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Friction Stir Welding

Published on Apr 02, 2024


In late 1991 a very novel and potentially world beating welding method was conceived at TWI. The process was duly named friction stir welding (FSW), and TWI filed for world-wide patent protection in December of that year. TWI (The Welding Institute) is a world famous institute in the UK that specializes in materials joining technology.

Consistent with the more conventional methods of friction welding, which have been practiced since the early 1950s, the weld is made in the solid phase, that is, no melting is involved. Compared to conventional friction welding, FSW uses a rotating tool to generate the necessary heat for the process. Since its invention, the process has received world-wide attention and today two Scandinavian companies are using the technology in production, particularly for joining aluminium alloys. Also, FSW is a process that can be automated. It is also a cleaner and more efficient process compared to conventional techniques.


In friction stir welding (FSW) a cylindrical, shouldered tool with a profiled probe is rotated and slowly plunged into the joint line between two pieces butted together. The parts have to be clamped onto a backing bar in a manner that prevents the abutting joint faces from being forced apart. Frictional heat is generated between the wear resistant welding tool and the material of the work pieces. This heat causes the latter to soften without reaching the melting point and allows traversing of the tool along the weld line. The maximum temperature reached is of the order of 0.8 of the melting temperature of the material.

Friction Stir Welding

The plasticized material is transferred from the leading edge of the tool to the trailing edge of the tool probe and is forged by the intimate contact of the tool shoulder and the pin profile. It leaves a solid phase bond between the two pieces. The process can be regarded as a solid phase keyhole welding technique since a hole to accommodate the probe is generated, then filled during the welding sequence


The non-consumable tool has a circular section except at the end where there is a threaded probe or more complicated flute; the junction between the cylindrical portion and the probe is known as the shoulder. The probe penetrates the work piece whereas the shoulder rubs with the top surface. The tool has an end tap of 5 in 6 mm diameter and a height of 5 to 6 mm (may vary with the metal thickness). The tool is set in a positive angle of some degree in the welding direction. The design of the pin and shoulder assembly plays a major role on how the material moves during the process.


The first attempt at classifying microstructures was made by P L Threadgill (Bulletin, March 1997). This work was based solely on information available from aluminium alloys. However, it has become evident from work on other materials that the behavior of aluminium alloys is not typical of most metallic materials, and therefore the scheme cannot be broadened to encompass all materials. It is therefore proposed that the following revised scheme is used. This has been developed at TWI, but has been discussed with a number of appropriate people in industry and academia, and has also been provisionally accepted by the Friction Stir Welding Licensees Association

Unaffected material or parent metal:

This is material remote from the weld, which has not been deformed, and which although it may have experienced a thermal cycle from the weld is not affected by the heat in terms of microstructure or mechanical properties.

Heat affected zone (HAZ):

In this region, which clearly will lie closer to the weld centre, the material has experienced a thermal cycle, which has modified the microstructure and/or the mechanical properties. However, there is no plastic deformation occurring in this area. In the previous system, this was referred to as the "thermally affected zone". The term heat affected zone is now preferred, as this is a direct parallel with the heat affected zone in other thermal processes, and there is little justification for a separate name.

Thermo-mechanically affected zone (TMAZ):

In this region, the material has been plastically deformed by the friction stir welding tool, and the heat from the process will also have exerted some influence on the material. In the case of aluminium, it is possible to get significant plastic strain without recrystallisation in this region, and there is generally a distinct boundary between the recrystallised zone and the deformed zones of the TMAZ. In the earlier classification, these two sub-zones were treated as distinct microstructural regions. However, subsequent work on other materials has shown that aluminium behaves in a different manner to most other materials, in that it can be extensively deformed at high temperature without recrystallisation. In other materials, the distinct recrystallised region (the nugget) is absent, and the whole of the TMAZ appears to be recrystallised.

Weld Nugget:

The recrystallised area in the TMAZ in aluminium alloys has traditionally been called the nugget. Although this term is descriptive, it is not very scientific. However, its use has become widespread, and as there is no word which is equally simple with greater scientific merit, this term has been adopted. A schematic diagram is shown in the above Figure which clearly identifies the various regions. It has been suggested that the area immediately below the tool shoulder (which is clearly part of the TMAZ) should be given a separate category, as the grain structure is often different here. The microstructure here is determined by rubbing by the rear face of the shoulder, and the material may have cooled below its maximum. It is suggested that this area is treated as a separate sub-zone of the TMAZ.


• Type of metal

• Angle of tool

• Traversing speed of the tool

• Spinning speed of tool

• Pressure applied by the pin tool

Research is going on to combine the above factors in order to control the process in a better way

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