New welding technique could revolutionise manufacturing practices

The developers of a welding technique for manufacturing horizontal and inclined structures have claimed that it could radically improve weld-based manufacturing practices, without the need for additional tooling or any type of fixtures or waste materials.

The welding technique was discovered by researchers at Cranfield University who were working on Ready-to-use Additive Manufacturing (RUAM), a new technology that aims to improve industry’s ability to manufacture high precision functional parts for a range of applications from small turbine blade repairs to making large aerospace structures. The RUAM project involves integrating additive manufacturing and multi-axis precision grinding into a single machine tool.

As part of this research, and based on previous experience in fabricating vertical steel walls, the team investigated the fabrication of angled steel walls without the use of any kind of support structures. A series of experiments were conducted using an ‘inclined torch' method, resulting in the successful production of a series of inclined walls varying from 60° to 15°. Finally, a horizontal wall section was successfully created, initially as an extension of an existing horizontal section, and tested in the form of a box structure.

The RUAM process is capable of producing a range of geometries and features to fit various demands. It uses innovative additive layer welding techniques such as Cold Metal Transfer (CMT), which allows for flexible welding strategies at high speeds - deposition rates of more than 1kg/hour are currently possible. The successive process allows strategies and materials to be mixed, and permits existing metal work pieces to be amended. Software for automatically generating robot paths has also been developed as part of this project.

Supported by EPSRC through the Cranfield Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (IMRC) and supported by a range of industrial collaborators, the £2 million RUAM project began in late 2007. It is currently supported by 21 industry partners, with contributors including Airbus, Doncasters and Bombardier.

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