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Bringing it Together - Shield Gases

 

Last time, I took a look at the wide variety and history of welding types, from forge welding to robotic welding.  Today, I get to the part of welding that was most of interest to those in the gas world, shielding or shield gas. 

So, what is a shield gas and what effect might the choice of shield gas have on the weld?

Shielding gases are usually blends of inert or semi-inert gases, mig welding resized 600and they are most commonly associated with gas metal arc welding and gas tungsten arc welding (more popularly known as MIG and TIG).  Both helium and argon are used in welding.  The other noble gases are cost prohibitive.  In addition to these noble gases, the semi-inert carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen are used.  The first gases used in welding were helium and carbon dioxide back in World War II. 

When using these gases, it is common to see a blended shield gas mix versus a pure gas.  Many resources are available that discuss the commonly used blends, the ratios of each gas in the blend and the pros and cons of each in terms of the resulting weld.  By varying the blend or the ratios of gases in the blend, the welder can find the blend that gives the highest quality with the most cost effective shield gas.  A few of the more common blends are:

  • Argon-Carbon Dioxide

  • Argon-Oxygen

  • Argon-Helium

  • Argon-Hydrogen

  • Trimix (Argon-Helium-Carbon Dioxide)    

With the multiple gases available and the nearly infinite number of blends you could create, how does the welder decide on the shielding gas or shielding gas blend and what effect does this have on the weld?

The properties that are most critical when selecting shielding gas are:

  • Thermal conductivity - How does the shield gas transfer heat to the weld around the arc.

  • Density - If the shield gas is lighter than air (such as helium), a higher rate of flow is required than if it is heavier than air (like argon).

  • Ionizability - The gas influences how easily the arc starts.  The required voltage is also determined by the ionizability of the gas.  Helium has a high ionizing potential, meaning it can absorb a great deal of energy before becoming ionnized. 

By combining gases to create a shield gas blend, the welder can take advantage of the best qualities of each gas while minimizing the effect of the negative qualities.  The image below shows some of the properties of the most commonly used gases.  Depending on the materials being joined, the precise blend of gases should allow a safe environment while allowing consistent penetration of the weld.  For an interesting article from The Fabricator looking at the need to reevaluate shield gas usage, click here

shield gas chart

The Fabricator, Rethinking weld shielding gas selection, By Dan Davis, Nathan Moyer 

Finally, the shield gases can be purchased as a gas blend or blended onsite from single gas tanks.  Often, the cost of pre-blended gas tanks is much higher, and welders find that purchasing a gas blender and delivery system, which can use 100% pure bulk gases, pays for itself and allows a higher level of control of the shield gas mix. 

Proper knowledge of the options when it comes to shielding gas selection, generation and useage allows the welder to maintain a consistently high standard while keeping an eye on the bottom line.

Bringing it Together - A Look at Welding

 

Welding is a fabrication process that joins metals by causing two separate pieces to merge into one. I've been interested in learning more about the history and types of welding, as many welding techniques require gas mixes.  Here at Environics, we have worked with various customers to create systems for welding processes.

forge welding

Joining two pieces of metal sounds straight-forward, right?  But the options are astounding!  Let's look at the history and the relatively recent explosion of techniques.

Until the end of the 19th century, forge welding was your only option.  This was used by blacksmiths for centuries to join iron and steel by heating and hammering them.  This technique is still practiced and can be observed and even attempted in the reenactment community of Old Sturbridge Village.

Late in the century, three additional techniques, arc welding, oxyfuel welding and resistence welding developed. 

arc welding resized 600

Arc welding - uses a power supply to create an electric arc between an electrode and the base material to melt the metals.  The welding region is sometimes protected by creating a zone filled with inert gas, known as a shielding gas.  More on that next time!

Oxyfuel welding - uses a welding torch containing an oxygen gas blend to heat the metal and produces a shared pool of molten metal.  The most common blend is an acetylene/oxygen, but propane, butane, gasoline, hydrogen, propylene, methylacetylene-propadiene (MPS) are also used.  The gases and the blend are determined based on the particular needs.  Control of the flame is also critical to the end product.

Resistence Welding - uses electrical resistance of material to create heat needed vs the time and the force used to hold the materials together during welding

During World War I and World War II, there was a huge demand for reliable and inexpensive welding methods. A boon in techniques emerged in the 1940s-1960s, including the manual shielded metal arc welding, which is one of the most popular methods utilized to this day. 

Semi-automatic and automatic processes also were developed, such as gas metal arc welding, submerged arc welding, flux-cored arc welding and electroslag welding. More recent developments include laser beam welding and electron beam welding.  Today, robotic welding is becoming more common.  With researchers always looking to improve quality and decrease expense, it will be exciting to see what the next decade brings.

With such as large variety of techniques, great care and consideration are given to the method chosen and to the multitude of finer details. 

Next week, we'll talk about the use of shield gases and the effect of the shield gas environment on the quality of the weld and safety of the welder.

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