent weld pool.
Examining weld bead profiles (Fig. 2), solid wire tends to have a "deep finger" of penetration in
the middle of the bead and shallow toes. Metal cored's spray transfer pattern provides sidewall
fusion while maintaining good penetration. This pattern bridges root openings and helps eliminate
incomplete fusion. If an operator doesn't point the arc directly at the joint, or if parts in an
automated application have less than optimal fit up, metal cored wire might be able to
compensate. Its broader, more tolerant arc could still catch the toe of the joint and provide an
acceptable weld.

Fig. 3 -- Given the same amperage and wire diameter, a metal cored welding wire will have a
higher wire feed speed.
Metal cored wire can weld thin materials without melt-through as it lacks the deep finger of
penetration. Also, obtaining spray transfer requires less amperage with metal cored wire. On
thinner metals (18 in. or less), you may be able to switch from short circuit to spray transfer with
metal cored wire to improve travel speeds, bead appearance and bead quality.
For the same amperage and wire diameter, metal cored wire uses higher wire feed speeds than
solid wire Fig. 3. For example, an 0.045-in. solid wire at 350 A requires a wire feed speed of 460
in./min and deposits 13.2 lb/h of metal. At 350 A, an 0.045-in. metal cored wire requires a wire
feed speed of 566 in./min and deposits 14.9 lb/h of metal. Deposition rates for metal cored wires
continue to rise as amperage increases.
What this means is when a fillet weld with a 316-in. leg is required, the travel speed can be
increased by about 30%. In fact, you have to boost travel speed to avoid over welding. Since
metal cored wire often permits the use of the next larger diameter wire, greater deposition rates
and travel speed can result if the application permits. Alternatively, companies often standardize
on a single metal cored wire diameter to cover a broad range of metal thicknesses (e.g., weld 16
ga. to 38 in. with a 0.045-in. wire). This can eliminate wire size change-over time and lower
inventory costs.

High Deposition, Minimal Slag


Metal cored wire has a typical deposition efficiency of 96%, which means for every 1 lb of metal
cored wire on the spool, you lose 2% of weight to metal vapor (smoke) and 2% to spatter,
depositing a total of 0.96 lb of weld metal. Typically, a solid wire loses 3% each to vapor and
spatter, while a flux cored wire loses about 10 to 18% of its original weight, most of it to slag.
An advantage of metal cored wire is its low spatter and minimal slag. Except for a few silicon
islands that float to the top, there is no slag covering with metal cored wire. Multiple-pass welds
can be made with minimal, and sometimes no, cleaning between passes. This can provide time
savings for semiautomatic, automatic and robotic applications.

Alloys for All Occasions


By altering the composition of the metal powders in the core, manufacturers can formulate metal
cored wires to meet a variety of applications. Carbon steel metal cored wires include those for
mild steel, weathering steel and galvanized steel. Low-alloy metal cored wires are formulated for
specific metal types such as nickel, chrome-moly, medium alloy, high-strength low-alloy, highstrength quenched-and-tempered (HSQT) steels and T1-type steels.
All major industries automotive, truck, motorcycle, shipbuilding, infrastructure construction,
offshore oil, heavy equipment, heavy plate fabrication, appliance, power utility and rail car have
used metal cored wires in their metal fabrication.

Increased Production
Productivity increases often involve overcoming poor fitup or incomplete fusion. For example, one
manufacturer of an automotive component had difficulty with a twin-wire, 0.045-in. solid wire
robotic system. First, there were problems getting the tandem arc to make a suitable bead around
a radius. Second, the part fitup had root openings of 2 to 3 mm and the steel was only 2.0 to 2.5
mm thick. High reject rates, mostly from incomplete penetration and missed joints, limited this
workstation to an output of 350 parts per shift. Slowing travel speeds from 120 to 90 in./min did
not address the radius problem or provide an adequate solution to the parts count.
To solve the problem, the welding operation was changed to a 116-in.-diameter metal cored wire
and 85 argon/15 CO2 shielding gas. At a reduced travel speed of 90 in./min, the larger diameter
metal cored wire and its broader arc cone bridged the gaps without melt-through. Production
rates increased to 750 good parts per shift.
Despite the success stories, some people cannot bring themselves to buy "more expensive" filler
metals. If you're hesitant to switch, contact your welding distributor or manufacturer's
representative. Work with them to develop a cost analysis for your application, and give a spool
or two of metal cored wire a trial run.t

STEVE BARHORST is Tubular Wire Marketing Manager, ITW Hobart Brothers, Troy, Ohio