FAQ: What Are the Various Advanced Welding Processes?
In the past, we discussed welding processes in general. This extensive guide covers many different welding processes, such as basic brazing, stick, MIG, TIG, and stud welding. It also covers processes that make use of non-electric welding technologies, like laser welding and friction stir welding. However, there’s a lot of nuance to welding, and there are a lot of different ways that modern technology makes welding easier, faster, smoother, more effective, or usable in novel situations.
The additional welding processes we didn’t cover are collectively known as advanced welding processes. They’re known as such because they are more advanced, either technologically or in terms of skill, than basic and intermediate welding processes. So, what are they, and how do they work?
Broad Categories of Advanced Welding Processes
First, let’s discuss the overall categories that advanced welding processes fall into. While there’s always going to be some overlap, and some processes can fall into more than one category, these are the main ways that advanced welding processes can be described.
Welding Mechanization and Automation
The first broad category is the category of reducing human interaction in the welding process. By reducing how much humans need to operate the welding torch, human error can be reduced, and welding replication can be sped up dramatically. This kind of advanced welding comes in four forms.
The first is mechanized welding. Mechanized welding is welding performed with the help of mechanical and robotic tools. The simplest form of mechanized welding is just using a motorized welding table, something that can, for example, rotate a workpiece for you while you move the torch across the seam you’re welding, resulting in a smoother weld without the need to stop, start, reposition, or deal with vertical or overhead positions. In some cases, the opposite is true; the mechanical aspect holds the torch, and the operator maneuvers the workpiece.
A common example of this kind of welding is with a flat track welding system. A flat track welder is a welding head mounted to a boom manipulator and a travel carriage. This system allows welding to be done smoothly across a long, usually straight seam.
The second kind of advanced welding is semiautomatic welding. This advanced welding process takes advantage of modern technologies, often with computerized controls, so that the welding machine itself controls certain aspects of the welding process. This allows the operator to focus more on the aspects they need to control while not worrying about the aspects they automate.
Simple examples of semiautomatic welding include welding torches with electrode feeders that automatically feed at a rate applicable to the project and adjust dynamically. Other types may feed gas automatically and adjust pressures based on feedback or perform similar dynamic adjustments to the current based on resistance and feedback.
The third type, as you might intuit, is automatic welding. This is fabrication and welding using machines that are programmable but which operate entirely on their own. They may work in conjunction with other machines to swap out finished parts and swap in unfinished parts, or that may be handled by the operator. Welding operators in this situation are often operating computers, from rendering and programming operations to monitoring and adjusting for margins of error. Certain welding processes, like submerged arc welding and electron beam welding, are usually automatic welding for both accuracy and safety for the operator.
The fourth type is a variation of the third type, robotic welding. To illustrate the difference, it helps to see the machines involved. Automatic welding might, for example, resemble a CNC machine or 3D printer, whereas robotic welding is more like the stereotypical automotive factory robot arms reaching out to spot-weld. Robotic welding is much more flexible and can perform a series of different operations, while automatic welding is more focused on repeating one operation over and over.
Novel Technologies for Welding
Advanced welding processes also come with the use of new technologies. Traditional arc welding has been around for over a hundred years and has largely not been changed. However, advancements in technology across electronics, optics, and other forms of science have created new kinds of welding processes. Some of these were also covered in our previous guide to welding processes but are worth mentioning as specifically advanced welding processes.
Magnetic arc welding is a form of welding that uses controlled magnetism and induction. By using magnetic coils, you can heat a workpiece precisely and quickly, forge it together, and cool it into a single seamless piece. This is often used in places where traditional welding wouldn’t be able to get full penetration or where filler material is undesirable.
Laser welding uses high-energy lasers to heat and melt metals and thermoplastics precisely into weld pools to join them. It’s extremely fast and extremely precise but cannot be done by hand.
Electron beam welding is somewhat similar to laser welding, except it uses a particle, an electron, to transfer electrical energy into kinetic energy into heat in the target workpiece.
Friction and ultrasonic welding are similar in that they use vibrations and pressure to heat a material through friction until it fuses together. Ultrasonic simply does so at a much smaller scale. Ultrasonic is typically limited to plastics rather than metal, however.
Advancements in Electrical Control
Advanced welding processes also come into play with detailed and granular adjustments to the controls of a welding machine. Miller utilizes a variety of advanced welding technologies and describes them here.
- Versa-Pulse is a type of versatile pulsed welding that operates quickly but keeps heat low, minimizes spatter, and can be very effective for filling gaps.
- Accu-Pulse is another kind of pulsed welding technology that works best on thicker materials and out-of-position welding to minimize the problems that occur with those kinds of welds.
- Regulated metal deposition is a kind of short-circuit welding process with very low heat. It’s designed for gap filling in thin materials and minimizes spatter during the first pass for cleaner and more thorough fills.
- Pulsed MIG, which is a traditional MIG type of welding that pulses the current, for use as a modified version of spray welding. It cuts down on spatter and is good for thicker materials and construction applications.
Miller’s definition of advanced welding, as you can see, is primarily focused on pulsed current. Pulsing current is a technique that is only possible with modern computerized systems. It’s hugely beneficial for reducing heat input, distortion, discoloration, and spatter, all of which can be problems with specific kinds of welding, such as stainless steel and nickel alloys.
Essentially, pulsed welding technology is an advanced welding process that opens up more welding opportunities for different kinds of materials, particularly those that are heat-sensitive and would be damaged by a non-pulsed welding application.
What are the Benefits of Advanced Welding Processes?
Advanced welding processes bring many different benefits to the table, though it depends entirely on what kind of advanced welding process you’re adopting.
Automation-based welding processes primarily benefit operations through the reduction of human error. They also provide benefits in terms of speed, accuracy, and replicability for welds. Automation is used when you need a weld to be seamless and smooth or in many cases where you need to repeat the same operation dozens, hundreds, or thousands of times, such as in mass production and fabrication. In these cases, humans aren’t even involved beyond the initial programming of the machines involved in the process.
Inasmuch as they removed a human operator from the equation, these advanced welding processes also help improve the overall safety of your operations. Since humans aren’t directly exposed to welding fumes, aren’t in the path of current or sparks, don’t have to watch the arcs directly, and aren’t interacting with the machines while they’re in operation, the majority of the dangers of welding are removed. A robot, after all, isn’t going to get a welder’s lung, get burned by a stray spark, or lose eyesight when looking at an arc.
Other welding processes, like the pulsed electrical current in the Miller machines described above, bring a different array of benefits. These are all about the heat control and spatter control of welding. Their biggest advantages lie in the ability to weld materials of thicknesses or compositions that normally would be extremely difficult or impossible to weld without issues. Since heat warping and spatter are huge issues in some areas of welding, these welding processes help significantly and open up entire new kinds of welding.
As for novel welding processes like laser welding, their benefits involve speed, accuracy, precision, and flexibility. Laser welding can weld a lot of different things that a human operator with traditional arc welding would not be able to do without master-level skills. This, coupled with robotic and programmable welders, means that the barrier to entry for advanced welding is lower than ever before.
Labor savings are also prominent in certain kinds of robotic welding. Even in cases where purely robotic welding isn’t accessible, there are new kinds of “cobot” collaborative robot welding systems that can be controlled and programmed by a welder in situ to help with complex tasks or simultaneous welds that otherwise wouldn’t be doable. These systems are still generally quite expensive and are new enough that most operators don’t have experience with them, but that will likely change over time.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in trying out a cobot system but you aren’t willing to invest entirely in a system for your facilities, you can rent or lease one from us directly. With a BotX™ system, you can try out welding collaboration for a much lower price point than having to invest in purchasing a system sight unseen. Then, if you decide you like it enough you want to keep it, you can purchase it as well.
This goes for virtually any kind of welding system. At Red-D-Arc, we provide welding system rentals for everything from the simplest stick welders to the most complex automated fabrication facilities and turn-key setups. If you need anything, just reach out, and we can help you obtain it.
Are There Disadvantages to Advanced Welding Processes?
Every coin has two sides, and that’s generally true for advanced welding processes as well.
The largest drawback to many of these advanced welding processes is the expense of setting them up. Where a traditional multi-process welder might cost you a couple of thousand dollars to purchase, a welding robot, a laser welder, or a robot might be an order of magnitude more. This, of course, all depends on the kinds of systems and advancements you’re using. Pulsed arc welding technologies are not significantly more expensive than normal arc welding machines, and those pulsed systems are being made more and more readily available with each passing year.
Most of these advanced welding processes are also not available to everyone. For example, if you’re a welding operator who travels and carries their welding systems with you, many of the more advanced systems cannot travel with you. Laser and electron beam welders aren’t portable, nor are most welding robots.
Advanced welding processes are also very different from traditional welding. Master welders can take the skills they have learned from one process and transfer them to another, when most of the adjustment is just in terms of how current behaves, what consumables are used, and adjusting travel speeds. However, the leap from manual welding to programming a welding machine is huge and requires a very different skill set. Some older welding masters are finding it difficult to adjust, so there’s some institutional skill loss as skills don’t transfer over. The new generation of welding operators is trained to operate the computer systems more readily, but the transfer over time is going to be rough in parts.
That said, it’s easier than ever before to get experience in novel advanced welding processes. Our welding equipment rentals can provide access to anything you need, from the simplest machines to round out the capabilities of a shop to a whole turn-key fabrication solution. All you need to get started is to contact us or browse our catalog for options.
Red-D-Arc Welderentals™ an Airgas company rents and leases welders, welding positioners, welding-related equipment, and electric power generators – anywhere in the world. Our rental welders, positioners and specialty products have been engineered and built to provide Extreme-Duty™ performance and reliability in even the harshest environments, and are available through over 70 Red-D-Arc Service Centers, strategically located throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands, as well as through strategic alliances in the Middle East, Spain, Italy, Croatia, and the Caribbean. From our rental fleet of over 60,000 welders, 3,700 weld positioners, and 3,700 electric-power generators, we can supply you with the equipment you need – where you need it – when you need it.