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DOE funding to help advance groundbreaking welding technology

A team of Ohio State University engineers has developed a new welding technique that could boost the auto industry’s efforts to offer vehicles that weigh less and are more fuel efficient.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is investing $57 million in 35 new projects aimed at reducing the cost and improving the efficiency of plug-in electric, alternative fuel and conventional vehicles. Ohio State Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Glenn Daehn and his colleagues will receive $2.7 million to further develop vaporizing foil actuator welding (VFAW) as a viable technology for creating multi‐material, lightweight vehicles.

“These investments will accelerate the development of innovative vehicle technologies that will save businesses and consumers money at the pump, cut carbon emissions and strengthen our economy,” said DOE Acting Assistant Secretary David Friedman.

Schematic of the VFA welding processDaehn’s team has amassed more than half a dozen patents for impulse manufacturing and VFAW, where a high-voltage capacitor bank creates a very short electrical pulse inside a thin piece of aluminum foil. Within microseconds (millionths of a second), the foil vaporizes, and a burst of hot gas pushes two pieces of metal together at speeds approaching thousands of miles per hour.

The pieces don’t melt, so there’s no seam of weakened metal between them. Instead, the impact directly bonds the atoms of one metal to atoms of the other. This addresses one of the biggest issues in developing affordable, lightweight vehicles—joining advanced and dissimilar metals without producing joints that are much weaker than the base metals.

“VFAW consumes less than one-fifth of the energy than a common welding technique,” said Daehn, “yet creates bonds that are 50 percent stronger.”

Along with Daehn, Materials Science and Engineering Research Scientist Anupam Vivek is co-principal investigator on the new DOE-funded project, which will span four years.

“Widely disparate combinations of metals can be welded with nearly 100 percent joint efficiency by VFAW,” explained Vivek. “This enables introduction of high strength-to-weight ratio materials such as aluminum and magnesium into the body of the car, which has traditionally been made of steel.”

In 2013, Daehn’s team received a $600,000 DOE award under the topic of “Breakthrough Technologies for Dissimilar Material Joining.” The results from that project and related works have been published extensively. Additionally, a number of grants from the university, State of Ohio and the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program have funded efforts to advance the technology toward commercial usage.

In the lab (l to r) Graduate Research Associate Angshuman Kapil, Daehn and Vivek

The researchers anticipate automakers will start using VFAW for full-scale production within the next several years. Concurrently they will seek early adopters in other industries that depend on advanced manufacturing and joining solutions.

Project partners include Alcoa, Ashland Chemical, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Coldwater Machine Company, Ohio State’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence, Fontana Corrosion Center and Cosma International, a wholly-owned operating unit of Magna International. Detailed information is available at the Impulse Manufacturing Laboratory website at iml.osu.edu.