Welding History - A story of harnessing heat
Iron Pillar - New Delhi
Joining metal, and welding history goes back several millennia starting in the Bronze Age then Iron Age in Europe then the Middle East.
Welding was used in the Iron pillar in Delhi, India, about 310 AD, weighing 5.4 metric tons. (picture at right)
The Middle Ages brought forge welding, blacksmiths pounded hot metal until it bonded.
In 1540, Vannoccio Biringuccio released De la pirotechnia, which includes descriptions of the forging operation.
Renaissance craftsmen gained skilled in the process, and the welding continued to grow during the following centuries.
Welding, was transformed during the 19th century—in 1800, Sir Humphrey Davy invented the electric arc, and advances welding continued with the metal electrode by a Russian, Nikolai Slavyanov, and an American, C.L. Coffin late in the 1800s.
Around 1900, A. P. Strohmenger brought a coated metal electrode in Britain, which had a more stable arc, and in 1919, alternating current welding was invented by C.J. Holslag, but did not become popular for another decade.
Resistance welding was developed during the end of the 19th century, with the first patents going to Elihu Thompson in 1885, and he produced advances over the next 15 years.
Thermite welding was invented in 1893, another process, oxyfuel welding, became well established.
Acetylene was discovered in 1836 by Edmund Davy, but was not practical in welding until about 1900, when a suitable blowtorch was developed.
At first, oxyfuel welding was the more popular welding method due to its portability and relatively low cost.
As the 20th century progressed, it fell out of favor for industrial applications.
It was largely replaced with arc welding, as metal coverings (known as flux) for the electrode that stabilize the arc and shield the base material from impurities continued to be developed.
World War I caused a major surge in the use of welding processes, with the various military powers attempting to determine which of the several new welding processes would be best.
The British primarily used arc welding, even constructing a ship, the Fulagar, with an entirely welded hull.
The Americans were more hesitant, but began to recognize the benefits of arc welding when the process allowed them to repair their ships quickly after a German attack in the New York Harbor at the beginning of the war.
Arc welding was first applied to aircraft during the war as well, as some German airplane fuselages were constructed using the process.
During the 1920s, major advances were made in welding technology, including the introduction of automatic welding in 1920, in which electrode wire was fed continuously.
Shielding gas became a subject receiving much attention, as scientists attempted to protect welds from the effects of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere.
Porosity and brittleness were the primary problems, and the solutions that developed included the use of hydrogen, argon, and helium as welding atmospheres.
During the following decade, further advances allowed for the welding of reactive metals like aluminum and magnesium.
This, in conjunction with developments in automatic welding, alternating current, and fluxes fed a major expansion of arc welding during the 1930s and then during World War II.
During the middle of the century, many new welding methods were invented.
1930 saw the release of stud welding, which soon became popular in shipbuilding and construction. Submerged arc welding was invented the same year, and continues to be popular today.
Gas tungsten arc welding, after decades of development, was finally perfected in 1941, and gas metal arc welding followed in 1948, allowing for fast welding of non-ferrous materials but requiring expensive shielding gases.
Shielded metal arc welding was developed during the 1950s, using a consumable electrode and a carbon dioxide atmosphere as a shielding gas, and it quickly became the most popular metal arc welding process.
In 1957, the flux-cored arc welding process debuted, in which the self-shielded wire electrode could be used with automatic equipment, resulting in greatly increased welding speeds, and that same year, plasma arc welding was invented.
Electroslag welding was released in 1958, and it was followed by its cousin, electrogas welding, in 1961.
Other recent developments in welding include the 1958 breakthrough of electron beam welding, making deep and narrow welding possible through the concentrated heat source.
Following the invention of the laser in 1960, laser beam welding debuted several decades later, and has proved to be especially useful in high-speed, automated welding.
Both of these processes, however, continue to be quite expensive due the high cost of the necessary equipment, and this has limited their applications