Using an inert gas shield instead of a slag to protect the weld pool, this technology is a highly attractive alternative to gas and manual metal arc welding and has played a major role in the acceptance of high quality welding in critical applications.

 

Essential equipment

In TIG welding, the arc is formed between the end of a small diameter tungsten electrode and the work piece. The main equipment components are:

  1. power source
  2. torch
  3. backing system
  4. protective equipment

 

Power source

The power source for TIG welding can be either DC or AC, but in both the output is termed a drooping, or constant current characteristic; the arc voltage/welding current relationship delivers a constant current for a given power source setting.

In TIG welding, the arc length is dependent on how consistently the welder can hold the torch above the workpiece. Arc length is directly proportional to arc voltage, so a longer arc has a higher voltage and if the arc is shortened, the voltage will decrease.

Variation of arc length by 3 or 4mm can easily vary the voltage by 5V. By design, the TIG power source has a limited range of current and a reduced variation on changing voltage. With such a power source, the variation of current over a variation of 5V might be as little as 10A, giving almost imperceptible changes to the weld pool, making control much easier for the welder.

The arc is usually started by High Frequency (HF) sparks which ionise the gap between the electrode and the work piece. HF generates airborne and line transmitted interference, so care must be taken to avoid interference with control systems and instruments near welding equipment.

When welding is carried out in sensitive areas, a non-HF technique, touch starting or ‘lift arc’, can be used. The electrode can be short circuited to the workpiece, but the current will only flow when the electrode is lifted off the surface.

There is, therefore, little risk of the electrode fusing to the work piece surface and forming tungsten inclusions in the weld metal. For high quality applications, using HF is preferred.

 

DC power source

DC power produces a concentrated arc with most of the heat in the work piece, so this power source is generally used for welding. However, the arc with its cathode roots on the electrode (DC electrode negative polarity), results in little cleaning of the workpiece surface.

Care must be taken to clean the surface prior to welding and to ensure that there is an efficient gas shield.

Transistor and inverter power sources are being used increasingly for TIG welding. The advantages are:

  • The smaller size makes them easily transported
  • Arc ignition is easier
  • Special operating features (e.g. current pulsing) are readily included
  • The output can be pre-programmed for mechanised operations

The greater stability of these power sources allows very low currents to be used particularly for micro-TIG welding and largely replaced the plasma process for micro-welding operations.

 

AC power source

For materials such as aluminium, which has a tenacious oxide film on the surface, AC power must be employed. By switching between positive and negative polarity, the periods of electrode positive will remove the oxide and clean the surface.

The figure shows current and voltage waveforms for (sine wave) AC TIG welding.

 

Disadvantages of conventional sine wave AC compared with DC are:

  • More diffuse arc
  • HF is required to reignite the arc at each current reversal
  • Excessive heating of the electrode makes it impossible to maintain a tapered point and the end becomes balled

 

Square wave AC, or switched DC, power sources are particularly attractive for welding aluminium.

By switching between polarities, arc re-ignition is made easier so that the HF can be reduced or eliminated.

The ability to imbalance the waveform to vary the proportion of positive to negative polarity is important by determining the relative amount of heat generated in the work piece and the electrode.

To weld the root run, the power source is operated with the greater amount of positive polarity to put the maximum heat into the work piece.

For filler runs a greater proportion of negative polarity should be used to minimise heating of the electrode. By using 90% negative polarity, it is possible to maintain a pointed electrode.

A balanced position (50% electrode positive and negative polarities) is preferable for welding heavily oxidised aluminium.

 

Torch

 

There is a wide range of torch designs for welding, depending on the application. Designs which have the on/off switch and current control in the handle are often preferred to foot controls. Specialised torches are available for mechanised applications, e.g. orbital and bore welding of pipes.

 

Electrode

 

The electrode tip is usually ground to an angle of 60 to 90 degrees for manual welding, regardless of the electrode diameter. For mechanised applications as the tip angle determines the shape of the arc and influences the penetration profile of the weld pool, attention must be paid to consistency in grinding the tip and checking its condition between welds.

For AC current, the electrode often pure tungsten. The tip normally adopts a spherical profile due to the heat generated in the electrode during the electrode positive half cycle.

 

Gas shielding

A gas lens should be fitted within the torch nozzle, to ensure laminar gas flow. This will improve gas protection for sensitive welding operations like welding vertical, corner and edge joints and on curved surfaces.

There is also a wide range of nozzles available, ensuring different gas coverage. The nozzle’s selection depends mainly on the electrode diameter and on the accessibility, defined by the assembly to be welded.

 

Backing system

When welding high integrity components, a shielding gas is used to protect the underside of the weld pool and weld bead from oxidation.

To reduce the amount of gas consumed, a localised gas shroud for sheet, dams or plugs for tubular components is used. As little as 5% air can result in a poor weld bead profile and may reduce corrosion resistance in materials like stainless steel.

With gas backing systems in pipe welding, pre-weld purge time depends on the diameter and length of the pipe. The flow rate and purge time are set to ensure at least five volume changes before welding.

Stick on tapes and ceramic backing bars are also used to protect and support the weld bead. In manual stainless steel welding, a flux-cored wire instead of a solid wire can be used in the root run. This protects the underbead from oxidation without the need for gas backing.

 

Inserts

A pre-placed insert can be used to improve the uniformity of the root penetration. Its main use is to prevent suck-back in an autogenous weld, especially in the overhead position. The use of an insert does not make welding any easier and skill is still required to avoid problems of incomplete root fusion and uneven root penetration.

 

Protective equipment

A slightly darker glass should be used in the head or hand shield than that used for MMA welding.

Recommended shade number of filter for TIG welding:

Shade numberWelding current A
9less than 20
1020 to 40
1140 to 100
12100 to 175
13175 to 250
14250 to 400

 

 

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