University and industry solve welding problems together
From left: Grad student Axel Fehrenbacher, Associate Professor Nicola Ferrier, Friction Stir Link VP of Technology John Hinrichs, Assistant Professor Frank Pfefferkorn, graduate student Ted Schultz, Friction Stir Link VP of Engineering Christopher Smith and Professor Neil Duffie. (Larger image)
key university-industry collaboration will enable students, researchers and engineers to improve a low-cost, energy-efficient alternative to traditional welding that is important in assembling and repairing large aluminum structures such as ships. Assistant Professor Frank Pfefferkorn, Associate Professor Nicola Ferrier, Professor Neil Duffie and graduate students Axel Fehrenbacher and Ted Shultz are studying friction stir welding technologies with engineers from Wisconsin-based welding solutions company Friction Stir Link.
Friction stir welding enables workers to join materials without melting them. The process requires large amounts of force, which is administered via machines or robots.
The research group hopes to reduce welding forces and make a flexible robotic system that allows a worker to join large structures quickly and efficiently. “At a shipyard where you’re putting together large aluminum pieces that right now are fusion-welded, a worker could go in with the portable robot and friction stir weld,” says Pfefferkorn.
The team also aims to make the entire process more controllable through a novel robot-human interface. “We’re working on an interface where the person gets some feedback from the robot,” says Pfefferkorn, “so they can adjust the process in real time during welding.”
The close collaboration on the project enables the researchers to pool their knowledge to make better progress—and it gives Fehrenbacher and Schultz valuable on-site industry experience, says Pfefferkorn. In addition, the research complements current UW-Madison low-power/low-force friction stir welding research. Conducted at the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation & Robotics, that research focuses on assembling and repairing thin-gauge aluminum structures.
The team’s initial work, supported in part by an Industrial & Economic Development Research Grant from the state of Wisconsin, led to the current work funded by the U.S. Navy.