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Manual metal arc welding was first invented in Russia in 1888. It involved a
bare metal rod with no flux coating to give a protective gas shield. The
development of coated electrodes did not occur until the early 1900s when the
Keller process was invented in Sweden and the Quasi-arc method was
introduced in the UK. It is worth noting that
coated electrodes were slow to be adopted
because of their high cost. However, it was
inevitable that as the demand for sound
welds grew, manual metal arc became
synonymous with coated electrodes. When
an arc is struck between the metal rod
(electrode) and the work-piece, both the
rod and work-piece surface melt to form a
weld pool. Simultaneous melting of the flux
coating on the rod will form gas and slag
which protects the weld pool from the surrounding atmosphere. The slag will
solidify and cool and must be chipped off the weld bead once the weld run is
complete (or before the next weld pass is deposited).

The process allows only short lengths of weld to be produced before a new
electrode needs to be inserted in the holder. Weld penetration is low and the
quality of the weld deposit is highly dependent on the skill of the welder.

Types of flux/electrodes

Arc stability, depth of penetration, metal deposition rate and positional

capability are greatly influenced by the chemical composition of the flux
coating on the electrode. Electrodes can be divided into three main groups:

• Cellulose
• Retile
• Basic

Celluloses electrodes contain a high proportion of cellulose in the coating

and are characterized by a deeply penetrating arc and a rapid burn-off rate
giving high welding speeds. Weld deposit can be coarse and with fluid slag,
de-slagging can be difficult. These electrodes are easy to use in any position
and are noted for their use in the 'stovepipe' welding technique.


• deep penetration in all positions

• suitability for vertical down welding
• reasonably good mechanical properties
• high level of hydrogen generated - risk of cracking in the heat affected
zone (HAZ)

Rutile electrodes contain a high proportion of titanium oxide (rutile) in the

coating. Titanium oxide promotes easy arc ignition, smooth arc operation and

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low spatter. These electrodes are general purpose electrodes with good
welding properties. They can be used with AC and DC power sources and in all
positions. The electrodes are especially suitable for welding fillet joints in the
horizontal/vertical (H/V) position.


• moderate weld metal mechanical properties

• good bead profile produced through the viscous slag
• positional welding possible with a fluid slag (containing fluoride)
• easily removable slag

Basic electrodes contain a high proportion of calcium carbonate (limestone)

and calcium fluoride (fluorspar) in the coating. This makes their slag coating
more fluid than rutile coatings - this is also fast-freezing which assists welding
in the vertical and overhead position. These electrodes are used for welding
medium and heavy section fabrications where higher weld quality, good
mechanical properties and resistance to cracking (due to high restraint) are


• low weld metal produces hydrogen

• requires high welding currents/speeds
• poor bead profile (convex and coarse surface profile)
• slag removal difficult

Metal powder electrodes contain an addition of metal powder to the flux

coating to increase the maximum permissible welding current level. Thus, for
a given electrode size, the metal deposition rate and efficiency (percentage of
the metal deposited) are increased compared with an electrode containing no
iron powder in the coating. The slag is normally easily removed. Iron powder
electrodes are mainly used in the flat and H/V positions to take advantage of
the higher deposition rates. Efficiencies as high as 130 to 140% can be
achieved for rutile and basic electrodes without marked deterioration of the
arcing characteristics but the arc tends to be less forceful which reduces bead

Power source

Electrodes can be operated with AC and DC power supplies. Not all DC

electrodes can be operated on AC power sources, however AC electrodes are
normally used on DC.

Welding current

Welding current level is determined by the size of electrode - the normal

operating range and current are recommended by manufacturers. Typical
operating ranges for a selection of electrode sizes are illustrated in the table.
As a rule of thumb when selecting a suitable current level, an electrode will
require about 40A per millimeter (diameter). Therefore, the preferred current

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level for a 4mm diameter electrode would be 160A, but the acceptable
operating range is 140 to 180A.


Tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding became an overnight success in the 1940s
for joining magnesium and aluminum. Using an inert gas shield instead of a
slag to protect the weld pool, the process was a highly attractive replacement
for gas and manual metal are welding. TIG has played a major role in the
acceptance of aluminum for high quality welding and structural applications.

Process characteristics

In the TIG process the arc is formed between

a pointed tungsten electrode and the work-
piece in an inert atmosphere of argon or
helium. The small intense arc provided by
the pointed electrode is ideal for high quality
and precision welding. Because the
electrode is not consumed during welding,
the welder does not have to balance the
heat input from the arc as the metal is
deposited from the melting electrode. When
filler metal is required, it must be added
separately to the weld pool.

Power source

TIG must be operated with a drooping, constant current power source - either
DC or AC. A constant current power source is essential to avoid excessively
high currents being drawn when the electrode is short-circuited on to the
work-piece surface. This could happen either deliberately during arc starting or
inadvertently during welding. If, as in MIG welding, a flat characteristic power
source is used, any contact with the work-piece surface would damage the
electrode tip or fuse the electrode to the work-piece surface. In DC, because
arc heat is distributed approximately one-third at the cathode (negative) and
two-thirds at the anode (positive), the electrode is always negative polarity to

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prevent overheating and melting. However, the alternative power source
connection of DC electrode positive polarity has the advantage in that when
the cathode is on the work-piece, the surface is cleaned of oxide
contamination. For this reason, AC is used when welding materials with a
tenacious surface oxide film, such as aluminum.

Arc starting

The welding arc can be started by scratching the surface, forming a short-
circuit. It is only when the short-circuit is broken that the main welding current
will flow. However, there is a risk that the electrode may stick to the surface
and cause a tungsten inclusion in the weld. This risk can be minimized using
the 'lift arc' technique where the short-circuit is formed at a very low current
level. The most common way of starting the TIG arc is to use HF (High
Frequency). HF consists of high voltage sparks of several thousand volts which
last for a few microseconds. The HF sparks will cause the electrode – work-
piece gap to break down or ionize. Once an electron/ion cloud is formed,
current can flow from the power source.

HF is also important in stabilizing the AC arc; in AC, electrode polarity is

reversed at a frequency of about 50 times per second, causing the arc to be
extinguished at each polarity change. To ensure that the arc is re-ignited at
each reversal of polarity, HF sparks are generated across the electrode/work-
piece gap to coincide with the beginning of each half-cycle.


Electrodes for DC welding are normally pure tungsten with 1 to 4% thoriam to

improve arc ignition. Alternative additives are lanthanum oxide and cerium
oxide which are claimed to give superior performance (arc starting and lower
electrode consumption). It is important to select the correct electrode
diameter and tip angle for the level of welding current. As a rule, the lower the
current the smaller the electrode diameter and tip angle. In AC welding, as the
electrode will be operating at a much higher temperature, tungsten with a
zirconiam addition is used to reduce electrode erosion. It should be noted that
because of the large amount of heat generated at the electrode, it is difficult
to maintain a pointed tip and the end of the electrode assumes a spherical or
'ball' profile.

Shielding gas

Shielding gas is selected according to the material being welded. The following
guidelines may help:

• Argon - the most commonly-used shielding gas which can be used for
welding a wide range of materials including steels, stainless steel,
aluminum and titanium.
• Argon + 2 to 5% H2 - the addition of hydrogen to argon will make the
gas slightly reducing, assisting the production of cleaner-looking welds
without surface oxidation. As the arc is hotter and more constricted, it

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permits higher welding speeds. Disadvantages include risk of hydrogen
cracking in carbon steels and weld metal porosity in aluminum alloys.
• Helium and helium/argon mixtures - adding helium to argon will
raise the temperature of the arc. This promotes higher welding speeds
and deeper weld penetration. Disadvantages of using helium or a
helium/argon mixture is the high cost of gas and difficulty in starting the


TIG is applied in all industrial sectors but is especially suitable for high quality
welding. In manual welding, the relatively small arc is ideal for thin sheet
material or controlled penetration (in the root run of pipe welds). Because
deposition rate can be quite low (using a separate filler rod) MMA or MIG may
be preferable for thicker material and for fill passes in thick-wall pipe welds.

TIG is also widely applied in mechanized systems either autogenously or with

filler wire. However, several 'off the shelf' systems are available for orbital
welding of pipes, used in the manufacture of chemical plant or boilers. The
systems require no manipulative skill, but the operator must be well trained.
Because the welder has less control over arc and weld pool behaviour, careful
attention must be paid to edge preparation (machined rather than hand-
prepared), joint fit-up and control of welding parameters.


Metal inert gas (MIG) welding was first
patented in the USA in 1949 for welding
aluminum. The arc and weld pool formed
using a bare wire electrode was protected by
helium gas, readily available at that time.
From about 1952 the process became popular
in the UK for welding aluminum using argon
as the shielding gas, and for carbon steels
using CO . CO and argon-CO mixtures are
2 2 2

known as metal active gas (MAG) processes.

MIG is an attractive alternative to MMA, offering high deposition rates and high

Process characteristics

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MIG is similar to MMA in that heat for welding is produced by forming an arc
between a metal electrode and the work-piece; the electrode melts to form
the weld bead. The main difference is that the metal electrode is a small
diameter wire fed from a spool. As the wire is continuously fed, the process is
often referred to as semi-automatic welding.

Metal transfer mode

The manner, or mode, in which the metal transfers from the electrode to the
weld pool largely determines the operating features of the process. There are
three principal metal transfer modes:

• Short circuiting
• Droplet / spray
• Pulsed

Short-circuiting and pulsed metal transfer are used for low current operation
while spray metal transfer is only used with high welding currents. In short-
circuiting or 'dip' transfer, the molten metal forming on the tip of the wire is
transferred by the wire dipping into the weld pool. This is achieved by setting a
low voltage; for a 1.2mm diameter wire, arc voltage varies from about 17V
(100A) to 22V (200A). Care in setting the voltage and the inductance in
relation to the wire feed speed is essential to minimize spatter. Inductance is
used to control the surge in current which occurs when the wire dips into the
weld pool.

For droplet or spray transfer, a much higher voltage is necessary to ensure

that the wire does not make contact i.e. short-circuit, with the weld pool; for a
1.2mm diameter wire, the arc voltage varies from approximately 27V (250A)
to 35V (400A). The molten metal at the tip of the wire transfers to the weld
pool in the form of a spray of small droplets (about the diameter of the wire
and smaller). However, there is a minimum current level, threshold, below
which droplets are not forcibly projected across the arc. If an open arc
technique is attempted much below the threshold current level, the low arc
forces would be insufficient to prevent large droplets forming at the tip of the
wire. These droplets would transfer erratically across the arc under normal
gravitational forces. The pulsed mode was developed as a means of stabilizing
the open arc at low current levels i.e. below the threshold level, to avoid short-
circuiting and spatter. Spray type metal transfer is achieved by applying
pulses of current, each pulse having sufficient force to detach a droplet.
Synergic pulsed MIG refers to a special type of controller which enables the
power source to be tuned (pulse parameters) for the wire composition and
diameter, and the pulse frequency to be set according to the wire feed speed.

Shielding gas

In addition to general shielding of the arc and the weld pool, the shielding gas
performs a number of important functions:

• forms the arc plasma

• stabilises the arc roots on the material surface

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• ensures smooth transfer of molten droplets from the wire to the weld

Thus, the shielding gas will have a substantial effect on the stability of the arc
and metal transfer and the behaviour of the weld pool, in particular, its
penetration. General purpose shielding gases for MIG welding are mixtures of
argon, oxygen and C02, and special gas mixtures may contain helium. The
gases which are normally used for the various materials are:

• steels
o CO 2

o argon +2 to 5% oxygen
o argon +5 to 25% CO 2

• non-ferrous
o argon
o argon / helium

Argon based gases, compared with CO , are generally more tolerant to


parameter settings and generate lower spatter levels with the dip transfer
mode. However, there is a greater risk of lack of fusion defects because these
gases are colder. As CO cannot be used in the open arc (pulsed or spray

transfer) modes due to high back-plasma forces, argon based gases containing
oxygen or CO are normally employed.


MIG is widely used in most industry sectors and accounts for almost 50% of all
weld metal deposited. Compared to MMA, MIG has the advantage in terms of
flexibility, deposition rates and suitability for mechanization. However, it
should be noted that while MIG is ideal for 'squirting' metal, a high degree of
manipulative skill is demanded of the welder.

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The first patent on the submerged-arc welding (SAW) process was taken out in
1935 and covered an electric arc beneath a bed of granulated flux. Developed
by the E O Paton Electric Welding Institute, Russia, during the Second World
War, SAW's most famous application was on the T34 tank.

Process features

Similar to MIG welding, SAW

involves formation of an arc
between a continuously-fed bare
wire electrode and the work-piece.
The process uses a flux to generate
protective gases and slag, and to
add alloying elements to the weld
pool. A shielding gas is not
required. Prior to welding, a thin
layer of flux powder is placed on
the work-piece surface. The arc
moves along the joint line and as it
does so, excess flux is recycled via
a hopper. Remaining fused slag
layers can be easily removed after
welding. As the arc is completely
covered by the flux layer, heat loss is extremely low. This produces a thermal
efficiency as high as 60% (compared with 25% for manual metal arc). There is
no visible arc light, welding is spatter-free and there is no need for fume

Operating characteristics

SAW is usually operated as a fully-mechanized or automatic process, but it can

be semi-automatic. Welding parameters: current, arc voltage and travel speed
all affect bead shape, depth of penetration and chemical composition of the
deposited weld metal. Because the operator cannot see the weld pool, greater
reliance must be placed on parameter settings.

Process variants

According to material thickness, joint type and size of component, varying the
following can increase deposition rate and improve bead shape.


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SAW is normally operated with a single wire on either AC or DC current.
Common variants are:

• twin wire
• triple wire
• single wire with hot wire addition
• metal powdered flux addition

All contribute to improved productivity through a marked increase in weld

metal deposition rates and/or travel speeds.


Fluxes used in SAW are granular fusible minerals containing oxides of

manganese, silicon, titanium, aluminum, calcium, zirconium, magnesium and
other compounds such as calcium fluoride. The flux is specially formulated to
be compatible with a given electrode wire type so that the combination of flux
and wire yields desired mechanical properties. All fluxes react with the weld
pool to produce the weld metal chemical composition and mechanical
properties. It is common practice to refer to fluxes as 'active' if they add
manganese and silicon to the weld, the amount of manganese and silicon
added is influenced by the arc voltage and the welding current level. The main
types of flux for SAW are:

• Bonded fluxes - produced by drying the ingredients, then bonding

them with a low melting point compound such as a sodium silicate. Most
bonded fluxes contain metallic de-oxidizers which help to prevent weld
porosity. These fluxes are effective over rust and mill scale.
• Fused fluxes - produced by mixing the ingredients, then melting them
in an electric furnace to form a chemical homogeneous product, cooled
and ground to the required particle size. Smooth stable arcs, with
welding currents up to 2000A and consistent weld metal properties, are
the main attraction of these fluxes.


SAW is ideally suited for longitudinal and circumferential butt and fillet welds.
However, because of high fluidity of the weld pool, molten slag and loose flux
layer, welding is generally carried out on butt joints in the flat position and
fillet joints in both the flat and horizontal-vertical positions. For circumferential
joints, the work-piece is rotated under a fixed welding head with welding
taking place in the flat position. Depending on material thickness, either
single-pass, two-pass or multi-pass weld procedures can be carried out. There
is virtually no restriction on the material thickness, provided a suitable joint
preparation is adopted. Most commonly welded materials are carbon-
manganese steels, low alloy steels and stainless steels, although the process
is capable of welding some non-ferrous materials with judicious choice of
electrode filler wire and flux combinations.

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