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Development of Short Distance Welding Concepts for Airframes


The development of welded structures has been identified by airframe manufacturers as potentially leading to lighter airframes and low-cost manufacturing. Weight and cost efficiency will be obtained on the ‘Integral Structure’ or ‘Rivet-Free’ Al-alloy airframes through the use of advanced welding technologies, such as laser beam (LBW) and friction stir welding (FSW), and the introduction of new aluminium alloys with improved performances. A318 and A380 aircraft are already flying having had their fuselage panels manufactured with large distance LBW skin-stringer joints. Now, there is a need to extend the current level of technology to ‘more critical and difficult-to-join’ sections of metallic airframes with the replacement of conventional riveted sub-sections with a short distance welded integral structure, which exhibits light-weight and damage-tolerant features.

Project objectives

Within this context, the main scientific and technological objectives of the project are:

  • To optimise and validate the most suitable short distance laser beam welding process parameters for various Al-alloy combinations for the joining of stiffener/clip-skin connections of airframes by understanding and controlling the basic mechanisms of hot tearing, crack initiation and crack growth at the run-in/out location.
  • To develop a short distance friction stir welding process for suitable joints and non-laser weldable alloys and gain knowledge about these new applications.
  • To develop repair schemes of short distance welds and define allowable damages to minimise the maintenance and operational costs.
  • To conduct systematic damage tolerance analysis on short distance welded coupons to establish the mechanisms of initiation and spread of the damage at or around the run-outs.
  • To establish structural safety provisions for the case of ageing and corrosion damage (long-term behaviour/durability) by understanding the micro-mechanism/metallurgy of the damage at the short distance welds.
Development of Short Distance WELding concepts for AIRframes
Development of Short Distance WELding concepts for AIRframes

Description of the work

The technical approach of the project follows a ‘develop, test, check, make recommendations, validate on components’ pattern, split into five technical Work Packages. The first three Work Packages deal with the establishment of databases relative to potential techniques for improving the fatigue and damage tolerance behaviour of short distance welds, using both friction stir welding and laser beam welding for stiffener-skin connections.

The first Work Package aims to develop laser beam and friction stir welding procedures for control of the run-ins and run-outs of the welds, and to propose some repair techniques for non-allowable welding defects. Firstly, an overview related to cracking occurrence in laser beam welding and industrial conditions, previously tested non-allowable welding defects, run-out control and repair procedures will be presented by aircraft manufacturers with a background in this field (AIRBUS, EADS). Taking this overview into account, various run-in/out control and repair procedures will be tested by the LBW welder partners (EADS, GKSS, ALENIA, Institut de Soudure) using various laser beam welding equipments (YAG technology, various powers, fibre diameter, focal length), clamping equipments and various filler wires. The validation of the improved procedures will be tested in industrial conditions. Concerning friction stir welding, the retractable pin tool technique for control of the run-outs of the short distance stiffener-skin joints and potential repair technique of the FSW hole located at the end of the welds will be developed (EADS CRC, Institut de Soudure, GKSS).

The second Work Package deals with design aspects of the stiffener-skin connection and especially the evaluation of new generation aluminium alloys with improved mechanical performances (fatigue and damage tolerance) and/or better weldability or hot cracking resistance.

Damage tolerance (fatigue and fracture) and durability of the laser beam and friction stir welded joints for various welded configurations are the main topics of the third Work Package (including alloys, processes, joint configuration, thermal temper and surface treatment).

Data bases will be obtained from the three first work packages and the most relevant welding concepts for improved stiffened structures will be proposed.

The last two Work Packages deal with concept validation on technological specimens, especially flat and curved specimens, with welded stringers only or welded bi-directional stiffening. In the fourth Work Package, the technological specimens will be defined and manufactured and in the fifth, the specimens will be tested and the results analysed.

Expected results

The WEL-AIR project will provide:

  • A complete database, which is related to the manufacture and performance of innovative and improved welding concepts for stiffener-clip-skin connection including new joint design, laser beam welding and friction stir welding procedures and a selection of new high performance light alloys for both stiffeners and skin.
  • Run-in/out control and repair procedures for both laser beam welding and friction stir welding.
  • Recommendations on optimum material conditions (temper and surface) prior to welding to optimise the post-welding behaviour.
  • Damage tolerance data and fundamental rules for the integration of new welding on aircraft sections that are more critical.
Development of Short Distance WELding concepts for AIRframes
Development of Short Distance WELding concepts for AIRframes