Research sparks bright new future for welding
A new engineering research project called MINTWELD ('Modelling of interface evolution in advanced welding') has received EUR 3.5 million in EU funding to revolutionise the welding industry by using advanced technology. Funded under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and coordinated by the University of Leicester in the UK, the 4-year project involves 11 partners from 7 countries who will research ways of making welding simpler, safer and more economical by using new technologies including state-of-the-art computer-modelling techniques.
Welding is a highly skilled occupation, but it is not a subject normally associated with high-end mathematics, engineering and computing. But things are about to change as this crucial part of the EU manufacturing sector receives a facelift.
Welding is the most common way of joining metals. The welder's job is to take manufactured parts and join them together using molten heat that then cools, forming a firm joint. Welding is normally a smooth process, but if the parts don't join perfectly, a minor imperfection can sometimes become a major crack which can potentially lead to a disaster.
Two pieces of steel are welded together by a complex process of chemical and metallurgical reactions which occur at the interface of the parts being welded. Most faulty welding jobs are due to a failure of some element of this process. The MINTWELD consortium will look at how the welding process can be improved by using a range of state-of-the-art computer modelling techniques and knowledge gained from industrial experiments.
Dr Hong Dong from the University of Leicester in the UK, coordinator of MINTWELD, says, 'Welding is the most economical and effective way to join metals permanently and it is a vital component of our manufacturing economy.
'It is estimated that more than 50% of global domestic and engineering products contain welded joints. In Europe, the welding industry has traditionally supported a diverse set of companies across the shipbuilding, pipeline, automotive, aerospace, defence and construction sectors.'
Weaknesses in welded parts can have many disastrous effects including putting lives at risk and harming the economy because of damages and insurance payouts for faulty products. They can also cause environmental catastrophes such as pollution if imperfectly welded parts are used in environmentally sensitive areas such as the ocean. In fact, the new technology developed by MINTWELD will be used for welding deep-sea gas and oil transportation systems, using a new computer modelling approach.
Dr Dong says, 'Failures in welded components such as deep-sea oil and gas transport systems, can result in lost production, valued in several billion euro while exposing the EU to increased petroleum prices and increasing EU dependency on oil and gas supplies from other regions.'
'This project will deliver an accurate, predictive and cost-effective modelling tool that will find widespread application in the relevant European metals industry for penetrating novel markets of high economic and strategic importance – an essential task to ensure that Europe maintains its competitiveness.'
MINTWELD partners include University College Dublin in Ireland, the University of Oxford in the UK, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Norway, the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the Institute of Welding in Poland and the Polish steel manufacturer Frenzac.