Sometimes size matters, and when it comes to friction stir welding, 2015 is shaping up to be all about bigger and better. May 2015 marked the completion of the largest capacity linear friction stir welding machine ever constructed.
The new machine, built by Manufacturing Technology Inc. weighs in at about 400,000 pounds, stands a towering 20 feet tall, and has been in development since MTI won the bid to develop the unit from aerospace company Pratt & Whitney in 2012.
The record-setting behemoth also represented a huge risk for the small Connecticut company, which invested $2 million on research and development just to win the initial bid. The machine also represents a heavy investment for Pratt & Whitney. The friction stir welding machine is part of their $400 million expansion project designed to help the company keep up with current and future orders.
However, the completion of the welder isn’t the only payoff to this expensive venture. Larger welding equipment companies that passed on the opportunity to develop technologies with relatively limited practical industrial applications, like friction-stir welding, have left a clear trail for MTI to blaze.
Now, the skills that MTI’s manufacturing team developed while designing and manufacturing the newly-completed machine, has cemented the privately held company’s position as one of the industry’s leading developers of cutting-edge friction stir welding equipment.
A 200-foot long, 19-axle transporter, the largest ground shipping vehicle in the world, carried the 20-foot tall welder with the help of two semi-trucks. One truck pulled the massive transporter while the other pushed it from behind.
The transporter also had to take a huge number of detours because most bridges along the route couldn’t handle its height or weight.
Imagine taking a short road trip and every time you saw a bridge, you had to exit the highway and drive only through unobstructed local roads before getting back on. Every single time; that’s what it was like to transport the friction stir welder to Middletown.
Now that the machine has arrived, Pratt & Whitney will be putting it to work making the fan blades at the front of jet engines, effectively doubling the capacity of the aerospace manufacturer’s production rates.
This is only one of several major industry announcements centered on the friction stir process. Last month, NASA announced the start of construction on the Orion Spacecraft’s pathfinder, a full-scale replica of what will become the first fully friction stir welded vehicle to fly in space.
And if you’re interested in following MTI’s groundbreaking example by expanding your own skill set and opportunities, visit AWS Learning, where you can find virtual conferences, online courses, and other digital tools to help you expand your welding career.