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FHISTORY OF SUBMERGED ARC WELDING

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One of the most significant welding processes invented and widely employed throughout the world is Submerged Arc welding.  Many of the welded products which utilized this process contributed to significant changes in the way we live, namely:

  1. Large girders for modern long span bridges
  2. Massive beams needed for tall buildings
  3. Electric Power Generation:
    1. Penstocks to transport water from dams through water turbines
    2. Steam boilers, piping, turbines
    3. Nuclear vessels
    4. Wind turbine towers, transmission towers
  4. Petrochemical vessels and piping
  5. Chemical processing vessels
  6. Ships and submarines
  7. Railroad cars and locomotives
  8. Large presses and machine bases
  9. Natural gas and oil pipelines
  10. Offshore drill rigs
  11. Large diameter water pipe
  12. Many other heavy plate structures
  13. Thinner material products such as water heaters and propane tanks
  14. Hardfacing  for steel mills, earthmoving equipment, mining, etc.

SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Several publications have summarized the sequence of events that led to the development of the Submerged Arc process.  Not all are accurate.  Fortunately a search of the US patents and a book by  R.D. Simonson can set the record straight.  The writer also has the benefit of knowing and working with some of the persons directly involved with the process development.  Documentation of the facts presented is given with patent numbers, references and photographs.  It is suggested students search the US Patent Record using the patent numbers provided.  It is available for patents issued from 1790 free of charge on the Internet.  Often other patents than those mentioned can be obtained by looking at those sited in subsequent patents.

ALL PUBLICATION RIGHTS AND MATERIAL PRESENTED ARE THE SOLE PROPERTY OF WA TECHNOLOGY, LLC, AND SHOULD NOT BE COPIED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.  ANYONE IS FREE TO MAKE ONE COPY FOR PERSONAL USE. THIS CAN INCLUDE ONE PHOTOCOPY, ONE PRINTED COPY, AND ONE EMAIL COPY. THIS INCLUDES USE BY A STUDENT FOR AN ACADEMIC PURPOSE.

THE BEGINNING

Submerged Arc was not the first automatic welding process.  Patents dating in the early 1920’s describe automatic welding processes.  As an example, US Patent number 1,676,985 by Haughton assigned to the General Electric Corporation was filed in September 1925. [File dates rather than patent issue dates will be quoted as these are the first record of an invention].  An insert of the drawing from the patent is shown on the left.  As noted it is an elaborate devise for automatic welding with a continuous bare wire feed from a reel to the weld zone.  The unique feature defined in this patent is the use of oscillation of the wire in the joint to be welded.  However, as with a number of other machine patents of the era, it was used with an open arc in air.  Other references note the welds from this simple process contained porosity and were not suitable for many applications.  One stated that even with an improved version of the open arc in air process, a manual weld made with covered electrode (SMAW) would be used inside a vessel to prevent leaks.  Other automatic processes of the time used coated rods where the coating was slit as the weld progressed to allow current to be transferred at a fixed point from the work.  As with open arc processes weld current was limited and weld quality often poor.

ROBINOFF PATENT

The use of open arc automatic processes provides an appreciation of why the Robinoff patent was considered as an advancement.  Although often quoted as the “invention” of Submerged Arc, a careful review will show it was in fact not!  The patent, number 1,782,316, was filed in May of 1929.  The patent Specification and even Figure 2 (show at left) show what amounts to a relatively small amount of flux (by Submerged Arc standards) being applied in the joint.  Further on Page 1, Lines 40 to 44 in the Specification it states: “The groove is then filled with a powdered scale (ferrous oxide) to make the flux magnetizable.”  On page 2, on Lines 43 to 48 in states; “…the welding current will flow …through the rod and will become magnetized so as to attract the flux 9.  Their final claim, number 8 states; “...moving the metal electrode … and drawing an arc causing said flux to melt...”  As will be mentioned later, if this were truly a Submerged Arc they would have the same difficulty as the inventors, i.e. Kennedy et al in defining if there was an arc and would have at least not mentioned the presence of one!  However no doubt since there could  be questions raised in any patent litigation, Linde purchased the rights to this patent as well as those that were significant.  R.D. Simonson, in his book “The History of Welding” (reference 1) pages 140 and 141 states; “Then the Western Pipe and Steel Company called (referring to Harry Kennedy) for help with its Robinoff welding process.  Kennedy’s notes indicate that the problem there was attacked through the welding flux being used. It soon became apparent this was no minor problem, but one which, if it could be solved, would lead to the development of a basic new welding process.  Simonson further states on page 141; “Thus when the business relationship between Kennedy and the Western Pipe and Steel Company became mutually unsatisfactory in the early thirties the way was open for the Linde Air Products Company to enter the picture.  Linde’s recognition of the value of the process at this early stage led to its commercial introduction in 1935 as the “Unionmelt” process.” 

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