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Job knowledge 57:

Welding processes Others

Extrusion welding of Thermoplastics Introduction

Extrusion welding is used in the manufacture of thick-
section fabrications, such as tanks and pipes, where it
is necessary to produce large volume, homogeneous
seams in a single pass, unlike hot gas welding where it
would be necessary to produce a seam using multiple
In tank fabrications, the main use of extrusion welding
is to weld the bases and tops, although in certain
applications, the body panels are also welded using this
technique. In large section pipe fabrications, it can be
used where manual welding techniques are required.
Another use for extrusion welding is in environmental
applications where it is used in the joining of lining
material for the construction of landfill waste sites,
lagoons and roof coverings. It is also becoming
increasingly used in agriculture and water engineering,
for example, in the fabrication of land drainage
systems, sump tanks and manways.
Extrusion welders are available in a variety of sizes,
from compact units with an integral air supply, weighing a mere 2.8 kg, through
to large 13kg machines used for welding lining material in landfill applications.
They can be supplied in both 110v and 240v configurations.

Fig.1. Extrusion welding gun

Polypropylene tank
made using extrusion
and hot gas welding

Extrusion welding has historically been used to weld mainly PP and HDPE,
although some modern types of extruders have also been engineered to weld PVC
and PVDF. In the case of PVC, due to its narrow processing 'window', the extruder
needs to be purged using PP or PE weld rod, to ensure that no PVC material is left
to degrade in the barrel.
Extrusion welders are designed to ensure that certain parameters are accurately
defined to maximise weld quality, these being:
Temperature of the welding material - extrudate
Mass flow rate of the welding material
Temperature of the hot gas for substrate pre-heat
Quantity of hot gas
The welding speed that can be achieved is dependent on the flow rate of the
extrudate, the material thickness, the cross sectional area of the seam and the
size and design of the PTFE welding shoe.
As for hot gas welding, good quality extrusion welded seams can only be achieved
if the parts to be welded are prepared correctly. They must be scraped to remove
any contamination and the oxide layer on the surface of the material, and then
fully tacked together to ensure perfect alignment for the application of the initial
root run of 3mm hot gas weld. The root run ensures full weld penetration which
maximises weld strength and also ensures that the parts remain together during
the extrusion process. Due to the large quantity of air used for the pre-heat
(typically 300 ltrs/min to comply with the DVS guidelines) a standard hot gas tack
weld would break due to expansion.
The angle of the extruder in relation to the work-piece is also extremely important,
to ensure an even pre-heat of the substrate and an even flow of the extrudate
( Fig.2a and 2b). If incorrect parameters are used, ie too cold, the surface of the
weld will be very rough and irregular in appearance and the resulting weld will
have low strength. If the weld is too hot, the surface will have a wet look and the
weld will again have low strength.

Fig.2a) Example of a good quality
extrusion weld

Fig.2b) This photo illustrates a
weld made using incorrect welding
The modern extrusion welder has the facility to control the melt temperature and
the pre-heat air separately, with a display on the control box for easy operation
and monitoring. The electronic control of the melting chamber does not allow the
drive motor to operate until the material is at the correct temperature. This
prevents strain being put on the motor and the screw drive.
Fig.3. Schematic of extrusion welding gun

The drive motor (1) is an electric drill with improved gearing, which drives a
screw shaft in a heated barrel. This also feeds the welding rod (2) into the rod
input point (3) via a pair of pinch rollers, then into the extruder (4). Modern
extruders have a special welding rod feed, which prevents the welding rod from
becoming twisted, and ensures constant rod input. This improves the
homogeneous quality of the welding seam, because variations in input due to
twists and kinks in the weld rod, can lead to deviations in output. The extruder
screw grinds the welding rod into granules. The resulting granulate is then fed
into the melting chamber (5) where it is melted. The mass then continues through
the barrel to the pre-formed, interchangeable, PTFE shoe (6), where it is formed
to the shape of the seam required.

Certain machines also have the facility to be fed with granulate directly, rather
than welding rod. These extruders are mainly used in landfill applications where
there is the potential for long seams and inclement weather conditions. The
hoppers can be covered to reduce the possibility of moisture and contamination
that can appear on weld rod.
The correct design of welding shoe required for the type of seam to be welded, is
placed on the end of the extruder. The base material is heated (plasticised) by the
heating nozzle (7) with air supplied (on this particular design) via an integral air
heater unit (8).
Extrusion welding is a manual welding process and as such, is dependent on
operator skill. Therefore to achieve a high quality seam, it is recommended that a
quality training programme and certification is undertaken. As in hot gas welding,
the European standard (BS EN 13067) sets out the requirements for plastics
welder approval in extrusion welding. The CSWIP PW-6-96 certification scheme is
available for the certification of plastics welding personnel, to undertake both a
theory test and a practical examination in extrusion welding of PP and HDPE.
Certification is valid for two years with a further two years prolongation, as long
as the welder has continued to use the process on a regular basis for that period
of time. After the four-year period, the welder will need to undergo a full retest.
This article was written by Andy Knight.
Copyright 2007 TWI Ltd
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