Studies On Friction Stir Welding Of Precipitation Hardenable Aluminium Alloys
Friction Stir Welding (FSW) is an emerging solid state welding process. It has been a proven method for welding high strength aluminium alloys which were previously not recommended for conventional fusion welding. Since the invention of the process by The Welding Institute, United Kingdom, in 1991, a number of studies have been conducted on the material flow, microstructural evolution and mechanical properties of friction stir welds. However, there is not enough conceptual background available on FSW process for physical understanding of the mechanism of weld formation. In addition to that, FSW welds of high strength precipitation hardenable aluminium alloys suffer from reduced joint efficiency due to overaging in the heat affected zone. In the present investigation, experimental analysis has been carried out to understand the mechanism of weld formation and parameter optimization for aluminium alloys 7020-T6 and 6061-T6. For this purpose the investigations have been made on both the process aspects and the material aspects. The process aspects are analyzed with the objective of learning the mechanism to produce defect free welds. For this purpose experiments have been carried out to analyze the effect of FSW parameters, material flow and the frictional characteristics between the tool and base metal. Preliminary experiments are conducted on aluminium alloy 7020-T6 with different tool geometries to analyze the interaction of the tool with the base metal using a knee-type vertical milling machine. Then, the tool geometry which produced defect-free weld is used for further experimentation. The role of tool pin, shoulder and axial load on the formation of defect free weld is analyzed in an innovative experiment, where the tool and base metal interaction is continuously increased by continuously increasing the interference between the tool and base metal. In another experiment the initial abutting interface position with respect to the tool is continuously varied to study the interaction of the tool with the initial interface and to find the positional information where the initial interface is completely eliminated. Further, the tool metal interface condition is studied using a specially designed tribological experiment which simulates the FSW condition. From the base metal point of view, due to the strain, strain rate and temperature imposed on the base metal during the process, the microstructure is altered. In precipitation hardenable aluminium alloys the strengthening precipitates are dissolved or overaged in the weld region depending on the peak temperature in the region, which reduces the joint efficiency. However, the dissolution and overaging are kinetic process. In order to analyze this time dependant softening behavior of the base metal 7020-T6 and 6061-T6, isothermal annealing and differential scanning calorimetric studies are performed. In order to obtain FSW welds with maximum joint efficiency, the welding temperature should not exceed the “softening temperature” of the base metal. But, to produce defect free welds favorable material flow in the weld nugget is necessary. The material flow and consolidation depend on the process temperature. Hence, for a given tool to produce defect free weld there is a need for minimum temperature. If the weld formation temperature is less than the base metal softening temperature, the weld can be made with 100% joint efficiency. In order to optimize the FSW parameter which gives defect free weld with lowest possible temperature, an instrumented programmable FSW machine is designed and developed. The machine is designed in such a way that welding parameters – rotation speed, traverse speed and plunging depth – can be continuously varied from the start to end of the weld between given two values. This reduces the number of experimental trials, material and time. Based on the experimental results the following conclusions are derived. 1.The minimum diameter of the pin required for FSW depends on the base metal and tool material property for a given set of parameters. If the pin diameter is insufficient for a given set of welding parameters, it fails during plunging operation itself. 2.There is a minimum diameter of the shoulder for a given diameter of the pin which produces defect free weld. The ratio of pin to shoulder to produce a defect free weld is not a constant value. It changes with tool geometry and process parameters. 3.Increasing the area of contact between the tool and shoulder for a given set of parameters increases the heat input and results in increased weld nugget grain size. 4.Initial abutting interface of the base metal is eliminated at the leading edge of the tool. However, new surfaces are generated due to interaction with the tool and the newer surfaces are consolidated at the trailing edge of the tool. Importantly, the weld strength is controlled by the defects generated due the improper elimination of newly generated surfaces. 5.Optimal axial load is required to generate the required pressure to consolidate the transferred material at the trailing edge of the tool and should be equal to the flow stress of the material at the processing temperature. The optimal axial load is 8.1kN for a tool having 20mm diameter shoulder with 6mm diameter frustum shaped pin. 6.Only the material that approaches the tool at the leading edge on the advancing side is stirred and the remaining material is simply extruded around the tool. Further, the initial abutting interface is completely removed only when it is located in the stirring zone, otherwise the initial abutting interface is not eliminated. In the present study the interface is completely stirred when it is located on the advancing side of the tool between 0.5mm away from the centerline and edge of the tool. 7.The temperature and pressure at the tool–base metal interface is above the temperature and pressure required for seizure to occur for given tool material (H13) and base metal (7020-T6). Hence, it is clear that during FSW the base metal transfers on to the tool and interaction occurs between transferred layer on tool and base metal. The coefficient of friction between the given tool material and base metal in FSW condition is in the range of 1.2 – 1.4. 8.The minimum temperature requirement for FSW of 7020-T6 is 400oC and 6061-T6 is 430oC. However, 7020-T6 and 6061-T6 softens at lower temperatures than that of the minimum FSW temperature. 7020-T6 softens 30% in 7min at 250oC, 4min at 300oC, 2min at 350oC and 1min at 400oC. After softening 30%, there is 10% recovery in hardness and the hardness remains constant thereafter. Whereas 6061-T6 softens gradually up to 47% in 7min at 350oC and 400oC, below the temperature of 250oC for 7020-T6 and 350oC for 6061-T6 there is no softening observed in 7min. 9.The maximum joint efficiency of the 7020-T6 weld is 82% and 6061-T6 weld is 60%. 10. The reduction in joint efficiency is attributed to overaging of the material in the heat affected zone.