The unique physical characteristics of Advanced High Strength Steels (AHSS) present some challenges to welding and bonding processes. AHSS differ from mild steels by chemical composition and microstructure, and it’s important to note that their microstructures will change from welding operations. For example, intensive localized heat associated with some welding processes causes a significant change in the local microstructure, and hence affect properties. Due to fast Cooling Rates (CR) typical in welding, it is normal to see martensite and/or bainite microstructures in the weld metal and in the Heat-Affected Zone (HAZ).
When joining AHSS, production process control is important for successful assembly. Manufacturers with highly developed joining control methodology will experience no major change in their operations. Others may require additional checks and maintenance. In certain instances, modifications to equipment or processing methodologies may be required for successful joining of AHSS.
The coating methods for AHSS are similar to those for mild steels. Welding of either AHSS or mild steels with coatings will generate fumes. The amount and nature of fumes will depend on the coating thickness, coating composition, joining method, and fillers used to join these materials. The fumes may contain some pollutants. The chemical composition of fumes and the relevant exhaust equipment must meet appropriate regulatory standards. Thicker coatings and higher heat inputs cause more fumes. Additional exhaust systems should be installed. While welding AHSS (with or without metallic or organic coatings and oiled or not oiled) gases and weld fumes are created similar to mild steels. The allowed fumes or gases must comply with respective national rules and regulations.
Considering recent developments of hybrid approaches to welding, there are now over 100 types of welding processes available for the manufacturer or fabricator to choose from. The reason that there are so many processes is that each process has its list of advantages and disadvantages that make it more or less appropriate for a given application. Arc welding processes offer advantages such as portability and low cost but are relatively slow and use a considerable amount of heating to produce the weld. High energy density processes such as laser welding generally produce low heat inputs and fast welding speeds, but the equipment is very expensive and joint fit-up needs to be ideal. Solid-state welding processes avoid many of the weld discontinuities produced by those requiring melting (fusion), but they may be expensive and often are restricted to limited joint designs. Resistance welding processes are typically very fast and require no additional filler materials but are often limited to thin sheet applications or very high-production applications such as in the automotive industry.
Most welding processes produce a weld (metallic bond) using some combination of heat, time, and/or pressure. Those that rely on extreme heat at the source such as arc and high energy density processes generally need no pressure and relatively small-to-medium amounts of time. This section introduces joining processes that are applicable to HSS automotive applications, while describing unique process attributes.