A method of heat treatment has been developed to reverse some of the deleterious effects of friction stir welding of plates of aluminum alloy 7050. This alloy is considered unweldable by arc and high-energy-density beam fusion welding processes. The alloy can be friction stir welded, but as-welded workpieces exhibit low ductility, low tensile and yield strengths, and low resistance to stress corrosion cracking. Heat treatment according to the present method increases tensile and yield strengths, and minimizes or eliminates stress corrosion cracking. It also increases ductility.

This method of heat treatment is a superior alternative to a specification-required heat treatment that caused the formation of large columnar grains, which are undesired. Workpieces subjected to the prior heat treatment exhibited elongations <2 percent, and standard three-point bend specimens shattered.

The development of the present heat-treatment method was guided partly by the principles that (1) by minimizing grain sizes and relieving deformation stresses, one can minimize or eliminate stress corrosion cracking and (2) the key to maximizing strength and eliminating residual stresses is to perform post-weld solution heating for as long a time as possible while incurring little or no development of large columnar grains in friction stir weld nuggets. It is necessary to perform some of the solution heat treatment (to soften the alloy and improve machine welding parameters) before welding.

The following is an example of thickness-dependent pre- and post-weld heat treatments according to the present method: For plates 0.270 in. (≈6.86 mm) thick milled from plates 4.5 in. (114.3 mm) thick, perform pre-weld solution heating at 890 °F (477 °C) for 1 hour, then cool in air. After friction stir welding, perform solution heating for 10 minutes, quench, hold at room temperature for 96 hours, then age at 250 °F (121 °C) for 5 hours followed by 325 °F (163 °C) for 27 hours.

This work was done by George E. Petter of Johnson Space Center and John D. Figert, Daniel J. Rybicki, and Timothy Burns of Lockheed Martin Corp.

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, Johnson Space Center, (281) 483-0837. Refer to MSC-23472.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2006 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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