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Job knowledge 59:

Welding processes Others

Friction welding of plastics

Friction welding of thermoplastics is a long established
technique usually employed for joining injection-
moulded parts. The welding process has found many
applications ranging from automotive, for example air
intake manifolds (see Fig.1) and expansion tanks,
through to domestic appliance components such as a
cistern ball float. Experimental applications of friction
welding for thermoplastics have included welding
polyethylene pipes for gas and water distribution.
There are six identifiable variations of the friction
welding process; linear, orbital, multi-directional,
rotational, angular and friction stir.
The linear and rotational forms of the friction welding
process are used extensively in industrial applications.
Figure 2 shows a typical linear friction-welding machine.
Welding machines using orbital and multi-directional
techniques have only become available in recent years. The angular friction
welding process has only been used in a limited number of commercial
applications and equipment is not commercially available.
The friction stir process is still under development for plastics, although now used
extensively for metals.

Fig.2. An example of a typical linear
friction welding machine

Fig.1. An air intake
manifold joined by
friction welding

Thermoplastic friction welding processes
Linear friction welding (also known as vibration welding) of thermoplastics
involves rubbing together, under axial force, one component in a linear
reciprocating motion against a fixed stationary component. The frequency of the

vibration is typically between 100 and 240Hz with a peak-to-peak vibration
movement of 1 to 4mm.
Rotational friction welding (or spin welding) includes rotating one part in a
continuous circular motion against another part, under axial force. The typical
rotation speed is between 1200 and 3500rpm.
Orbital welding involves rubbing together the thermoplastic parts, under axial
force, in an orbital motion at the interface. Similar to linear friction welding, the
frequency of operation is around 200Hz with an off-axis deflection between 1 and
2mm. The orbital motion has been adapted on some equipment to give a multi-
directional, non-uniform vibration pattern.
Angular friction welding, is designed to allow circular components to be welded in
a vibration mode. The components are rubbed together in a reciprocating motion,
through a few degrees (typically 2 to 5), during the welding process giving an
arc of vibration motion at the component interfaces.
The final friction process, friction stir, involves a moving non-consumable tool that
is forced between the parts to be welded, which are held fixed. The tool can be
either a rotating pin or a blade that is vibrated in a linear reciprocating motion,
either in line with the joint or perpendicular to it.
Process operation
In all the thermoplastic friction welding processes, the heat generated by the
rubbing action must be sufficient to melt and flow the plastic at the weld interface.
Sufficient heat is generated by a combination of weld time, weld force and
interface velocity, determined by either the reciprocating or rotational motion.
Figure 3 shows a schematic of the material displacement at the weld interface
during the welding cycle. In all friction processes, except friction stir, a similar
pattern of behaviour can be seen. Typically, the displacement/time graph can be
divided into four phases.

Fig.3. Material displacement at
the welding interface during
In Phase I the parts are brought together and an axial force is applied. The
interfacial friction begins but initially, no material flows. In Phase II, the weld zone
material starts to melt and material displacement to the edges of the weld begins.
Phase III is a steady state phase; the material is pushed out from the weld at a
constant rate. Phase IV is the cooling phase when the interfacial friction is
stopped but the force is still applied to consolidate the weld.
It is generally accepted that Phases I, II and IV are an essential part of the
process but that there is no benefit, in terms of weld strength, in prolonging
Phase III. Typically Phases I and II would take between 0.5 and 8 seconds to
complete depending on the surface area being joined. Typically cooling times in
Phase IV would be between 4 and 10 seconds.
Welding process parameters
In friction processes, welding can be carried out either until a pre-set weld time
has elapsed or a pre-set material displacement has been achieved.
When welding by time, the weld time is the length of time the plastic parts are
rubbed together to create the heat. As discussed previously, the weld time should
ideally be terminated when the steady state phase of the weld cycle is achieved.
This can be determined by using a displacement transducer. Higher melting point
materials would typically require a longer weld time.
An alternative to welding by time is to weld by displacement. Interfacial friction is
applied to components being welded until a fixed material displacement is
achieved. This would typically be 1 to 2mm, but would depend on the flatness of
the components being welded. Undulations in the welding interface would need to
be taken into consideration when setting the weld displacement.
Applying a force to the component during welding creates a pressure at the joint
interface. For friction welding of plastics, the typical welding and cooling pressure
is between 0.5 and 2MPa. Increasing the weld pressure beyond these values can
reduce the strength of the weld by forcing out most of the molten thermoplastic
materials, resulting in a 'cold weld' being formed.
The cooling time is the length of time for which parts remain under pressure after
the relative friction motion has ceased. Other welding process parameters are

unique to the individual processes and include amplitude and frequency in the
vibration process and rotational speed in the spin welding process.
Component design
Component design can be divided into the joint design and the design of the
component itself. Joint and component design are critical to the success of friction
welding processes, particularly in linear and orbital friction welding where flexing
in the walls of the components can result in a reduction of the relative interfacial
motion needed to produce friction heating. To eliminate this problem, it is
important to include features such as stiffening ribs and U-flanges to the
component wall around the weld area. The U-flange is particularly important since
it is designed to lock the component wall to the tooling, thus preventing wall
flexing. Wall flexing is especially a problem in vibration welding where the
vibrations occur transverse to the wall of the component. Figure 4 shows a U-
flange joint used in vibration welding, which can also be employed with other
friction welding processes.

Fig.4. U-flange joint used in vibration or other
friction welding processes

Friction welding processes are widely used techniques for the assembly of plastic
components. Correct selection of welding parameters and component design are
essential to successful welding using these processes.

This article was written by Ian Froment.
This Job Knowledge article was originally published in Connect, July - August 2002. It
has been updated so the web page no longer reflects exactly the printed version.
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