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Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW), also known as tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding, is an arc welding process that uses a nonconsumable tungsten electrode to produce the weld. The weld area is protected from atmospheric contamination by a shielding gas (usually an inert gas such as argon), and a filler metal is normally used, though some welds, known as autogenous welds, do not require it. A constant-current welding power supply produces energy which is conducted across the arc through a column of highly ionized gas and metal vapors known as a plasma.
GTAW is most commonly used to weld thin sections of stainless steel and non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, magnesium, and copper alloys. The process grants the operator greater control over the weld than competing processes such as shielded metal arc welding and gas metal arc welding, allowing for stronger, higher quality welds. However, GTAW is comparatively more complex and difficult to master, and furthermore, it is significantly slower than most other welding techniques. A related process, plasma arc welding, uses a slightly different welding torch to create a more focused welding arc and as a result is often automated.
Gas metal arc welding (GMAW), sometimes referred to by its subtypes metal inert gas (MIG) welding or metal active gas (MAG) welding, is a semi-automatic or automatic arc welding process in which a continuous and consumable wire electrode and a shielding gas are fed through a welding gun. A constant voltage, direct current power source is most commonly used with GMAW, but constant current systems, as well as alternating current, can be used. There are four primary methods of metal transfer in GMAW, called globular, short-circuiting, spray, and pulsed-spray, each of which has distinct properties and corresponding advantages and limitations.
Originally developed for welding aluminum and other non-ferrous materials in the 1940s, GMAW was soon applied to steels because it allowed for lower welding time compared to other welding processes. The cost of inert gas limited its use in steels until several years later, when the use of semi-inert gases such as carbon dioxide became common. Further developments during the 1950s and 1960s gave the process more versatility and as a result, it became a highly used industrial process.
Today, GMAW is the most common industrial welding process, preferred for its versatility, speed and the relative ease of adapting the process to robotic automation. The automobile industry in particular uses GMAW welding almost exclusively. Unlike welding processes that do not employ a shielding gas, such as shielded metal arc welding, it is rarely used outdoors or in other areas of air volatility. A related process, flux cored arc welding, often does not utilize a shielding gas, instead employing a hollow electrode wire that is filled with flux on the inside.
Plasma cutting is a process that is used to cut steel and other metals of different thicknesses (or sometimes other materials) using a plasma torch. In this process, an inert gas (in some units, compressed air) is blown at high speed out of a nozzle; at the same time an electrical arc is formed through that gas from the nozzle to the surface being cut, turning some of that gas to plasma. The plasma is sufficiently hot to melt the metal being cut and moves sufficiently fast to blow molten metal away from the cut.
Plasma cutters have also been used in CNC machinery. Manufacturers build CNC cutting tables, some with the cutter built in to the table. The idea behind CNC tables is to allow a computer to control the torch head making clean sharp cuts. Modern CNC plasma equipment is capable of multi-axis cutting of thick material, allowing opportunities for complex welding seams on CNC welding equipment that is not possible otherwise. For thinner material cutting, plasma cutting is being progressively replaced by laser cutting, due mainly to the laser cutter’s superior hole-cutting abilities.
A specialized use of CNC Plasma Cutters has been in the HVAC industry. Software will process information on ductwork and create flat patterns to be cut on the cutting table by the plasma torch. This technology has enormously increased productivity within the industry since its introduction in the early 1980s.
In recent years there has been even more development in the area of CNC Plasma Cutting Machinery. Traditionally the machines’ cutting tables were horizontal but now due to further research and development Vertical CNC Plasma Cutting Machines are available. This advancement provides a machine with a small footprint, increased flexibility, optimum safety, faster operation.
Fabrication as an industrial term refers to building metal structures by cutting, bending, and assembling. The cutting part of fabrication is via sawing, shearing, or chiseling (all with manual and powered variants); torching with handheld torches (such as oxy-fuel torches or plasma torches); and via CNC cutters (using a laser, torch, or water jet). The bending is via hammering (manual or powered) or via press brakes and similar tools. The assembling (joining of the pieces) is via welding, binding with adhesives, riveting, threaded fasteners, or even yet more bending in the form of a crimped seam. Structural steel and sheet metal are the usual starting materials for fabrication, along with the welding wire, flux, and fasteners that will join the cut pieces.
As with other manufacturing processes, both human labor and automation are commonly used. The product resulting from (the process of) fabrication may be called a fabrication. Shops that specialize in this type of metal work are called fab shops. The end products of other common types of metalworking, such as machining, metal stamping, forging, and casting, may be similar in shape and function, but those processes are not classified as fabrication.
Tube bending is a metal forming process used to permanently form pipes or tubing into the shape of a die. Straight tube stock can be formed using a bending machine to create a variety of single or multiple bends and to shape the piece into the desired form. This process can be used to form complex shapes out of different types of ductile metal tubing. Generally, round stock is what is used in tube bending. However, square and rectangular tubes and pipes may also be bent to meet job specifications. Other factors involved in the tube bending process is the wall size, thickness, tooling and lubricants needed by the pipe and tube bender to best shape the material.
Tube bending as a process starts with loading a tube into a pipe bender and clamping it into place between two dies, the clamping block and the forming die. The tube is also loosely held by two other dies, the wiper die and the pressure die.
The process of tube bending involves using mechanical force to push stock material pipe or tubing against a die, forcing the pipe or tube to conform to the shape of the die. Often, stock tubing is held firmly in place while the end is rotated and rolled around the die. Other forms of processing including pushing stock through rollers that bend it into a simple curve. For some tube bending processing, a mandrel is placed inside the tube to prevent collapsing. The tube is also held in tension by a wiper die to prevent any creasing during stress. A wiper die is usually made of a softer alloy i.e. aluminum, brass to avoid scratching or damaging the material being bent.
A prototype is an early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from.
Design and modeling
In many fields, there is great uncertainty as to whether a new design will actually do what is desired. New designs often have unexpected problems. A prototype is often used as part of the product design process to allow engineers and designers the ability to explore design alternatives, test theories and confirm performance prior to starting production of a new product. Engineers use their experience to tailor the prototype according to the specific unknowns still present in the intended design. For example, some prototypes are used to confirm and verify consumer interest in a proposed design whereas other prototypes will attempt to verify the performance or suitability of a specific design approach.
In general, an iterative series of prototypes will be designed, constructed and tested as the final design emerges and is prepared for production. With rare exceptions, multiple iterations of prototypes are used to progressively refine the design. A common strategy is to design, test, evaluate and then modify the design based on analysis of the prototype.
In many products it is common to assign the prototype iterations Greek letters. For example, a first iteration prototype may be called an “Alpha” prototype. Often this iteration is not expected to perform as intended and some amount of failures or issues are anticipated. Subsequent prototyping iterations (Beta, Gamma, etc.) will be expected to resolve issues and perform closer to the final production intent.
In many product development organizations, prototyping specialists are employed – individuals with specialized skills and training in general fabrication techniques that can help bridge between theoretical designs and the fabrication of prototypes.