Ohio Third Frontier award will advance breakthrough welding technology

Posted: June 23, 2015

An Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-Up Fund (TVSF) grant will accelerate Ohio State University researchers’ efforts to further develop and commercialize a technology that offers stronger, yet inexpensive, metal welding. 

It could benefit the production of lighter vehicles, a key strategy being pursued to meet federal fuel efficiency standards of 54.5 mpg on cars and trucks by 2025. Shedding significant vehicle weight requires switching to lightweight materials like high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber composites. But currently used welding processes, such as resistance spot welding, won’t work as effectively for fabricating multi-metal vehicles due to melting point differences of the various materials.

A schematic of the vaporizing foil actuator welding technology (top) and a steel-aluminum lap weld created by this method.
A schematic of the vaporizing foil actuator welding technology (top) and a steel-aluminum lap weld created by this method.
Vaporizing foil actuator welding or VFAW could solve the problem of lightweight automotive joining for a market valued at $700 million. The patented method was developed by an Ohio State research group led by Materials Science and Engineering Professor Glenn S. Daehn and Senior Research Associate Anupam Vivek. 

This high-speed-impact-based technology also has potential applications in other many other industries, including consumer products (home appliances), defense, aerospace and energy.

Using electrical current and an aluminum foil, VFAW can produce welds at a lower cost per joint and without the usual reductions in material strength in the weld region that accompanies traditional processes. Additional benefits include the ability to join metals without adding materials and weight, and reduced factory floor space and energy use relative to other methods.

“Since developing the technology in the lab nearly three years ago, we have welded more than 20 combinations of similar as well dissimilar materials including aluminum, steel, magnesium, titanium, copper, tungsten and even bulk metallic glass,” said Vivek. “Current and past members of the research group have been instrumental in this technology’s success so far.”

After receiving a $570,000 Department of Energy grant in 2013 to pursue the work as a breakthrough technology for enabling vehicle lightweighting, the research team began focusing on welding automotive relevant alloys of aluminum, steel and magnesium.

The $50,000 TVSF grant will enable the team to build and test an industrial prototype, and assess its commercial potential. It’s an important step, said the researchers, who plan to launch an Ohio-based start-up to bring the technology to the marketplace.

The work is also supported by a $35,500 Accelerator Award from Ohio State’s Technology Commercialization Office.

Written by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu