The thermal stir welding (TSW) process is finding applications in fabrication of space vehicles. In this process, workpieces to be joined by TSW are drawn, by heavy forces, between “containment plates,” past the TSW tool that then causes joining of the separate plates. It is believed that the TSW process would be significantly improved by reducing the draw force, and that this could be achieved by reducing the friction forces between the workpieces and containment plates.
Based on use of high-power ultrasonics in metal forming processes, where friction reduction in drawing dies has been achieved, it is believed that ultrasonic vibrations of the containment plates could achieve similar friction reduction in the TSW process. By applying ultrasonic vibrations to the containment plates in a longitudinal vibration mode, as well as by mounting and holding the containment plates in a specific manner such as to permit the plates to acoustically float, friction between the metal parts and the containment plates is greatly reduced, and so is the drawing force.
The concept was to bring in the ultrasonics from the sides of the plates, permitting the ultrasonic hardware to be placed to the side, away from the equipment that contains the thermal stir tooling and that applies clamping forces to the plates. Tests demonstrated that one of the major objectives of applying ultrasonics to the thermal stir system, that of reducing draw force friction, should be achievable on a scaled-up system.