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Friction Stir Welding for Vehicle Components

October 2014

Federal regulatory requirements in the United States are driving the need to achieve automotive fuel efficiency greater than 35 miles per gallon by 2016 and 54 miles per gallon by 2025. To reduce the overall weight of vehicles, thus increasing fuel efficiency, steel could be swapped with lightweight aluminum alloy for components such as doors and other body panels. Traditional laser welding technologies, however, have been unsuccessful at producing quality joints, typically resulting in porosity and other defects.

PNNL has been working in friction stir welding for many years. We now partner with General Motors, TWB Company LLC, Alcoa Inc., and DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to further develop and deploy this welding technology. The technology enables the joining of different thickness of aluminum sheets without melting the material, reducing the negative effects of high temperature.

The team successfully adapted stir welding technology for use in the automotive industry, and in June 2014 transferred the technology to TWB, who increased the production rate from 1 meter per minute to 3-6 meters per minute. With this throughput, friction welded parts can now join more than 250,000 automotive components on a single machine, reducing vehicle weight significantly.

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