This close-up view of a friction stir weld tack tool used by NASA to manufacture space shuttle external tanks shows the process of tack welding barrel panels together. Barrels were previously fabricated using traditional fusion welding, but friction stir welding is different because the materials are not melted. A rotating tool pin uses friction and applied pressure to join the 20-foot longitudinal panels together. Image courtesy of NASA.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—Friction stir welding (FSW), sometimes described as more of a forging process than actual welding, is a solid-state joining technique that is used to join metals not easily fused with traditional welding. Capable of producing high-quality welds with minimal distortion, the process can be easily automated and is well-suited for metals such as aluminum, copper, and other metal alloys. Friction stir welding is commonly used in the aerospace, rail, automotive, shipbuilding, transportation, and marine industries.

The benefits of friction stir welding were not lost on Taber Extrusions, a precision aluminum extruder and fabricator that works in these industries. In 2019, with the help of Bond Technologies, Inc., Taber installed a new friction stir welding line at its Russellville, Arkansas, manufacturing facility. One of the features Taber likes about the new FSW line is that it is both efficient and precise, accurately welding large, double-sided thick profiles while using minimal cycles of the machine. Fewer cycles mean greater efficiency and more precise results.

Taber said in a company release that the FSW line enables the firm to be a vertically integrated supplier of FSW panels and assemblies in North America, with capabilities in aluminum extrusions, fabrication, billet casting, and micro-extrusions. Taber Extrusions President Eric Angermeier said that the welder further promotes Taber’s strategy of being a “solutions-oriented company offering highly engineered products,” he said.

“Besides the additional jobs and revenue this expansion will bring to our central Arkansas community, we are very much looking forward to Taber’s new horizons into technology and product development,” Angermeier said in the release. “This friction stir welder, with the latest technology, is purposely built for the long, wide extrusions being produced on our current extrusion presses. This process gives us the added benefit of vertical integration, allowing us to not only better serve our existing customers, but gives us the opportunity to develop new markets and products.”

Bond’s and Taber’s engineering and manufacturing teams collaborated to create a custom Linear Seam machine based on Bond’s LS7 Model Precision Dual Head Long Panel Welder.  They also created a friction stir welding production cell capable of welding double-wall hollow extrusions up to 6.25 inches tall, 32 inches wide, and 65 feet long, to create panel assemblies 200 inches wide by 65 feet long with integrated pre-joining profile trimming.

“As a leader in the aluminum industry, Taber works with clients in military, government, aircraft and aerospace, shipbuilding, infrastructure, and so much more,” said Dave Hofferbert, president of Bond Technologies, Inc., an Elkhart, Indiana-based supplier of friction stir welding machinery, tools, and processes. “The aluminum extrusion shapes they are creating for these clients are absolutely ideal for friction stir welding technology. It’s been our pleasure to work with Taber to make FSW implementation possible and bring the known benefits of FSW to their production process.”

Taber employs more than 140 associates in Russellville at its aluminum extrusion and fabrication facility. The company is an AS9100, NADCAP, and ABS certified minority business enterprise, and is owned by National Material, L.P.

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