Study of shoulder flow zone formation in thick section FSW of 6061 Al alloy using scroll shoulder tool
Friction stir welding (FSW) is a relatively new solid-state welding technology invented at The Welding Institute of UK in 1991. It is versatile and has been widely adopted to join various materials. There has been strong research activity on revealing the details of the material flow pattern in the nugget zone induced by the conventional shoulder tool. However, there is insufficient understanding on the aspects of the scroll shoulder tool design and the shoulder flow zone formation utilizing this type of tool. The major objective of this study was to conduct experiments, analyse results and then reveal the shoulder flow zone forming mechanism for the scroll shoulder tool. The method used was to identify the flow pattern in the shoulder flow zone using a ‘marker insert’ technique, and then to suggest the forming mechanism of the shoulder flow zone based on the obtained flow pattern; although the ‘marker insert’ technique has never been used to study the shoulder flow zone flow pattern induced by the scroll shoulder tool. Experiments were conducted to examine the thick sections 6061 aluminium ‘marker insert’ welds, which were welded using a scroll shoulder tool at a range of welding parameters. These were followed by quantifying the mass of the accumulated work piece material within the scroll groove (pick up material-PUM), evaluating the effect of welding parameters on the shoulder flow zone formation, and documenting the shoulder flow zone flow pattern. The major finding was that there is a simple banded structure which forms in a layer to layer manner in the bottom portion of the shoulder flow zone, but it disappears in the top portion of the shoulder flow zone. Accordingly, the forming mechanism of the shoulder flow zone for the scroll shoulder tool was suggested as follows. Firstly, the tool pin is plunged into the work piece; the work piece material is extruded by the pin and pushed up into the scroll groove forming the PUM. Secondly, after the tool shoulder is plunged into the work piece to a certain depth, the scroll groove is fully filled up with the PUM. Finally, during the forward movement of the tool, the central portion of PUM is driven downward by the root portion of the pin and then detaches from the pin (tip portion) in a layer to layer manner. It has also found that the thickness of the shoulder flow zone varies with a thicker on the advancing side than on the retreating side, and there is a positive linear relationship between the mass of PUM and the weld quality. This study has revealed for the first time the forming mechanism of the shoulder flow zone, and has improved the understanding of the shoulder flow zone formation using a scroll shoulder tool. It is recommended that a ‘shoulder-breaking’ technique is developed to break the rotating shoulder suddenly and hence embed it into the work piece during FSW, in which a real-time shoulder-work piece couple could be produced for a better three-dimensional examination of the shoulder flow zone.