This method is a solid-state weld process capable of joining metallic alloys without melting. The weld workpieces to be joined by thermal stir welding (TSW) are drawn, by heavy forces, between containment plates past the TSW stir tool that then causes joining of the weld workpiece.

TSW is similar to friction stir welding (FSW) in that material is heated into a plastic state (not melted) and stirred using a stir rod. The FSW pin tool is an integrated geometrical structure consisting of a large-diameter shoulder, and a smaller-diameter stir pin protruding from the shoulder. When the pin is plunged into a weld workpiece, the shoulder spins on the surface of the weld workpiece, thus inducing frictional heat into the part. The pin stirs the fraying surfaces of the weld joint, thus joining the weld workpiece into one structure. The shoulder and stir pin of the FSW pin tool must rotate together at a desired rotational speed. The induced frictional energy control and stir pin control of the pin tool cannot be de-coupled. The two work as one integrated unit.

TSW, on the other hand, de-couples the heating and stirring of FSW, and allows for independent control of each process element. A uniquely designed induction coil heats the weld workpiece to a desired temperature, and once heated, the part moves into a stir rod whose RPM is also independently controlled. As the weld workpiece moves into the stir rod, the piece is positioned, or sandwiched, between upper and lower containment plates. The plate squeezes together, thus compressing the upper and lower surfaces of the weld workpiece. This compressive force, also called consolidation force, consolidates the plastic material within the weld nugget material as it is being stirred by the stir rod. The stir rod is positioned through the center of the top containment plate and protrudes midway through the opposite lower containment plate where it is mechanically captured. The upper and lower containment plates are separated by a distance equal to the thickness of the material being welded.

The TSW process can be significantly improved by reducing the draw forces. This can be achieved by reducing the friction forces between the weld workpieces and the containment plates. High-power ultrasonic (HPU) vibrations of the containment plates achieve friction reduction in the TSW process. Furthermore, integration of the HPU energy into the TSW stir rod can increase tool life of the stir rod, and can reduce shear forces to which the stir rod is subjected during the welding process.

TSW has been used to successfully join 0.500-in (≈13-mm) thick commercially pure (CP) titanium, titanium 6AL- 4V, and titanium 6AL-4V ELI in weld joint lengths up to 9 ft (≈2.75-m) long. In addition, the TSW process was used to fabricate a sub-scale hexagonally shaped gun turret component for the U.S. Navy. The turret is comprised of six 0.5000-in (≈13-mm) thick angled welds. Each angled weld joint was prepared by machining the mating surfaces to 120°. The angled weld joint was then fixtured using an upper and lower containment plate of the same geometry of the angled weld joint. The weld joint was then stirred by the stir rod as it and the upper and lower containment plates traverse through the angled joint prep.

This work was done by Robert (Jeff) Ding for Marshall Space Flight Center. For more information, contact Sammy Nabors, MSFC Commercialization Assistance Lead, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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
Marshall Space Flight Center.


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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