Modelling resistance spot welding can help to understand the process and drive innovation by asking the right questions and giving new viewpoints outside of limited experimental trials. The models can calculate industrial-scale automotive assemblies and allow visualization of the highly dynamic interplay between mechanical forces, electrical currents and thermal flow during welding. Applications of such models allow efficient weldability tests necessary for new material-thickness combinations, thus well-suited for applications involving Advanced High -Strength Steels (AHSS).
Virtual resistance spot weld tests can narrow down the parameter space and reduce the amount of experiments, material consumed as well as personnel- and machine- time. They can also highlight necessary process modifications, for example the greater electrode force required by AHSS, or the impact of hold times and nugget geometry. Other applications are the evaluation of whole-part distortion to ensure good part-clearance and the investigation of stress, strain and temperature as they occur during welding. This more research-focused application is useful to study phenomena arising around the weld such as the formation of unwanted phases or cracks.
Modern Finite-Element resistance spot welding models account for electric heating, mechanical forces and heat flow into the surrounding part and the electrodes. The video shows the simulated temperature in a cross-section for two 1.5 mm DP1000 sheets:
First, the electrodes close and then heat starts to form due to the electric current flow and agglomerates over time. The dark-red area around the sheet-sheet interface represents the molten zone, where the nugget forms after cooling. While the simulated temperature field looks plausible at first glance, the question is how to make sure that the model calculates the physically correct results. To ensure that the simulation is reliable, the user needs to understand how it works and needs to validate the simulation results against experimental tests. In this text, we will discuss which inputs and tests are needed for a basic resistance spot welding model.
At the base of the simulation stands an electro-thermomechanical resistance spot welding model. Today, there are several Finite Element software producers offering pre-made models that facilitate the input and interpretation of the data. First tests in a new software should be conducted with as many known variables as possible, i.e., a commonly used material, a weld with a lot of experimental data available etc.
As first input, a reliable material data set is required for all involved sheets. The data set must include thermal conductivity and capacity, mechanical properties like Young’s modulus, tensile strength, plastic flow behavior and the thermal expansion coefficient, as well as the electrical conductivity. As the material properties change drastically with temperature, temperature dependent data is necessary at least until 800°C. For more commonly used steels, high quality data sets are usually available in the literature or in software databases. For special materials, values for a different material of the same class can be scaled to the respective strength levels. In any case, a few tests should be conducted to make sure that the given material matches the data set. The next Figure shows an exemplary material data set for a DP1000. Most of the values were measured for a DP600 and scaled, but the changes for the thermal and electrical properties within a material class are usually small.
Figure 1: Material Data set for a DP1000.S-73
Next, meaningful boundary conditions must be chosen and validated against experiments. These include both the electrode cooling and the electrical contact resistance. To set up the thermal flow into the electrode, temperature measurements on the surface are common. In the following picture, a measurement with thermocouples during welding and the corresponding result is shown. By adjusting the thermal boundary in the model, the simulated temperatures are adjusted until a good match between simulation and experiment is visible. This calibration needs to be conducted only once when the model is established because the thermal boundary remains relatively constant for different materials and coatings.
Figure 2: Temperature measurement with thermocouples during welding and the results. The simulated temperature development is compared to the experimental curve and can be adjusted via the boundary conditions.F-23
The second boundary condition is the electrical contact resistance and it is strongly dependent on the coating, the surface quality and the electrode force. It needs to be determined experimentally for every new coating and for as many material thickness combinations as possible. In the measuring protocol, a reference test eliminates the bulk material resistance and allows for the determination of the contact resistances using a µOhm-capable digital multimeter.
Finally, a metallographic cross-section shows whether the nugget size and -shape matches the experiment. The graphic shows a comparison between an actual and simulated cross section with a very small deviation of 0.5 mm in the diameter. As with the temperature measurements, a small deviation is not cause for concern. The experimental measurements also exhibit scatter, and there are a couple of simplifications in the model that will reduce the accuracy but still allow for fast calculation and good evaluation of trends.
Figure 3: Comparison of experimental and virtual cross-sections.F-23
After validation, consider conducting weldability investigations with the model. Try creating virtual force / current maps and the resulting nugget diameter to generate first guesses for experimental trials. We can also gain a feeling how the quality of each weld is affected by changes in coatings or by heated electrodes when we vary the boundary conditions for contact resistance and electrode cooling. The investigation of large spot-welded assemblies is possible for part fit-up and secondary effects such as shunting. Finally, the in-depth data on temperature flow and mechanical stresses is available for research-oriented investigations, cracking and joint strength impacts.
Note: The work represented in this article is a part a study of Liquid Metal Embrittlement (LME), commissioned by WorldAutoSteel. You can download the free report on the results of the LME study, including how this modelling was used to verify physical tests, from the WorldAutoSteel website.
Results of a Three-Year LME Study
WorldAutoSteel releases today the results of a three-year study on Liquid Metal Embrittlement (LME), a type of cracking that is reported to occur in the welding of Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS).The study results add important knowledge and data to understanding the mechanisms behind LME and thereby finding methods to control and establish parameters for preventing its occurrence. As well, the study investigated possible consequences of residual LME on part performance, as well as non-destructive methods for detecting and characterizing LME cracking, both in the laboratory and on the manufacturing line (Figure 1).
Figure 1: LME Study Scope
The study encompassed three different research fields, with an expert institute engaged for each:
- Laboratory of Materials and Joining Technology (LWF) Paderborn University, Paderborn, Germany, for experimental research,
- The Institute de Soudure, Yutz, France, for investigations regarding non-destructive testing, and
- Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology (IPK), Berlin, Germany, for the development of a simulation model to accurately replicate welding conditions resulting in LME.
A portfolio containing 13 anonymized AHSS grades, including dual phase (DP), martensitic (MS) and retained austenite (RA) with an ultimate tensile strength (UTS) of 800 MPa and higher, was used to set up a testing matrix, which enabled the replication of the most relevant and critical material thickness combinations (MTC). All considered MTCs show a sufficient weldability under use of standard parameters according to SEP1220-2. Additional MTCs included the joining of various strengths and thicknesses of mild steels to select AHSS in the portfolio. Figure 2 provides the welding parameters used throughout the study.
Figure 2: Study Welding Parameters
In parallel, a 3D electro-thermomechanical simulation model was set up to study LME. The model is based on temperature-dependent material data for dual phase AHSS as well as electrical and thermal contact resistance measurements and calculates local heating due to current flow as well as mechanical stresses and strains. It proved particularly useful in providing additional means to mathematically study the dynamics observed in the experimental tests. This model development was documented in two previous AHSS Insights blogs (see AHSS Insights Related Articles below).
The study began by analyzing different influence factors (Figure 3) which resembled typical process deviations that might occur during car body production. The impact of the influences was analyzed by the degree of cracking observed for each factor. A select number of welding set-ups from these investigations were rebuilt digitally in the simulation model to replicate the process and study its dynamics mathematically. This further enabled the clarification of important cause-effect relationships.
Figure 3: Overview of All Applied Influence Factors (those outlined in yellow resulted in most frequent cracking.)
Generally, the most frequent cracking was observed for sharp electrode geometries, increased weld times and application of external loads during welding. All three factors were closely analyzed by combining the experimental approach with the numerical approach using the simulation model.
Destructive Testing – LME Effects on Mechanical Joint Strength
A destructive testing program also was conducted for an evaluation of LME impact on mechanical joint strength and load bearing capacity in multiple conditions, including quasi-static loading, cyclic loading, crash tests and corrosion. In summary of all load cases, it can be concluded that LME cracks, which might be caused by typical process deviations (e.g. bad part fit up, worn electrodes) have a low intensity impact and do not affect the mechanical strength of the spot weld. And as previously mentioned, the study analyses showed that a complete avoidance of LME during resistance spot welding is possible by the application of measures for reducing the critical conditions from local strains and exposure to liquid zinc.
In welding under external load experiments, the locations of the experimental crack occurrence showed close correlation with the strains and remaining plastic deformations computed by the simulation model. It was observed that the cracks form at the location of the highest plastic strains, and material-specific threshold values for critical strains were derived. The threshold values then were used to judge the crack formation at elongated weld times.
At the same time, the simulation model pointed out a significant difference in liquid zinc diffusion during elongated weld times. Therefore, it is concluded that liquid zinc exposure time is a second highly relevant factor for LME formation.
The results for the remaining influence factors depended on the investigated MTCs and were generally less significant. In more susceptible MTCs (AHSS welded with thick Mild steel), no significant cracking occurred when welded using standard process parameters. Light cracking was observed for most of the investigated influences, such as low electrode cooling rate, worn electrode caps, electrode positioning deviations or for gap afflicted spot welds. More intense cracking (higher penetration depth cracking) was only observed when welding under extremely high external loads (0.8 Re) or, even more, as a consequence of highly increased weld times.
For the non-susceptible MTCs, even extreme situations and weld set-ups (such as the described elongated weld times) did not result in significant LME cracks within the investigated AHSS grades.
Methods for avoidance of LME also were investigated. Changing the electrode tip geometry to larger working plane diameters and elongating the hold time proved to eliminate LME cracks. In the experiments, a change of electrode tip geometry from a 5.5 mm to an 8.0 mm (Figure 4) enabled LME-free welds even when doubling the weld times above 600 ms. Using a flat-headed cap (with small edge radii or beveled), even the most extreme welding schedules (weld times greater than 1000 ms) did not produce cracks. The in-depth analysis revealed that larger electrode tip geometries clearly reduce the local plastic deformation around the indentation. This plastic strain reduction is particularly important, as longer weld times contribute to a higher liquid zinc exposure interval, leading to a higher potential for LME cracks.
Figure 4: Electrode Geometries Used in Study Experiments
It was also seen that as more energy flows into a spot weld, it becomes more critical to parameterize an appropriate hold time. Depending on the scenario, the selection of the correct hold time alone can make the difference between cracked and crack-free welds. Insufficient hold times allow liquid zinc to remain on the steel surface and increased thermal stresses that form after the lift-off of the electrode caps. Elongated hold times reduce surface temperatures, minimizing surface stresses and thus LME potential.
Non-Destructive Testing: Laboratory and Production Capabilities
A third element of the study, and an aid in the control of LME, is the detection and characterization of LME cracks in resistance spot welds, either in laboratory or in production conditions. This work was done by the Institute of Soudure in close cooperation with LWF, IPK and WorldAutoSteel members’ and other manufacturing facilities. Ten different non-destructive techniques and systems were investigated. These techniques can be complementary, with various levels of costs, with some solutions more technically mature than others. Several techniques proved to be successful in crack detection. In order to aid the production source, techniques must not only detect but also characterize cracks to determine intensity and the effect on joint strength. Further work is required to achieve production-level characterization.
The study report provides detailed technical information concerning the experimental findings and performances of each technique/system and the possible application cost of each. Table 1 shows a summary of results:
Table 1: Summary of NDT: LME Detection and Characterization Methods
Suitable measures should always be adapted to the specific use case. Generally, the most effective measures for LME prevention or mitigation are:
- Avoidance of excessive heat input (e.g. excess welding time, current).
- Avoidance of sharp edges on spot welding electrodes; instead use electrodes with larger working plane diameter, while not increasing nugget-size.
- Employing extended hold times to allow for sufficient heat dissipation and lower surface temperatures.
- Avoidance of improper welding equipment (e.g. misalignments of the welding gun, highly worn electrodes, insufficient electrode cooling)
In conclusion, a key finding of this study is that LME cracks only occurred in the study experiments when there were deviations from proper welding parameters and set-up. Ensuring these preventive measures are diligently adhered to will greatly reduce or eliminate LME from the manufacturing line. For an in-depth review of the study and its findings, you can download a copy of the full report at worldautosteel.org.
LME Study Authors
The LME study authors were supported by a committed team of WorldAutoSteel member companies’ Joining experts, who provided valuable guidance and feedback.
Related Articles: More on this study in previous AHSS Insights blogs:
- Julian Frei, Max Biegler, Michael Rethmeier, Christoph Böhne & Gerson Meschut (2019) Investigation of liquid metal embrittlement of dual phase steel joints by electro-thermomechanical spot-welding simulation, Science and Technology of Welding and Joining, 24:7, 624-633, DOI: 10.1080/13621718.2019.1582203
- Christoph Böhne, Gerson Meschut, Max Biegler, Julian Frei & Michael Rethmeier (2020) Prevention of liquid metal embrittlement cracks in resistance spot welds by adaption of electrode geometry, Science and Technology of Welding and Joining, 25:4, 303-310, DOI: 10.1080/13621718.2019.1693731
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