Stirred, not shaken: Bond for future ships, iMacs has ONR roots

December 6, 2012

A state-of-the-art welding process refined for use in naval shipbuilding by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) has crossed over to the world of computing.

Known for creating the alternative to PC computing, Apple credits friction-stir for the design of its new iMac computers, which went on sale last week. The , which uses heat and pressure to join metals and alloys, has long been a research investment for ONR.

"We recognized early the potential benefits that friction-stir welding could bring to the shipbuilding process," said Dr. Thomas Killion, director of transition at ONR. "The importance of our continued investment in this area has paid off in advances in this technology, which is being used by a variety of industries today."

Friction-stir welding softens—but does not melt or distort—the materials being joined. Apple reports using the process to conjoin the front and back aluminum parts of its product to create an extra-thin computer. For the Navy, it could provide an affordable, efficient way to create from stronger and lighter materials that are resistant to corrosion, such as titanium.

The video will load shortly

In addition to applications in the aerospace, automotive and railway industries, friction-stir welding's clean precision has the potential to open new avenues for ship design.

"One of the main attributes of friction-stir welding is that you can do unconventional welds," said Kelly Cooper, a program officer in ONR's and Weapons Department. "You could essentially write your name in it."

Cooper manages a program to build a demonstration section of a ship hull out of titanium. Sponsored by her ONR program, researchers from the University of New Orleans and Textron Marine and Land Systems have completed record-length titanium friction-stir welds as they near completion of an entire mid-ship hull structure.

The section is planned for completion by the end of the year, after which it will undergo a series of structural tests and validations.

The Welding Institute in the United Kingdom invented friction-stir welding in 1991. Since then, ONR has invested heavily in modeling, tools and specifications for the process and has focused its research on adapting it for use in conventional shipyards. Along the way, researchers have used the process to fuse everything from steel and aluminum to nickel and bronze.

The Navy Metalworking Center (NMC), a center of excellence under the Navy Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) program overseen by ONR, developed a friction-stir welding machine that could be used in future ship construction.

"Over the past 12 years, NMC has advanced friction-stir welding tooling and technologies for aluminum and steel," said Robert E. Akans, NMC senior technical director. "Since adoption of friction-stir welding has been slow in the United States due to its high cost, we developed a transportable, low-cost friction-stir machine that can be located at the shipyard. It takes advantage of new welding techniques and design approaches to dramatically reduce the cost of the equipment."

Explore further: Future naval force may sail with the strength of titanium

Related Stories

Future naval force may sail with the strength of titanium

April 4, 2012

Steel may have met its match: An Office of Naval Research (ONR)-funded project will produce a full-size ship hull section made entirely with marine-grade titanium using a welding innovation that could help bring titanium ...

New spin on friction-stir

July 26, 2011

( -- Researchers Zhili Feng, Alan Frederic and Stan David in Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Materials S&T Division have made significant progress toward a new metal processing technique, called friction-stir ...

Hybrid welding process developed

December 18, 2006

U.S. scientists say they've developed a hybrid process involving the use of a laser in friction-stir welding to extend the application to more materials.

Deep space capsule comes alive with first weld

September 12, 2011

( -- Construction began this week on the first new NASA spacecraft built to take humans to orbit since space shuttle Endeavour left the factory in 1991, and marked a significant milestone in carrying out the ambitious ...

Recommended for you

Chinese fans trash blackout as Google AI wins again

May 25, 2017

Chinese netizens fumed Thursday over a government ban on live coverage of Google algorithm AlphaGo's battle with the world's top Go player, as the programme clinched their three-match series in the ancient board game.

Shedding light on how humans walk... with robots

May 24, 2017

Learning how to walk is difficult for toddlers to master; it's even harder for adults who are recovering from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other condition, requiring months of intensive, often frustrating physical ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.