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Ultimate Underwater Welding

F.Syed Nadheem

Welding in offshore and marine application is an area of 2. CLASSIFICATION:

research and understanding where, many problems are still
unsolved. In the present paper, a brief classification of Underwater welding can be classified as
underwater welding is made, the principals involved and the 1) Wet Welding
advantages and disadvantages of the various types of
underwater welding are described. Further discussion is 2) Dry Welding
made over the present conventional and some advanced
techniques used. Finally, the scope of further research has been In wet welding the welding is performed underwater, directly
recommended. Welding in offshore and marine application is exposed to the wet environment.
an area of research and understanding where, many problems
a r e still unsolved. In the present paper, a brief description In dry welding, a dry chamber is created near the area to be
of the different commercial underwater techniques has been welded and the welder does the job by staying inside the
made. The problems in underwater welding have also been chamber.
discussed in context to the existing welding techniques. Detailed
description of a few advanced welding techniques has also been
made. Finally, the scope of further research has been Wet Welding indicates that welding is performed underwater,
recommended. directly exposed to the wet environment. A special electrode
1. INTRODUCTION: is used and welding is carried out manually just as one does in
open a i r welding. The i n c r e a s e d freedom of
Welding processes have become increasingly important m o v e m e n t makes wet welding the most effective, efficient
in almost all manufacturing industries and for structural and economical method. Welding power supply is located on
application (Khanna, 2004). Although, a large number of the surface with connection to the diver/welder via cables
techniques are available for welding in atmosphere, and hoses
many of them cannot be applied in offshore and marine
application where presence of water is of major concern. POWER SUPPLY USED : DC
In this regard, it is relevant to note that, a great majority POLARITY : -VE POLARITY
of offshore repairing and surfacing work is carried out at
a relatively shallow depth, in the region intermittently A. PRINCIPLE OF OPERATION OF WET WELDING
covered by the water known as the splash zone. This is The process of underwater wet welding takes in the following
predominantly because of the fact that the probability of manner:
failure is maximum at a shallow depth of water because
of maximum collision probability between the ship and The work to be welded is connected to one side of an electric
platform. Though, numerically most ship repair and circuit, and a metal electrode to the other side. These two
welding jobs are carried out at a shallow depth, most parts of the circuit are brought together, and then separated
technologically challenging task lies in there pairing at a slightly. The electric current jumps the gap and causes a
deeper water level, especially, in pipelines and sustained spark (arc), which melts the bare metal, forming a
occurrence/creation of sudden defects leading to weld pool. At the same time, the tip of electrode melts, and
acatastrophic accidental failure. The fact that electric arc metal droplets are projected into the weld pool. During this
could operate underwater was known for over a 100 operation, the flux covering the electrode melts to provide a
years. The first ever underwater welding was carried out shielding gas, which is used to stabilize the arc column and
by British Admiralty - Dockyard for sealing leaking ship shield the transfer metal.
rivets below the water line. Underwater welding is an
important tool for underwater fabrication works. In
1946, special waterproof electrodes were developed in 4. ADVANTAGES OF WET WELDING:
Holland by ‘Van der Willingen’. In recent years the Wet underwater MMA welding has now been widely used
number of offshore structures including oil drilling rigs, for many years in the repair of offshore platforms. The
pipelines, platforms are being installed significantly.
Some of these structures will experience failures of its benefits of wet welding are: -
elements during normal usage and during unpredicted
 The versatility and low cost of wet welding makes
occurrences like storms, collisions. Any repair method
will require the use of underwater welding.
this method highly desirable. Hyperbaric welding is carried out in chamber sealed around
 Other benefits include the speed. With which the the structure to be welded. The chamber is filled with a gas
operation is carried out. (commonly helium containing 0.5 bar of oxygen) at the
 It is less costly compared to dry welding. prevailing pressure. The habitat is sealed on t o the pipeline and
 The welder can reach portions of offshore structures filled with a breathable mixture of helium and oxygen, at or
that could not be welded using other methods. slightly above the ambient pressure at which the welding is to
 No enclosures are needed and no time is lost take place. This method produces high-quality weld joints
building. Readily available standard welding that meet X-ray and code requirements. The gas tungsten
machine and equipment are used. The equipment arc welding process is employed for this process.
needed for mobilization of a wet welded job is 9. PRINCIPLE OF OPERATION OF DRY WELDING:
Underwater welding in a dry environment is made
5. DISADVANTAGES OF WET WELDING: possible by encompassing the area to be welded with
Although wet welding is widely used for underwater a physical barrier (weld chamber) that excludes water. The
fabrication works, it suffers from the following drawbacks: weld chamber is designed and custom built to accommodate
braces and other structural members whose centerlines may
There is rapid quenching of the weld metal by the intersect at or near the area that is tope welded. The chamber
surrounding water. Although quenching increases the tensile is usually built of steel, but plywood, rubberized canvas, or
strength of the weld, it decreases the ductility and impact any other suitable material can be used. Size and
strength of the element and increases porosity and configuration of the chamber are determined by dimensions
hardness. and geometry of the area that must be encompassed and the
Hydrogen Embrittlement- Large amount of hydrogen is number of welders that will be working in the chamber at the
present in the weld region, resulting from the dissociation of same time. Water is placed from within the chamber by air or a
the water vapour in the arc region. The H dissolves in the suitable gas mixture, depending upon water depth and
Heat Affected Zone (HAZ) and the weld metal, which causes pressure at the work site. Buoyancy of the chamber is offset by
Embrittlement, cracks and microscopic fissures. Cracks can ballast, by mechanical connections and chamber to the
grow and may result in catastrophic failure of the structure. structure, or by a combination of both.

Another disadvantage is poor visibility. The welder 10. ADVANTAGES OF DRY WELDING:
sometimes is not able to weld properly. Welder/Diver Safety - Welding is performed in a
6. DRY WELDING: chamber, immune to ocean currents and marine animals. The
warm, dry habitat is well illuminated and has its own
Dry welding in underwater may be achieved by several ways environmental control system (ECS).
[Oates, 1996]:
Good Quality Welds - This method has ability to produce
DRY HABITAT WELDING: welds of quality comparable to open air welds because water is
Welding at ambient water pressure in a large chamber from no longer present to quench the weld.
which water has been displaced, in an atmosphere such that Surface Monitoring - Joint preparation, pipe alignment, NDT
the welder/diver does not work in diving gear. This technique inspection, etc. are monitored visually.
may be addressed as dry habitat welding.
Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) - NDT is also facilitated by the
DRY CHAMBER WELDING: dry habitat environment.
Welding at ambient water pressure in a simple open -bottom 11. DISADVANTAGES OF DRY WELDING:
dry chamber that accommodates the head and shoulders of the
The habitat welding requires large quantities of complex
welder/diver in full diving gear.
equipment and much support equipment on the surface. The
DRY SPOT WELDING: chamber is extremely complex.
Welding at ambient water pressure in a small transparent, gas
Cost of habitat welding is extremely high and increases with
filled enclosure with the welder/diver in the water and no
depth. Work depth has an effect on habitat welding. At
more than the welder/diver’s arm in the enclosure. greater depths, the arc constricts and corresponding higher
Welding at a pressure vessel in which the pressure is voltages are required. The process is costly - a $ 80000
maintained at approximately one atmosphere regardless of charge for a single weld job. One cannot use the same
outside ambient water pressure. chamber for another job, if it is a different one.
There is a risk to the welder/diver of electric shock.
Welding inside of a closed bottom, open top enclosure at one
Precautions include achieving adequate electrical insulation
of the welding equipment, shutting off the electricity supply displaces water from the welding arc and weld pool area.
immediately the arc is extinguished, and limiting the open- Hence, the flux composition and depth of flux coating
circuit voltage of MMA (SMA) welding sets. Secondly, should be optimized to ensure adequate protection.
hydrogen and oxygen are produced by the arc in wet welding. Electrodes for shielded metal arc welding are classified by
AWS as E6013 and E7014 (Khanna, 2004).Versatility, simple
Precautions must be taken to avoid the build-up of pockets of
experiment set-up, economy in operation and finished product
gas, which are potentially explosive. The other main area of
quality are notable advantages of the technique. However,
risk is to the life or health of the welder/diver from nitrogen
during welding, all electrical leads, lighting gear, electrode
introduced into the blood stream during exposure to air at
holder, gloves, etc., must be fully insulated and in good
increased pressure. Precautions include the provision of an
condition. Ferrite electrodes with a coating based on iron oxide
emergency air or gas supply, stand-by divers, and
should be used as they resist hydrogen cracking. Flux cored
decompression chambers to avoid nitrogen narcosis
arc welding is another technique which could not yet competed
following rapid surfacing after saturation diving.
because of reported excessive porosities and
For the structures being welded by wet underwater welding, problems with underwater wire feeding system (Oates,1996).
inspection following welding may be more difficult than for
welds deposited in air. Assuring the integrity of such
underwater welds may be more difficult, and there is a risk Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW) is a commonly used high
that defects may remain undetected. deposition rate welding process that adds the benefits of
flux to the welding simplicity of MIG welding (Khanna,
2004). As in MIG welding wire is continuously fed from a
spool. Fig. 2 shows the schematic of flux cored arc welding
(a) Requirement of inexpensive welding equipment, low process. Flux cored welding is therefore referred to as a
welding cost easy to operate, flexibility of operation in all semiautomatic welding process. Self shielding flux cored arc
positions. welding wires are Shielded welding wires may be used. Less
pre-cleaning may be necessary than MIG welding. However, the
(b) Minimum electrical hazards, a minimum of 20 cm/min
condition of the base metal can affect
welding speed at least.
weld quality. Excessive contamination must be
(c) Permit good visibility. eliminated. Flux cored welding produces a flux that must be
removed. Flux cored welding has good weld appearance
(d) Produce good quality and reliable welds.
(smooth, uniform welds having good contour). Flexibility in
(e) Operator should be capable in supporting himself. operation, higher deposition rate, low operator skill and good
quality of the weld deposits are the notable advantages of
(f) Easily automated.
flux cored arc welding. However, presence of porosities and
14. APPLICATION OF UNDERWATER WELDING: burn back are the problems associated with the process.
Recent development of nickel based flux cored filler materials
The important applications of underwater welding are:
have provided improved wet weld ability and halogen free
(a) Offshore construction for tapping sea resources, flux formulation specifically designed for wet welding
application (Oates, 1996). Similarly, improved underwater wet
(b) Temporary repair work caused by ship’s collisions or welding capabilities and halogen-free flux formulations have
unexpected accidents. been developed with stainless steel flux-cored wires.
(c) Salvaging vessels sunk in the sea
(d) Repair and maintenance of ships TIG-welding (Tungsten Inert Gas) or GTAW-
(e) Construction of large ships beyond the capacity of welding (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding) uses a permanent
existing docks. non melting electrode made of tungsten (Khanna, 2004). Filler
metal is added separately, which makes the process very
15. SHIELDED METAL ARC WELDING: flexible. It is also possible to weld without filler material.
Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) is among the most TIG welding has got the advantage that it gives a stable arc
widely used welding processes. During the process, the flux and less porous weld. Fig. 3 shows the schematic of tungsten
covering the electrode melts during welding. This forms the inert gas welding technique. The most used power source for
gas and slag to shield the arc and molten weld pool. The slag TIG-welding generates alternating current (AC). Direct
must be chipped off the weld bead after welding. The flux current can be used. ACTIG-welding usually uses argon as a
also provides a method of adding shielding gas. The process is a multipurpose process, which
scavengers, deoxidizers, and alloying elements to the weld offers the user great flexibility. By changing the diameter of
metal. For underwater wet welding with shielded metal arc the tungsten electrode, welding may be performed with a
welding (SMAW) technique, direct current is used wide range of heat input at different thicknesses. AC TIG-
and usually polarity is straight. Electrodes are usually water welding is possible with thicknesses down to about 0,5
proofed. Furthermore, it is flux coated mm .For larger thicknesses, > 5 mm, AC TIG-welding is less
which causes generation of bubble during welding and economical compared to MIG-welding due to lower welding
speed. DC TIG-welding with electrode negative is used for
welding thicknesses above 4 mm. The negative electrode but it is increased to create the frictional heat. When the
gives a poor oxide cleaning compared to AC-TIG and MIG, rotation is stopped pressure is rapidly increased so that
and special cleaning of joint surfaces is necessary. The forging takes place immediately before or after rotation is
process usually uses helium shielding gas. This gives a better stopped.
penetration in thicker sections. In deep see construction, free
3. The welding time. Time is related to the shape and the type
burning arc is used for fusion welding. The arc is then
of metal and the surface area. It is normally a matter of a few
operated in a localized dry region created around the weld at
seconds. The actual operation of the machine is automatic
elevated pressures. Similar ambient conditions can be found
and is controlled by sequence controller which can be set
in high pressure discharge lamps and in some plasma heaters
according o the weld schedule established for the parts to be
and torches. The tungsten inert gas welding process at
atmospheric pressures has been investigated extensively
from the experimental and theoretical side
(Lancester,1987; Haddad & Farmer, 1985). The properties of
the free-burning arc column are studied for ambient pressures
of 0.1 MPa (i.e., atmospheric) to 10 MPa for
applications in underwater welding (Schmidt, 1996).
Friction welding is a solid state welding process which
produces coalescence of materials by the heat obtained from
mechanically-induced sliding motion between rubbing
surfaces (Khanna, 2004; Blakemore, 2000). The work parts are
held together under pressure. This process usually
involves rotating of one part against another to generate Fig. 1 Welding friction
frictional heat at the junction. When a suitable high
temperature has been reached, rotational motion ceases and
additional pressure is applied and coalescence occurs. Fig. 4 Normally friction welding one of the parts to be welded is
shows the schematic of friction welding process. The start of round in cross section; however, this is not an absolute
the new millennium will see the introduction of friction necessity. Visual inspection of weld quality can be based on
welding for underwater repair of cracks to marine structures the flash, which occurs around the out side perimeter of the
and pipelines. There are two variations of the friction welding weld. Normally this flash will extend beyond the outside
process. In the original process one part is held stationary y diameter of the parts and will curl around back toward the
and the other part is rotated by a motor which maintains an part but will have the joint extending beyond the outside
essentially constant rotational speed. The two parts diameter of the part. If the flash sticks out relatively straight
are brought in contact under pressure for a specified period of from the joint it is an indication that the time was too short,
time with a specific pressure. Rotating power is disengaged the pressure was to Allow, or the speed was too high. These
from the rotating piece and the pressure is increased. When joints may crack. If the flash curls too far back on the outside
the rotating piece stops the weld is completed. This process diameter it is an indication that the time was too long and the
can be accurately controlled when speed, pressure, and time pressure was t o o h i g h . Between these e x t r e m e s i s
are closely regulated. The other variation is called inertia the correct flash shape. The flash is normally removed
welding. Here a flywheel is resolved by a motor until a after welding.
preset speed is reached. It, in turn, rotates one of the pieces to
be welded. The motor is disengaged from the flywheel and 19. ADVANTAGES OF FRICTION WELDING:
the other part to be welded is brought in contact under 1)It has the ability to produce high quality welds in a short
pressure with the rotating piece. During cycle time.
the predetermined time during which the rotational speed of the
part is reduced the flywheel is brought to an immediate stop 2) No filler metal is required and flux is not used.
and additional pressure is provided to complete the weld. 3) The process is capable of welding most of the common
Both methods utilize frictional heat and produce welds metals.
of similar quality. Slightly better control is claimed with the
original process. 4) It can also be used to join many combinations of dissimilar
Friction welding requires relatively expensive apparatus
similar to a machine tool. There are three important factors 5) It also produces a fine-grained forged weld without any
involved in making a friction weld: weld dilution, or weld inclusions.
6) Since there is never a liquid weld pool, h ydrogen
1. The rotational speed which is related to the material to be
enrichment and hydro genem brittlement are eliminated.
welded and the diameter of the weld at the interface.
Similarly nitrogen enrichment cannot occur.
2. The pressure between the two parts to be welded. Pressure
7) No shielding gasses or fluxes are required and it is possible to
changes during the weld sequence. At the start it is very low,
join dissimilar and exotic materials impossible to weld by any
Other means - including aluminum to ceramic.
Laser as a source of coherent and monochromatic radiation,
has a wide scope of application in materials processing
(Steen, 1991; Dutt Majumdar & Manna, 2003). Laser assisted
welding, because of the sheer volume/proportion of work and
advancement over the years, constitutes the most important
operations amongst he laser joining processes (Dawas, 1992;
Duley, 1999).
Fig. 3 Laser welding


The welding arc does not behave underwater as it does on the
surface and the activity of the gas bubble is particularly
important to successful completion of the underwater weld.
When the arc is struck, the combustion of the electrode and the
detachment of water creates a gas bubble or enve-
lope, as illustrated in Figure 3-2. As the pressure within the
bubble increases, it is forced to leave the arc and meet with the
surrounding water while another bubble forms to take its place.
Then, as this pressure head becomes greater than the capillary
force, the bubble breaks down. Therefore, if the electrode is
too far from the work, the weld will be destroyed as the gases
explode and blow through. If the travel speed is too slow, the
bubble will collapse around the weld and destroy the
possibility of producing an effective weld.

Fig. 2 Welding Electrodes

Schematic of laser welding with a filler rod.

Argon shroud removes heat and prevents undue oxidation and
displaces water. The relative position of the laser focus
determines the quality and configuration of the weld.
[Kruusing, 2004].
The focused laser beam is made to irradiate the work piece or
joint at the given level and speed. A shroud gas protects the
Fig. 4 Friction stir welding
weld pool from undue oxidation and provides with the
required oxygen flow. Laser heating fuses the work piece or 21. CONDITIONS ADVERSE TO UNDERWATER WELDING
plate edges and joins once the beam is withdrawn. In case of Before welding operations are started, the job should be
welding with filler, melting is primarily confined to the inspected to determine whether or not the
feeding wire tip while apart of the substrate being irradiated welding can be performed effectively at the work site.
melts to insure a smooth joint. In either case, the work piece Satisfactory underwater welds are more
rather than the beam travels at a rate conducive for welding difficult than welds laid down topside. The following factors
and maintaining a minimum heat affected zone (HAZ). There are make underwater welding difficult:
two fundamental modes of laser welding depending
on the beam power/configuration and its focus with respect to a. Diving apparel
the work piece: (a) conduction welding and (b) keyhole or b. Where a steady platform cannot be provided from which
penetration welding (Figs. 5a, b) (Dutta and Maunder, to weld. (Working near the surface in rough water makes it
difficult to provide a stable platform. When working from a
stage, it is preferable to attach the stage to the object being
welded rather than to the salvage ship, diving launch or float,
since the rising and falling of the surface [1]Hawkins electrical guide, pg no.359 – 362
vessel in rough water changes the position of the stage [2]Khurmi.r.s, guptha.j.k., ‘a textbook of machine design’ s.chand and co, new
relative to the object being welded.) delhi

22. RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH UNDERWATER [3]Metal finishing by feldstein.n, vol.81 (8),(1983),35-41
WELDING: [4]Engineering materials and metallurgy by v.jaya kumar , a.r.s. Publications
There is a risk to the welder/diver of electric shock. Web sites: [5]www.wikipedia.org
Precautions include achieving adequate electrical insulation [6]www.howstuffworks.com
of the welding equipment, shutting off the electricity supply
immediately the arc is extinguished, and limiting the open- [7]www.bodinemotors.webs.com
circuit voltage of MMA (SMA) welding sets. Secondly, [8]www.patentstorm.com
hydrogen and oxygen are produced by the arc in wet welding.
Precautions must be taken to avoid the build-up of pockets
of gas, which are potentially explosive. The other main area
of risk is to the life or health of the welder/diver from
nitrogen introduced into the blood steam during exposure to
air at increased pressure. Precautions include the provision of
an emergency air or gas supply, stand-by divers, and
decompression chambers to avoid nitrogen narcosis
following rapid surfacing after saturation diving. underwater
welding, inspection following welding may be more difficult
than for welds deposited in air. Assuring the integrity of such
underwater welds may be more difficult, and there is a risk
that defects may remain undetected.
The important applications of underwater welding are:
(a) Offshore construction for tapping sea resources,
(b) Temporary repair work caused by ship’s collisions
or unexpected accidents.
(c) Salvaging vessels sunk in the sea
(d) Repair and maintenance of ships
(e) Construction of large ships beyond the capacity of
existing docks.