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2nd International Aluminium Congress and Exposition

Queretaro, Mexico, 16 - 19 June 2010

Friction stir welding,


an introduction to innovative variant techniques for the aluminium industry
W M Thomas, M J Russell, A Duncan and A Robelou
TWI Ltd
Granta Park
Great Abington
Cambridge
CB21 6AL
United Kingdom
wayne.thomas@twi.co.uk
Abstract
Friction stir welding (FSW) is an innovative and emerging welding and material processing technique
now extensively used in aluminium industries products. The technology has gained increasing
interest and importance since its invention at TWI in 1991. The basic principle of FSW is explained
and the continuing development of the technology is described from the perspective of discovery,
invention and innovation. Particular attention will be given to the mechanical and structural integrity
that can be expected from FSW technology. The paper will introduce some of the variants of FSW,
such as Bobbin stir, Twin-stir, Skew-stir, Re-stir, Com-stir, Ras-stir, Dual-rotation stir, and the
Stationary shoulder stir welding methods.
Keywords
Friction stir welding, aluminium alloys, solid-phase welding and material processing, discovery
1

Introduction
Friction stir technology is a continuous hot shear process involving a non-consumable rotating tool of
harder material than the workpiece itself. The probe portion of the tool is entered into the workpiece
creating a plasticised region around the immersed probe and the contacting part of the shoulder.
There is a volumetric contribution to heat generation from adiabatic heating due to deformation
within a third-body region that surrounds the probe and part of the shoulder. The shoulder region of
the tool can provide an additional friction treatment to the workpiece top surface and prevents
plasticised joint material from being expelled.
Essentially, the shoulder and probe thermo-mechanically soften and then separate the material
being processed by the passage of the probe through the material. The material flows around the
probe and is then forge-welded together at the trailing edge of the probe. This separation and
welding together occurs continuously by back filling from the probe and compaction/containment
from the shoulder. This transient separation/re-welding operation happens during and before the
trailing edge of the shoulder moves away from the processed/weld track. The transient plasticised
region immediately coalesces and forms a solid-phase bond as the tool moves away.
If a penetrating probe is used, then there must be continuous material separation and material
welding. This operation will occur regardless whether a bead-on-plate type material processing is
carried out or two or more plates are welded together.
The basic principle of conventional friction stir welding (FSW) is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Basic principle of conventional rotary friction stir welding.


FSW has made a significant contribution to the joining of aluminium components and is now
established as the welding technique of first choice for certain applications in the Aerospace, marine,
transport industries and infrastructure. Most work published to date has concentrated on the
development and optimisation of the conventional FSW process and the often superior mechanical
properties that can be obtained. This paper will introduce some of the variants of the FSW
technology. Some of these variant techniques are still in the embryonic stage, but potentially provide
some unique advantages for certain application. Section 3 to 11 describes preliminary studies being
carried out on Bobbin stir, Twin-stir, Skew-stir, Re-stir, Com-stir, Ras-stir, Dual-rotation stir, and
Stationary shoulder stir welding methods.
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Advantages and disadvantages of the FSW process


FSW can join materials previously thought to be unweldable, or not recommended for fusion
welding. The advantages claimed for the process include:

Solid-phase nature of the process


Capability of welding materials whose structure and properties would be degraded by
melting
Minimal edge preparation required
Machine tool technology, simple to use with good surface appearance
Minimal distortion
Hot-forged microstructure
Low residual stress levels, compared with arc welding processes
Environmentally friendly
Relatively quite process
Essentially, no requirement for gas shielding (except for reactive materials such as titanium)
Absence of welding fume
Suitability for automation
Good mechanical properties
Welding consumables not normally required, but inserts can be used
Not influenced by magnetic forces
Continuous - unlimited length
Joint can be produced from one side
Fast freeze 5G position

The current limitations of the FSW process are:

Backing anvil required (except for bobbin stir variant)


Keyhole at the end of each weld (except when a tool with a retractable probe is used)
Workpiece requires rigid clamping (except when the Twin-stir variant is used)
Not as flexible as certain arc welding processes

Self-reacting (Bobbin) stir welding


Bobbin stir welding is different form conventional FSW in that there is no need of an anvil support
plate. The constraint and support necessary of the bobbin weld region is provided by near and far
side shoulders of the tool [1]. Friction stir welding using a self-reacting bobbin tool has been shown
to be effective for joining hollow extrusions and lap joints (Figure 2).

a)

b)

Figure 2 Salient features of self-reacting (Bobbin) stir welding:


a) Bobbin tool showing two shoulders separated by a pre-set fixed length
b) Bobbin tool showing self-contained reactive forces.
Essentially, there are two main types of self-reacting techniques. One is known as the fixed-gap
bobbin tool [2, 3] and one as the adjustable [1] or adaptive technique (AdAPT) [4-7]. A derivative
of the fixed gap is the floating bobbin tool, which is a fixed-gap tool that has been designed to float
in the direction perpendicular to the workpiece. The bobbin techniques provide a fixed-gap between
two shoulders, while the adaptive technique enables adjustment of the gap between the shoulders
during the welding operation.
The self-reacting principle of the bobbin technique means that the normal down force required by
conventional FSW is reduced or eliminated. The reactive forces within the weld are contained
between the bobbin shoulders (Figure 3).
Trials in 25mm thick 6082-T6 aluminium using the above arrangement produced good quality welds.
Figure 3 shows a metallurgical section of the widths of the larger diameter (drive side) shoulder and
the smaller opposed shoulder in the weld area. Unlike single-sided stir welds, the weld profile is
narrower in the mid-thickness than at the shoulder regions. Several flow features within the thermomechanically affected zone (TMAZ) can be seen in Figure 3.
The hardness distribution across the transverse direction in the 25mm thick 6082-T6 aluminium weld
is shown in Figure 3. The minimum hardness is located in the HAZ near the interface between the
TMAZ and the HAZ.

Retreating side

Advancing side

a)

b)

Figure 3 Bobbin weld and hardness survey taken from a weld made in 25mm thick 6082-T6
aluminium, made with a simple (Non floating) fixed-gap bobbin tool:
a) Macrosection showing cyclic features(1mm scale).
b) Hardness survey mid-thickness.
Three-point bend and hammer testing confirmed that the bobbin stir welding provided good
mechanical integrity for both butt and lap welds (Figure 4a & b). No evidence of adverse orientation
of the notch tip between the lapped plates was evident.
Retreating side

a)

Advancing side

b)

Figure 4 Mechanical testing of weld integrity on 6082 T6 aluminium simple, fixed-gap bobbin welds:
a) Three point bend test on 25 mm thick plate
b) Hammer bend test, failed in parent material, carried out on 12 mm thick lapped plates
(1mm scale).
Bobbin type tools are similar to other standard FSW tools that are driven from one side in that the
tool behaves as a rotating cantilever. The use of a tapered probe for a simple (non-floating) bobbin
tool provides for a more uniformly stressed tool which displaces substantially less material during
welding than a cylindrical pin-type probe. The use of a tapered probe for the bobbin tool enables a
proportional reduction in the diameter of the lower shoulder of the bobbin tool. A reduction in the
lower shoulder diameter results in lower frictional contact and resistance, therefore less torque and
bending moment on the tool. The additional frictional contact provided by the lower shoulder and the
absence of a backing anvil, which acts as a heat sink, means that the operating temperature will be
higher than that of a similar conventional weld. Moreover, owing to the limited thermal conduction
path from the shoulder furthest away from the drive side, this shoulder will run slightly hotter. In
some situations thermal management techniques such as cooling the shoulder by an air blast are
used. Tool design and process conditions will need to be adjusted to allow for the welding travel
speed to be increased benefiting from such additional heat generation.
Bobbin welds essentially eliminate partial penetration, lack of penetration and root defects.
Preliminary trials have also shown that lap welds produced by the bobbin technique have fewer
problems with the adverse orientation of the notch at the edge of the weld see Figure 4b.

Fixed-gap floating bobbin tool


The floating bobbin fixed-gap concept is shown in Figure 5. It is self-positioning in the axis
perpendicular to the workpiece. The geometry and features of the floating bobbin tool are
symmetrical and are designed to produce a balanced material flow equalising the opposing reactive
forces on the upper and lower tool shoulders. The bobbin tool operates within a sleeve which
provides vertical guidance and the rotational drive via a keyway or splines[1].

Figure 5 Fixed gap floating bobbin.


The use of the bobbin techniques typically causes less distortion than conventional FSW due to a
more balanced heat input. Moreover, the low welding forces in the Z-axis may eliminate the need for
heavy-duty FSW machines and fixturing.
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Twin-stir technique
Figure 6 shows the three versions of Twin-stir welding techniques that have been investigated and
developed at TWI.

a)

b)

c)
Figure 6 Twin-stir variants:
a) Parallel side-by-side transverse to the welding direction
b) Tandem in-line with the welding direction
c) Staggered to ensure the edges of the weld regions partially overlap.

The parallel contra-rotating variant of Twin-stir (Figure 6a) enables defects such as plate thinning
associated and hooks that are associated with lap welding to be positioned on the inside between
the two welds. The Twin-stir method may allow a reduction in welding time for parallel overlap
welding. Owing to the additional heat available, increased travel speed or lower rotation process
parameters will be possible.
The Twin-stir tandem contra-rotating variant (Figure 6b) can be applied to all conventional FSW
joints and will reduce reactive torque. More importantly, the tandem technique will help improve the
weld integrity by disruption and fragmentation of any residual oxide layer remaining within the first
weld region by the following tool. Welds have already been produced by conventional rotary FSW,
whereby a second weld is made over a previous weld in the reverse direction with no mechanical
property loss. The preliminary evidence suggests that further break-up and dispersal of oxides is
achieved within the weld region. The Twin-stir tandem variant will provide a similar effect during the
welding operation. Furthermore, because the tool orientation means that one tool follows the other,
the second tool travels through already softened material. This means that the second tool need not
be as robust.
The staggered arrangement for Twin-stir (Figure 6c) means that an exceptionally wide common
weld region can be created. Essentially, the tools are positioned with one in front and slightly to the
side of the other so that the second probe partially overlaps the previous weld region. This
arrangement will be especially useful for lap welds, as the wide weld region produced will provide
greater strength than a single pass weld, given that the geometry details at the extremes of the weld
region are similar. Residual oxides within the overlapping region of the two welds will be further
fragmented, broken up and dispersed. One particularly important advantage of the staggered variant
is that the second tool can be set to overlap the previous weld region and eliminate any plate
thinning that may have occurred in the first weld. This will be achieved by locating the retreating side
of both welds on the inside.
For material processing, the increased amount of material processed will also prove advantageous.
In addition, for welding it would enable much wider gaps and poor fit up to be tolerated.
Welding trials demonstrated the feasibility of Twin-stir and showed that welds of good appearance
were produced as shown in Figure 7.

a)

b)

Figure 7 Typical tandem Twin-stir weld made in 6083-T6 aluminium alloy:


a) Surface appearance.
b) Lead and follow exit holes.
The two exit holes produced in a tandem weld showed that a similar footprint was achieved for both
the lead and following tool, see Figure 7b.
Metallographic observations revealed a marked refinement of grain size in the weld region and
comminution of oxide remnants and particles. This is consistent with the microstructural features
previously observed in conventional rotary stir welds in aluminium alloys. In lap welds, an upturn on
both sides of the weld region is also shown (Figure 8). All sections were prepared in the direction
looking towards the start of the weld.

Metallographic examination of Staggered Twin-stir lap welds revealed a common weld region that
measures 430% of the sheet thickness as shown in Figure 8.

a)

b)

Figure 8 Macrosections of Twin-stir lap welds (1mm scale):


a) Tandem twin-stir lap weld between two 6 mm thick 6082-T6 aluminium plates.
b) The common weld region of a Staggered twin-stir lap weld between 3mm thick 5083
H111 aluminium sheets.
The tool arrangement used to produce this staggered Twin-stir weld is that illustrated in Figure 8b;
whereby the advancing sides of the common weld region are positioned outwards. Consequently,
both retreating sides face inwards with the lead weld retreating side receiving further friction stirring
treatment from the retreating side of the follower tool.
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Skew-Stir
The skew-stir variant of FSW differs from the conventional method in that the axis of the tool is given
a slight inclination (skew) to that of the machine spindle [8], as shown in Figure 9.
The skew-stir technique enables the ratio between the dynamic (swept) volume and the static
volume to be increased by the skew motion of the tool. This can be additional to that provided by the
use of re-entrant features machined into the probe. It is this ratio that is a significant factor in
enabling a reduction or elimination of void formation and improving process efficiency.
The arrangement shown in Figure 9a, results in the shoulder face being oblique to the axis of the
skew tool and square to the axis of the machine spindle. This shoulder face remains in a fixed
relationship with respect to the plate top surface. Tilting the plate or the machine spindle will produce
a plate to tool tilt that can be varied to suit conditions.
The focal point of a skewed tool affects the amplitude of the orbit of the tool shoulder and probe. The
skew action results in only the outer surface of the probe making contact with the extremities of the
weld region. The FSW tool does not rotate on its own axis, and therefore only a specific part of the
face of the probe surface is directly involved in working the substrate material. Consequently, the
inner part of the tool can be cut away to improve the flow path of material during welding.
Work has been undertaken to establish the fatigue performance of welds made using the skew-stir
technique and a fatigue-tested sample is shown in Figure. 9b.

a)

b)

Figure 9 Skew stir welding:


a) Detail of A-Skew tool.
b) Macrosection showing fatigue failure in parent material in a lap weld made with the
retreating side near the top sheet edge (RNE configuration) using Skew-stir using two lapped 6mm
thick 5083-H111 aluminium alloy at a welding speed of 3mm/sec (180mm/min) (1mm scale).
The skew-stir technique provides an easier material flow path than conventional FSW and a weld
nugget region of width greater than the diameter of the probe, which provides advantage for material
processing. In addition the skew action provides an orbital forging action at the root of the weld,
which improves weld quality in this region.
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Re-stir Welding
The following describes preliminary studies being carried out on Re-stir welding at TWI. The salient
features of the Re-stir welding technique are illustrated in Figure10, where reversal is imposed after
one or more revolutions.
The use of the Re-stir welding technique provides a cyclic and essentially symmetrical welding and
processing treatment. Most problems associated with the inherent asymmetry of conventional rotary
FSW are avoided.
Figure 10 shows the detail of the surface of a weld made at 4 mm/sec (240 mm/min) travel speed,
using 10 revolutions per interval. The fine surface ripples reveal the number of rotations and the
extent of the interval, while the less frequent, coarser and wider surface ripples reveal the position of
the change in rotation direction. For Re-stir, the distance and time between each interval depends
on the combination of rotational speed and the travel speed used.

a)

b)

Figure 10 Re-stir:
a) The basic principle of Re-stir, showing the reversal technique.
b) Detail of the surface appearance formed beneath the tool shoulder showing surface
rippling and reversal interval. Produced at 4 mm/sec (240 mm/min) welding travel speed, using 10
revolutions per interval (1mm scale).
Macrosections of a lap weld made by Re-stir are shown in Figure 11 a & b. This weld was made in
5083-H111 condition aluminium alloy, at a travel speed of 3.3 mm/sec (198 mm/min) using 10
revolutions per interval. The plan view in Figure 11c reveals a patterned weld region surrounded by
a HAZ. There is some evidence that during the reversal stage some of the Third-body plasticised
material close to the probe is re-stirred back in the opposite direction.

a)

b)

Figure 11 Metallurgical sections showing the effect of the Re-stir technique on the weld shape,
produced at a welding speed of 3.3 mm/sec (198 mm/min), using 10 revolutions per interval (1mm
scale):
a) Longitudinal macrosection showing regular patterns caused by rotation reversal.
b) Plan macrosection taken mid thickness showing the effect of reversal motion.
The Re-stir process requires further optimisation to achieve welds of reproducibly high quality and
freedom from defects but early trials suggest benefits in terms of weld symmetry.
Typically these Re-stir lap welds gave very good fatigue performance when compared with an
artificial weld made from parent material of similar geometry as shown in Figure 12.

TM

Re-Stir
100.0

with skew action (900 rev, 8 revs per reversal interval, 1.7mm/sec, 7mm long
probe)

Stress range (N/mm2)

R=0.5

10.0

R69 Re-Stir
R70 Re-Stir
Artificial lap weld
Artificial lap weld mean curve
1.0
10,000

100,000

1,000,000

10,000,000

Number of cycles

Figure 12 Fatigue results of welds carried out with reversal motion Skew-stir.
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Dual-rotation friction stir welding


The dual-rotation FSW variant provides for a differential in speed and/or direction between the
independently rotating probe and the rotating surrounding shoulder as shown in Figure 13.
Owing to the relatively low temperature reached, with solid-phase welding techniques such as FSW,
the problems of solidification and liquation cracking when fusion welding certain materials, can be
significantly reduced. However, the thermal cycle produced in FSW is sufficient to modify the original
alloy temper in certain heat-treatable materials (e.g. 2xxx and 7xxx series aluminium alloys)
producing a reduction in both the mechanical and corrosion properties across the weld.
In conventional rotary FSW, the relative velocity of the tool increases from zero at the probe centre
to maximum velocity at the outer diameter of the shoulder. The dual-rotation technique can
significantly modify the velocity gradient between the probe centre and the shoulder diameter. This
technique provides various differentials in rotation speed, with the shoulder down to zero and even
the option for rotation in opposite directions. This dual-rotation technique effectively allows for a high
probe rotational speed without a corresponding increase in shoulder peripheral velocity. This
technique can provide for a more optimised rotational speed for both probe and shoulder.
A macrosection of a dual-rotation stir double-sided butt weld in 16 mm thick 5083-H111 aluminium
alloy, produced at a welding speed of 3 mm/sec (180mm/min), using 584 rev/min for the probe and
219 rev/min for the shoulder is shown in Figure 13b. The two weld passes were made in opposite
directions, with the first pass shown on top.

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a)

b)

Figure 13 Principle of dual-rotation friction stir welding:


a) With rotation of the probe and shoulder in the same direction.
b) Detail of macrostructural features produced by dual-rotation stir welding (1mm scale).
Dependent on the material and process conditions used, over-heating or incipient melting along the
'near shoulder side' of the weld surface of certain friction stir welds can occur. Melting can lead to
fusion related defects along the 'near shoulder side' weld surface. The dual-rotation technique can
be used to reduce the shoulder rotational speed as appropriate and, therefore, help reduce any
tendency towards over-heating or melting, while maintaining a higher rotational speed for the probe.
One advantage of dual-rotation FSW is that it reduces the peak temperature reached during the
weld thermal cycle. The lower temperatures reached in the dual rotary weld reduce the change in
mechanical properties produced during friction stir welding.
9

Stationary shoulder friction stir welding (SSFSW)


In a similar fashion to the dual rotation friction stir welding technique the stationary shoulder
(SSFSW ) variant helps to reduce over-heating In this method the probes rotates and protrudes
through a hole in a stationary shoulder/slide component. The stationary shoulder adds no heat to the
surface so all the heat is provided by the probe. Welds of very smooth surface appearance have
been produced. This technique is especially suited to titanium alloys and materials of low
conductivity [9].

10

Principle of Com-stir
The basic principle of Com-stir is shown in Figure 14. The Com-stir variant involves the application
of a rotary motion in combination with an orbital motion to provide a compound motion technique.
Com-stir forms wider welds than obtained with conventional FSW, which is particularly
advantageous when welding lap and T-joints and when processing material. Oxide fragmentation is
more efficient owing to the greater disruption caused by the compound motion. Heat generation is
more uniform across the weld. The use of the technique for spot welding will also prove
advantageous. A macrosection of two lapped 6mm thick 6082 T condition aluminium plates is shown
in Figure 14b. This weld was made at a travel speed of 3.6 mm/sec (220 mm/min), using an orbital
speed of 0.12 of that of the rotary speed.
In conventional rotary FSW, the relative velocity of the tool increases from zero at the probe centre
to maximum velocity at the outer diameter of the shoulder. The combined orbital/rotary Com-stir
technique can significantly modify the differential in velocity between the probe centre and the
shoulder diameter. Essentially, orbital motion results in a relative interfacial velocity of constant
magnitude but of continuously varying direction [10-12].

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a)

b)

Figure 14 Principle of Com-stir and typical weld produced:


a) Combined motions.
b) Macrosection showing a wide weld region in a lap joint. In this example the weld width
measures 230% of the top plate thickness (1mm scale).
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Ras-stir
The Ras-stir technique shown in Figure 15 provides similar characteristics to Com-stir and to some
extent Skew-stir. Figure 15b, shows a plan view taken 1 mm below the top surface, regular patterns
where the tool is moved to-and-fro across the weld seam by a superimposed traverse motion are
can be seen.
Typically, the raster amplitude (the overall cross movement) is less than 20% of the probe diameter.
To provide a reasonably compact pattern the raster frequency needs to correspond to more than
one pulse per distance travelled by the probe diameter. The appearance of raster pattern is shown
in figure 15b.

a)

b)

Figure15 Ras-stir principle and typical weld pattern. (weld made in 6 mm thick 6082 T6 condition
aluminium alloy at a travel speed of 2.6 mm/sec and a rotational speed of 710 rev/min):
a) Basic principle showing a superimposed traverse motion.
b) Plan macrosection showing raster (or weave) appearance (1mm scale).

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Discussion and Concluding Remarks


The basic principles and the continuing development of the FSW technology such as Bobbin stir,
Twin-stir, Skew-stir, Re-stir, Com-stir, Ras-stir, Dual-rotation stir and Stationary shoulder stir welding
have been described in the paper and the following concluding remarks are made:
Certain of the FSW techniques described offer advantages for material processing, lap welding gap
bridging and crack arrest these benefits are outlined in table 1

Skew-stir
Re-stir
Com-stir
Twin-stir
Ras-stir

Fragment and
disperse oxides more
effectively

Provide weld features


that can improve
crack arrest
characteristics

Minimise reactive
torque and reduce the
need for work holding
fixtures

Beneficially modify
notch tip orientation
in lap welds

Special rotating head


or facility (expensive)

Table 1 Process variants able to produce wide welds.

Simple to adapt to
any machine
(inexpensive)

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There are a number of features that make bobbin stir welding attractive. Two shoulders provide
sufficient heat generation from both sides of the workpiece without any heat lost through the anvil
support plate. The containment of reactive forces within the tool itself means that compressive
deformation (squashing) of the probe does not occur. The probe part of a conventional FSW tool is
subjected to multi-axial forces comprising: torsion, bending and compression. The probe part of a
bobbin tool is also subjected to multi-axial forces comprising comparatively higher levels of torsion
and bending with tensile rather than compression forces being applied through the probe.
However, a disadvantage of the fixed gap bobbin technique is that for an exit to be achieved the tool
needs either; complete an open-ended joint; break out of the work piece; or reverse back the same
way that it entered (a double welding operation).
It is to be expected that the tandem and staggered Twin-stir variants will further fragment and
disperse tenacious residual oxides within the weld region or part of the weld region respectively.
This will lead to improved weld integrity and performance. Moreover, the staggered Twin-stir method
is likely to provide advantage and in some instances be preferred for safety critical applications for
both butt and lap joints.
All contra-rotating systems help to reduce the reactive torque necessary to secure plates to the
machine during welding. The use of twin-stir techniques is expected to prove advantageous for
material processing, lap welding, spot welding and it would enable much wider gaps on butt welds to
be tolerated.
Rotary motion Skew-stir lap welds and reversal motion Skew-stir lap welds provided good fatigue
performance when compared with artificial lap welds made from parent material.
The dual-rotation technique is capable of minimising any tendency towards over-heating or incipient
melting associated with the 'shoulder near side' weld surface. Stationary shoulder already provides a
more cost effective version of dual-rotation for certain applications.

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Com-stir welding provides for a much-improved path for metal to flow around the tool during friction
stir welding and results in a good quality, wider weld zone. These wider welds are more suitable for
lap and T-joints and the compound motion technique is also especially suitable for material
processing.
Ras-stir welding is still in the early stages of development, but the technique offers possibilities for
material processing and lap joints requiring wide welds.
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Acknowledgements
The Authors wish to thank: C S Wiesner, I M Norris, P J Oakley, D G Staines, E R Watts, P Evans
and J Martin for their support and contributions.

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