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Wowed by welding
March 26, 2009 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Nasa is using friction stir welding to build its new space craft. No blowtorch, no solder, no sparks, no smoke, no ozone and no radiation. Instead, it uses friction to heat materials and then "stir" them together at a molecular level.
posted by lizbunny (51 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
It may sound like science fiction -- but actually, it's closer to "science friction."

Oh, come on.
posted by Kikkoman at 2:49 PM on March 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


they're geeks, give them a break :P
posted by lizbunny at 2:52 PM on March 26, 2009


Science Friction

(direct link to mp3, via)
posted by CynicalKnight at 2:54 PM on March 26, 2009


NASA NASA NASA
posted by Burhanistan at 2:54 PM on March 26, 2009


So that's how the Cyclons manage to look so sleek.
posted by brain_drain at 2:54 PM on March 26, 2009


NASA is stirring up some hot news.
posted by orme at 2:55 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


This could be great for convincing senators who are up for reelection not to slash NASA's budget again.
posted by stavrogin at 2:56 PM on March 26, 2009


This is great stuff. I'm getting sick and tired of the people who say the space program is useless.
"Conventional wisdom says little things strengthen relationships. NASA knows the same is true for welding."
Er... for all the money we put into the program we get back a lot more.
"Admit it. You may not have been "wowed" when you read "welding."
...uh, the, uh, the space program not only discovers the wider environment around us, but develops new techniques in a variety of
"It may sound like science fiction -- but actually, it's closer to "science friction.""
Ok, will you stop being such fucking geeks for ten minutes? Please! Jesus, I know what friction is. I know what happens when I rub my hands together. We're not all frikkin' mouthbreathers outside the lab, ok? Get a goddamned date and develop some social skills for christ sake.

...anyway, yeah, support the space program. 'Cos it's great. And you get advances like this.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:56 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, stop rubbing it in.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:02 PM on March 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Whoever wrote that NASA press release has a completely unironic "Just Hang in there!" poster in his cubicle; I'm certain of it.
posted by ook at 3:04 PM on March 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, friction can be used to erect any number of things.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:08 PM on March 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


Science Friction

Bad link! I am punished for my directness. Please see track 10 under "Space Songs"
posted by CynicalKnight at 3:09 PM on March 26, 2009


The friction stir welding process is currently being used by several automotive companies and suppliers, including the manufacturing of wheel rims.

Truly, we live in an age of wonder!
posted by ColdChef at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Wowed by welding"

Did anyone else think this was about a new welding profession in World of Warcraft?
posted by blue_beetle at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2009


Hey, baby, wanna see my frictional space probe?
posted by dirigibleman at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2009


Where is the picture of an actual friction stir welded seam? How can we assess the beauty of this technology without seeing the result?
posted by Cranberry at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2009


I used friction stirring to make both of my children!
posted by GuyZero at 3:12 PM on March 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, six operators for a welding machine?! Mandate those for use in car factories and we'll be back to full employment in no time!
posted by GuyZero at 3:13 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not quite as fun as explosion welding.
posted by Mblue at 3:13 PM on March 26, 2009


GuyZero: But did you have to undergo detachment surgery afterwards?
posted by dunkadunc at 3:18 PM on March 26, 2009


It is cool, but it's not space-age tech. I worked for a railcar parts company who'd been using a (albeit much smaller) version of this for 20 or so years to fuse the stems to valves.
posted by notsnot at 3:22 PM on March 26, 2009


pictures.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:28 PM on March 26, 2009


Friction welding video, courtesy of who else.
posted by linux at 3:31 PM on March 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Get stuff hot enough and it'll stick when you squish it together. I discovered this with a Bic lighter and a box of plastic toy soldiers at the age of six. I'm glad to know it works on ultralight space-age alloys, too.

OK, that sounded way snarkier than I meant it to. It's pretty cool to learn that the material is fusing at a molecular level and actually making the craft stronger and lighter.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:33 PM on March 26, 2009


Did anyone else think this was about a new welding profession in World of Warcraft?

No, dude. Just you.

nerd
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:51 PM on March 26, 2009


Friction welding video

So that seemed different from what's described in the NASA release - the metal there seems to liquefy quite a bit and there's some excess that gets shaved off. The NASA process sounded a little neater. Also, I didn't see a pin there - they just rubbed the two pieces together.

Still cool though.
posted by GuyZero at 3:54 PM on March 26, 2009


I think the difference here is that they're using friction welding to connect flat metal sheeting end-to-end. The method in linux's post and in notsnot's comment are both done to connect round tube ends. One of the links in the OP said this technology's been around a while, it's just been further refined.
posted by lizbunny at 3:55 PM on March 26, 2009


Science Friction (largely irrelevant, but I was disappointed not to find this song when I clicked on the earlier science friction link)
posted by The Tensor at 3:59 PM on March 26, 2009


Here's a better YouTube video of friction stir welding, which is different than just friction welding.

Note the rotating head inside of the machine that moves it around the pipe. About halfway through they attach a block of metal with a run-out ramp to the welding machine. The friction stir weld is continued around the entire circumference of the pipe and past it, ending the weld on the ramp. This prevents the pinhole or keyhole formed at the end of the weld as talked about in the NASA articles. The pinhole is clearly visible at the end of the weld at the end of the run-out ramp which they then have to grind off. That little divot where the welds overlap is going to be a weak point, which is exactly what NASA found a way to prevent from forming through the use of retractable pins.

That's going to be one hell of a weld.
posted by loquacious at 4:01 PM on March 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


linux: "Friction welding video, courtesy of who else."

That's awesome. I love engineer types who really love the stuff they do. One guy watches this machine do it's thing for a few minutes and thinks, "Wow, the world needs to see this. It's so cool." So he puts it on youtube.

And he's right. It is cool.
posted by Science! at 4:09 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had a toy when I was a kid where I constructed things like hot rod frames from lengths of black plastic I-beam by welding them together using a spinning rod. You would insert little "welding rods" into a gun-shaped devise that spun and melted the I-beam material together. Then you fitted the cardboard body over the cassis . I think you could use the gun thing to spin the wheels and let it go, as well.

There were probably some brain damaging fumes produced.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:37 PM on March 26, 2009


Friction Stir welding isn't new to NASA -- it's what they use on the LWT and SLWT -- Light Weight Tank and Super Light Weight Tank on the Space Shuttle.

It's pretty trick -- all welding changes the properties of the metal at the weld, but FSW does so the least, and over the least area.
posted by eriko at 5:00 PM on March 26, 2009


Get stuff hot enough and it'll stick when you squish it together.

That's what she said.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:09 PM on March 26, 2009


BitterOldPunk, all welding is fusion at the molecular level. Just depends how you want to apply the energy.

And if the NASA article thinks you need solder for regular welding, that might explain some of their structural failures.
posted by scruss at 5:18 PM on March 26, 2009


Fascinating post, thanks!

A couple of things I found very interesting. One was that the base material was never brought to molten. I can only assume that this is necessary with this particular alloy because the grain structure must re-form in a weakened state after being brought to molten.

But that brings up the second intriguing issue; wouldn't the rotating pin create a circular grain structure in the weld bead? The photos posted by From Bklyn seem to include the "consumable" pin, though it's hard to really tell. I can't quite make out the characters in the photo captions. Am I seeing 5mm? If so, it looks like a tangled bundle of wire. The text in the first link suggests the consumable pin is the size of a pencil, but why you take electron micrographs if the pin is that big? I'm confused...

I had an old Popular Science magazine from the mid 1960's that had a article about welding straight titanium, not the alloy in the NASA story. It was an ordinary TIG torch, except that it had a HUGE secondary gas lens, something like an inch or more across. Titanium is particularly sensitive to atmospheric contamination. Where I work we do a small amount of straight titanium welding, though our "tech" level is lower than cutting edge 1960's. Instead of the secondary gas cup we use a trailing "blanket" which I assume is made of Nomex, that forms a sort of "tent" containing the shielding gas around the cooling weld bead. It sounds sort of ridiculous, but I've actually passed an X-ray quality in-house titanium TIG test using this process.

BTW, the ramp that loquacious describes is news to me, I've only seen "run-off tabs" which are simply slats of flat stock at the ends of welds to achieve the same result. I wonder if the ramp is used specifically for tubular butt welds?
posted by Tube at 5:30 PM on March 26, 2009


This is great stuff. I'm getting sick and tired of the people who say the space program is useless.

Yeah, it makes a lot of sense to spend billions and billions of dollars to develop slightly more efficient welding techniques. And TANG.

(I'm not against the space program, but the cost effectiveness of NASA as a driver of innovation these days may be all that great)
posted by delmoi at 6:48 PM on March 26, 2009


his technology's been around a while, it's just been further refined.

It's been around at least since Og spinned a stick against another piece of wood and created the first man-made spark. Of course this spins the stick just a bit faster.
posted by eye of newt at 6:49 PM on March 26, 2009


The friction weld video makes me want to go fire up my lathe and try it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:34 PM on March 26, 2009


...but the cost effectiveness of NASA as a driver of innovation these days may be all that great...

Agreed, but what about the cost effectiveness of convincing the American public after eight years of Bush that science is neat and beneficial and useful and fun? All the snarking upthread about the tone of the press release seems to me to have missed the point: this is exactly the kind of article that anyone on the anti-science team should read. It's friendly, not overly-"intellectual" (not that there's anything wrong with that but obviously it's a turn-off to certain people), non-controversial, and makes a clear connection between research and application. Indeed, it's just what the doctor (of physics or whatever) ordered.

Bravo, NASA!
posted by tractorfeed at 7:45 PM on March 26, 2009


This is great stuff. I'm getting sick and tired of the people who say the space program is useless.

Yeah, it makes a lot of sense to spend billions and billions of dollars to develop slightly more efficient welding techniques. And TANG.
Yes, because this welding technique and TANG are the ONLY THINGS we ever have or ever will get out of the space program.
posted by !Jim at 10:56 PM on March 26, 2009


delmoi Yeah, it makes a lot of sense to spend billions and billions of dollars to develop slightly more efficient welding techniques.

Have you ever considered how often welding is done, and how much it costs in terms of energy, materials, and human effort to make each weld?

Totally blue-skying here, but I would guesstimate around a 10c cost average per weld, five million factories worldwide, each performing an average of ten thousand welds a day. That's five billion dollars a day. Assuming this technique saved 3c off of the average weld cost, that's 1.5 billion dollars per day that the world saves once the technique saturates. But it'll never be fully saturated. It might take ten years to be the "done thing" in welding. So I guess we'll have to get by saving ourselves a couple million dollars a day for a few years.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:47 AM on March 27, 2009


In other NASA news astronauts now are being equipped with Willie Coyote style "Yikes" signs to hold up when their ship falls apart and they are free falling out of the sky.

Seriously I would rather they send up a monkey a few times before I trust my life to a new technique. Space is the most hostile environment in existence. I would send up a bunch of un-manned BS first to make sure crap doesn't implode.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:06 AM on March 27, 2009


Totally blue-skying here, but I would guesstimate around a 10c cost average per weld, five million factories worldwide, each performing an average of ten thousand welds a day.

I seriously doubt this technique is cheaper, I mean you have to apply thousands of pounds of force to your targets, and I think equipment you need to do that (i.e. giant clamps) would be a lot more involved then just a tank of helium and a blowtorch.

Also, the technique itself wasn't developed at NASA, all they did was figure out a way to avoid leaving a tiny hole at the end.
posted by delmoi at 6:19 AM on March 27, 2009


All the snarking upthread about the tone of the press release seems to me to have missed the point: this is exactly the kind of article that anyone on the anti-science team should read.

Maybe not. Friction stir welding was developed and patented by a UK Company, so it may not be the best example of Your Tax Dollars At Work.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:40 AM on March 27, 2009


>Yes, because this welding technique and TANG are the ONLY THINGS we ever have or ever will get out of the space program.

You forgot Poland velcro.
posted by xbonesgt at 6:50 AM on March 27, 2009


It's a common misconception that Tang was invented by NASA. It was not, it was just a regular ordinary powdered drink mix made by General Foods in 1959. Later in the mid 60s, during the Gemini missions, NASA had invented a filtration/purification system that allowed the astronauts' urine to be recycled and made drinkable. But the result still tasted bad, and they needed something to cover up the taste, so after some trial and error they found Tang did the job nicely. That is where the association between astronauts and Tang came about, but it really was just the case of NASA picking something up off the shelf and using it.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:52 AM on March 27, 2009


(oops, I misremembered, the foul tasting water was not recycled urine but the byproduct of some kind of chemical reaction. Not material to the story.)
posted by Rhomboid at 11:55 AM on March 27, 2009


Welding, Tang, Velcro...

And ICs; don't forget ICs. They're kind'a important.
posted by eye of newt at 12:13 PM on March 27, 2009


Tang: it makes urine taste better!
posted by b1tr0t at 7:00 PM on March 27, 2009


(possibly the water was from their hydrogen fuel cells?)
posted by hattifattener at 7:34 PM on March 27, 2009


And ICs; don't forget ICs. They're kind'a important.

NASA happened to be the first big customer (how big isn't specified) for a product that everyone thought would be bought by the bushel by the military (and they were right)
posted by delmoi at 9:53 PM on March 27, 2009


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