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FSW seminar, IST- Porto, Portugal 3/12/02

Friction Stir Welding –Tools and developments

By W M Thomas, D G Staines, I M Norris & R de Frias, TWI Ltd, Gt Abington,
Cambridge, CB1 6AL, UK


The basic principle of Friction Stir welding (FSW) is described and certain applications
reviewed, with particular emphasis on probe types currently under development.


Friction stir welding (FSW) was, invented and developed at TWI. It allows metals,
including aluminium, lead, magnesium, steel, titanium, zinc, copper, and metal matrix
composites to be welded continuously (1-12). Many alloys, which are regarded as difficult to
weld by fusion processes, may be welded by FSW. The process has already made a
significant impact on the aluminium producing and user industries. The basic principle of
the FSW process is shown in Fig 1.

Fig 1 Schematic Illustration of friction stir welding

A non-consumable rotating tool is employed of various designs, which is manufactured from
materials with superior high temperature properties to those of the materials to be joined.
Essentially, the probe of the tool is applied to the abutting faces of the workpieces and
rotated, thereby generating frictional heat, which creates a softened plasticised region (a
third-body) around the immersed probe and at the interface between the shoulder of the tool
and the workpiece. The shoulder provides additional frictional treatment to the workpiece,
as well as preventing plasticised material from being expelled from the weld. The strength of
the metal at the interface between the rotating tool and the workpiece falls to below the
applied shear stress as the temperature rises, so that plasticised material is extruded from the
leading side to the trailing side of the tool. The tool is then steadily moved along the joint
line giving a continuous weld.

Although incipient melting during welding has been reported for some materials, FSW can
be regarded as a solid state, autogenous keyhole joining technique. The weld metal is thus
free from defects typically found when fusion welding, e.g. porosity. Furthermore, and
unlike fusion welding, no consumable filler material or profiled edge preparation is
normally necessary.

FSW is now a practical technique for welding aluminium rolled and extruded products,
ranging in thickness from 0.5 to 75 mm, and is used in commercial production worldwide.
The present paper describes the current state of application of the process, together with
future possible applications. It also covers recent developments in tool design, as this is the
key to the successful application of the process.


Considerable macrostructural modification occurs as a result of both the friction heating

and the generated third body region. Figure 2 shows a schematic diagram of the various
macro-regions. With the use of a thermomechanical process like FSW four distinct zones
are found and these are particularly visible in aluminium alloys. In a friction stir weld there
is a dynamically recrystallised (central) weld region surrounded by the thermomechanically
affected zone (TMAZ) - a heat affected and deformed region, that is surrounded by the
HAZ on either side of the weld joint (10).
Fig 2 Schematic diagram showing terminology used with respect to Friction Stir
Welding aluminium alloys, (10)


Although FSW consistently gives high quality welds, proper use of the process and control
of a number of parameters is needed to achieve this. A key factor in ensuring weld quality is
the use of an appropriate tool.

The importance of the tool is illustrated in the following recent example involving the lap
welding of 6mm 5083-0 condition aluminium alloy wrought sheet. In preliminary trials a
conventional cylindrical threaded pin probe tool was used which gave a good as-welded
appearance. However, bend testing showed the weld to be weak due to excessive thinning of
the top sheet and thickening of the bottom sheet caused by a pressure differential during
welding, see Fig 3.
Fig 3 Hand bend tested lap weld in 6mm thick, 5083-0 condition sheet made at a
welding speed of 2mm/sec (120mm/min). Severe plate thinning on the retreating side of
the top plate (see Fig 1) is evident.

The failure followed the original interfacial surface oxide layers which, in 5083-0 condition
material, are known to be particularly tenacious.

The above problems were caused because, although the tool employed gave satisfactory
welds when butt-welding plate components, its use when lap welding was inappropriate.
Lap welding requires a modified tool to ensure full disruption of the interfacial oxide layers
and a wider weld than is required when butt-welding.

A transverse macrosection taken from a weld produced with a pin type probe shows extreme
plate thinning on the retreating side a serious hook feature on the advancing side of the weld,
and porosity is clearly visible see Fig 4.
Retreating side Advancing side

Fig 4. Macrosection, of a lap weld in 6 mm thick 5083-O condition aluminium alloy

produced with a pin type probe, at a weld travel speed of 2 mm/sec (120 mm/min).
(All metallographic transverse sections were prepared in the direction looking towards the
start of the weld).

This example above illustrates that good welding can only be achieved by the use of a tool
appropriate to the application (15-20). A number of tools have been developed at TWI over the
last 11 years to accommodate a number of materials, component thicknesses and joint types,
as shown in Fig 5.
Fig 5 Probe types developed at TWI for various material thicknesses and joint types

Tools For Butt Welding

The conventional cylindrical threaded pin probe is adequate for butt welding aluminium of
thickness up to ~12mm. When welding thicker plate the WhorlTM and MX-TrifluteTM
should be used. As Fig 5 indicates these are capable of welding up to 50mm and 60mm
thicknesses respectively. Typical forms of these tools are shown in Figs 6 and 7. These tools
have an additional benefit in that they are capable of welding speed >x2 that achievable
with the conventional probe.

Fig 6. Basic variants for the WhorlTM type probes

A typical Mx-triflute™ probe is shown in fig 7.

Fig 7 Typical MX-TrifluteTM probe

Fig 8 shows details of macrostructural features within a 25 mm thick 6082-T6 condition

aluminium alloy weld specimen produced with a Whorl™ probe.
Advancing side Retreating side

Fig 8. Macrostructural features in the weld region. Weld produced in 6082-T6

condition aluminium alloy using a Whorl™ probe, at a weld travel speed of 4 mm/sec
(240 mm/min). (Note: this image is reversed. However, the advancing and retreating sides
of the weld section are identified)

The above macro section reveals well-defined flow contours within the weld region, and
confirms previous observations regarding the so-called onion ring feature within the
weld(21). The composition of the nugget is unchanged from that of the parent material and
there is no measurable segregation of alloying elements but grain size varies across the
flow contours(1).

Fig 9 shows that, compared to the weld made with the Whorl ™ probe, (see Fig 8) the
weld produced with a MX-Triflute™ probe, using similar process conditions, reveals a
narrower and more parrallel-sided weld region. With respect to aluminium alloys, both the
Whorl™ and the MX-Triflute ™ type probes are able to achieve acceptable defect free
welds as assessed by bend test.
Retreating side Advancing side

Fig 9 Macrostructural features in the weld region. Weld produced in 6082-T6

condition aluminium alloy using a MX-Triflute™ probe, at a weld travel speed of 4
mm/sec (240 mm/min).

Both types of probe have flat or re-entrant features or, in the case of certain WhorlTM probes,
an oval cross-section, which reduce the probe volume and achieve a suitable swept volume
to static volume ratio. The greater the swept to static volume ratio, the greater the path for
material flow and the more efficient is the probe. In addition, these re-entrant features,
especially the helical coarse ridges around the lands, in the MX-Triflute™ help break up and
disperse the surface oxides within the joint region.

Tools For Lap Welding

Lap welding by FSW is more difficult than butt welding as:

• wider welds are necessary to transmit the load properly in the manufactured
• the form of the notch at the edge of the weld must be modified to ensure maximum
strength (particularly fatigue strength) of the manufactured structure.
• the oxide disruption at the sheet interface is more difficult because of the orientation
of the joint interface and the FSW tool.

With regard to the width of the weld, Figs 10 a, b, c & d illustrate the effect of this on stress
concentration, assuming that the weld/interface at the edges of the weld region are similar.
Forces applied to the ends of unrestrained lap joints result in eccentric loads in the joint
region. This can cause join rotation and could lead to unacceptable stress concentration as
shown in fig 10 c&d. Double lap weld would obviously minimise such rotation. (13).

Fig 10 Comparative stress flow lines

(a) narrow weld width - high stress concentration

(b) wide weld width - low stress concentration
(c) unrestrained narrow lap welds after loading
(d) unrestrained wide lap welds after loading- wide welds minimise rotation.

With regard to modification of the notch at the edge of the weld, special tools are under
development, which will accomplish this, specifically the Flared-TrifluteTM and A-SkewTM,
see Fig 6. The forms of these tools are shown in Figs 11 and 12.
a) b) c) d)

Fig 11 Basic variants for the Flared-TrifluteTM type probes.

a) neutral flutes
b) left hand flutes
c) right hand flutes
d) ridge detail showing that ridge groves can be neutral, left, or right handed.

Triflute type probes can be designed with any combination of neutral, left or right-handed
flute or ridge groves to suit the material and joint geometry being welded (14). Moreover,
fig11d shows that the individual ridges on the probe can be regarded as independent
features. This effectively enables neutral, left or right hand inclined ridge groves to deflect
plasticised material and fragmented oxides upward or downward as required with every 120
degree part rotation of the probe. In addition, the individual penetrating depth of the whisk
features can also be varied particularly to suit certain joint configurations.

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, as shown in
Fig 12.
Figure 12: Basic principle of skew-stir™ showing different focal points.

A lap joint made with a Flared-TrifluteTM probe is shown in Fig 13(a). In this example the
width of the weld region is 190% of the plate thickness and little upper plate thinning is
apparent. (The corresponding figure achieved when using a conventional threaded pin probe
is 110%). The notch at the edge of the weld achieved using this tool is shown in Figs 13(b)
and (c). It should be noted that the notch at the retreating side (Fig 13(b)) does not lie in a
direction perpendicular to the sheet interface as it does in a weld made with a conventional
pin probe. The notch at the advancing side (Fig 13(c)), however, turns in a direction
perpendicular to the sheet interface, but this is much less pronounced than when a
conventional pin is used.
Retreating Side Advancing Side



Fig.13 Lap weld made using a Flared-Triflute™ probe in 6mm thick 5083-0 condition
aluminium alloy, at a welding speed of 4mm/sec (240mm/min)

a) Macrosection
b) Detail of notch at the retreating side
c) Detail of notch at the advancing side

Promising results have also been achieved with the A-SkewTM tool(20). Fig 14 shows a
weld made at the same conditions as Fig 13, but using this tool. Figs 14 (b) and (c) show an
improved orientation of the edge notch, even on the advancing side.
Retreating Side Advancing Side



Fig. 14 Lap weld made using a A-SkewTM probe in 6mm thick 5083-0 condition
aluminium alloy at a welding speed of 4mm/sec (240mm/min)

a) Macrosection
b) Detail of notch at the retreating side
c) Detail of notch at the advancing side

Bend testing of the above welds further showed that the oxide disruption at the sheet
interface was significantly greater than achieved with the conventional pin probe. The latter
showed failure early in the bend test typically as shown in Fig 3, whilst the Flared-triflute™
and A-skew™ type probes gave welds which were capable of achieving ‘S’ bends (typically
>90° from both upper and lower plates). The A-skew™ type probe gave slightly improved
and more consistent results without failure. Fig 15 show a series of hammer ‘S’ bend tests
that have been carried out on the A-skew™ type lap joint, in both retreating and advancing
side joint configeration.
Fig. 15 Hammer ‘S’ bends - typical results achieved from welds produced with A-
Skew™ probes.

Details of the hammer ‘S’ bend test are shown in Fig 16. Bend testing was carried out with
the weld region unrestrained. This form of bend test proved a discerning method for
establishing basic weld integrity and freedom from weakness caused by plate thinning and
gave correlation with good fatigue properties. The bend procedure established was based on
6 mm thick 5083-O condition aluminium alloy plate with a 25 mm overlap and a set-up gap
equal to the plate thickness (see fig 16). For more ductile materials it is suggested that the
set-up gap would be < 0.5 plate thickness and for less ductile materials the set-up gap would
be >1.5 plate thickness.
Fig 16. Unrestrained hammer ‘S’ bend method

This paper describes recent developments in FSW butt and lap welding particularly using a
Flared-Triflute™ probe and an A-Skew™ probe. Both give lap welds of 190% of the plate
thickness, an improvement in weld integrity, a reduction in upper plate thinning and an
increased welding speed over current practice. Although significant improvements have
been achieved, additional tool development work is underway to further minimise the
occurrence and severity of defects associated with FSW lap welds. Butt welds produced
with Whorl™ and MX-Triflute™ frustum-shaped probes that gave acceptable weld quality
are also described.


The authors wish to thank K I Johnson, E D Nicholas, Paul Colegrove, P L Threadgill, I J

Smith, E R Watts, A Leonard, and P Evans.


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