This article summarizes a paper entitled, “Process, Microstructure and Fracture Mode of Thick Stack-Ups of Aluminum Alloy to AHSS Dissimilar Metal Spot Joints”, by Luke Walker, Colleen Hilla, Menachem Kimchi, and Wei Zhang, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The Ohio State University.W-9
Researchers at The Ohio State University studied the effects of adding a stainless steel (SS) insert to a dissimilar Advanced High-Strength Steel (AHSS) to aluminum (Al) resistance spot weld (RSW). The SS insert was ultrasonically welded to the Al sheet prior to the RSW being performed. The purpose of the SS is to reduce the intermetallic layer that forms when welding steel to aluminum. This process increases the strength and toughness of the weld. In this study, the process is applied to three sheet (3T) stack up that contains one Al sheet and two 1.2 mm thick Press Hardened (PH) 1500 sheets. The joint strength is measured in lap shear testing and the intermetallic thickness/ morphology is studied after cross sectioning the welds.
During the microstructure evaluation it was noted that Al 6022 contained a larger nugget diameter as compared to the Al 5052 welds. A few potential reasons for the hotter welds were proposed including cleanliness of the electrodes, surface oxides, and thickness of the different alloys. The welds on the Al 5052 stack ups were made first on clean electrodes whereas the Al 6022 was made on potentially dirty electrodes that increased the contact resistance. The effects of different surface oxides are not likely given the SS sheet is ultrasonically welded but could still add to the higher heat input in the RSW. The Al 6022 is 0.2 mm thicker, which could increase the bulk resistance and decrease the cooling effect from the electrodes.
The 3T welds likely had much lower strength and toughness due to cracks that formed at the Al-SS insert interface. These can be attributed to an increase in intermetallic compound (IMC) thickness and the residual stress caused by the forge force. The IMC thickness was measured two ways: The first measurement was of the continuous IMC layer and the second was from the Al-Fe interface to the end of the IMC dendrites (Figure 1, 2 and Table 1). The Al 5052 observed the thickest continuous IMC layer but Al 6022 was close to the Al 5052 thickness. This can be attributed to the increased Si content of Al 6022 which has been shown to decrease the growth of Fe-Al intermetallics.
Figure 1: IMC in the Al Alloy 5052 to Stainless-Steel Weld.W-9
Figure 2: IMC in the Al Alloy 6022 to Stainless-Steel Weld.W-9
Table 1: IMC Thickness of Both the 5052 Weld and the 6022 Weld.W-9
Referencing Figure 3, the 2T stack-up has a higher tensile strength as well as significantly higher fracture energy absorbed compared to the 3T stack-ups. This is mainly attributed to the failure mode observed in the different stack-ups. The 2T welds had button pullout failure while 3T stack-ups had interfacial Failure.
Figure 3: Failure Load and Fracture Energy [(A) Al to steel (Al-Us) welds and (B) steel to steel (Us-Us) welds (the 2T 6022 results are from previous work(10))]W-9
The Al 6022 contains higher Si content which likely decreased the growth of the continuous IMC layer but not the overall IMC layer (as seen in Figure 4 and Figure 5) due to higher weld temperatures. The joint strength of the welds in the 3T stack-ups were closer to the expected weld strength unless there was expulsion that caused a 5-kN drop in strength.
Figure 4: EDS Line Scan of the IMC in Location 2 on the 5052 3T Sample (SS stands for austenitic stainless steel 316).W-9
Figure 5: EDS Line Scan of the Intermetallic Layer at Location 1 on the 6022 3T Sample (SS stands for austenitic stainless steel 316).W-9
In order to reduce the thickness of brittle intermetallic compound (IMC) formed at Aluminium/Steel interface to improve the mechanical properties of resistance spot welding of Aluminium/Steel, different interlayers, such as Al-cladded steelS-16, O-3, Y-4, Al-Si alloyW-15, Al-Mg alloyI-6, pure Al W-16, Zn coating.M-10, U-4, A-21 Sun et al.S-16 has done resistance spot welding of 1.4-mm SAE 1008 mild steel with 2-mm 5182-O aluminium alloy using 1 mm/1.5 mm cold rolled aluminium-clad steel as a transition metal with Aluminium/Steel thickness ratio of 20/80 (thickness ratio was not optimized). The formation of IMC cannot be observed at the interface for cold rolled aluminium-clad steel. The electrodes used were Class 2 30-deg truncated cone with 8-mm surface diameter and 3-inch face radius on the aluminium side and 30-deg truncated cone with 8-mm flat surface diameter on the steel side. Two separate nuggets created the aluminium and steel sides with a final nugget diameters of 10.1 mm and 8.2 mm, on aluminium and steel sides respectively, at the end of the 3rd pulse (Figure 1). With increasing welding time from 1 pulse to 3 pulses, the intermetallic compound layer thickness increased from 0 µm to 8.5 µm. As a comparison, the IMC layer thickness was approximately 65 µm for resistance spot welding of 1-mm AA 5052 and 0.8-mm low carbon steel without transition metal. The static and dynamic strength of the RSW samples in cross-tension and coach peel test were comparable to those of the peak load of self-piercing rivets (SPR). However, lap shear tensile testing of RSW samples had lower energy absorption than dissimilar SPR samples due to different failure modes (interfacial fracture may occur). Fatigue strength of RSW samples were lower than those of SPR samples due to stress concentration and tensile residual stress at the notch tip.
Figure 1: Cross-sectional macrostructure of resistance spot welding of SAE1008/A5182-O with 3 pulses of 12 cycles and welding current of 13.6 kA.S-16
Oikawa et al.O-3 have done resistance spot welding of 0.4 mm-thick cold rolled steel with 0.6 mm-thick pure aluminium with 0.77 mm-thick aluminium-clad steel sheet as the insert metal. Fe-Al IMCs have not been noted at the Aluminium/Steel interface of aluminium-clad steel sheet and a peel strength of 32.1 N/mm can be achieved. IMC layer thickness was about 5 µm at Al/steel interface when aluminium alloy and steel was resistance spot welded with aluminium clad steel sheet as insert. However, the tensile shear strength (Figure 2) and U-tension strength (Figure 3) can be 3.6 kN and 1.5 kN which were similar to Al/Al resistance spot weld joint and were much higher than direct resistance spot welding of 2.4 kN and 0.6 kN. However, it should be noted that resistance spot welding with aluminium-clad steel added weight, and difficulties in hot rolled aluminium cladding process result in high cost. Thus, more investigations have been done recently on improving the cladding method and using thinner and lighter metals as interlayers.
Figure 2: Comparison of tensile shear strength of Al/steel joints by various methods (SP-spot welding; MC-mechanical clinching; RJ-rivet joining; AD-adhesion bonding).O-3
Figure 3: Comparison of U-tension strength of Al/steel joints by various methods (SP-spot welding; MC-mechanical clinching; RJ-rivet joining; AD-adhesion bonding).O-3
In order to reduce the IMC layer thickness, Zhang et al.W-15 used 4047 AlSi12 as an interlayer to suppress the IMC growth during resistance spot welding of 1 mm H22YD-Z100 Zn-coated high-strength steel sheets with 1.5 mm EN AW 6008-T66 aluminium alloy sheets. The effect of different interlayer thickness, i.e. 100 µm, 200 µm, 300 µm, 400 µm, on IMC growth behavior and mechanical properties were investigated. IMCs consisted of Fe2(Al,Si)5 and Fe4(Al,Si)13 and the thickness of IMCs reduced from 1.8 µm to 0.6 µm as the thickness of AlSi12 interlayer, increasing from 100 µm to 400 µm. But all were much thinner compared to 4 µm for spot welds without an interlayer. Nugget diameter reduced with increasing interlayer thickness and maximum tensile shear strength of 6.2 kN and pull-out failure mode were obtained with an interlayer thickness of 300 µm.
Figure 4: Fracture modes of H220YD high-strength steel/6008-T66 resistance spot weld joints (a) interfacial fracture without interlayer and (b) pull-out failure with 4047 AlSi12 interlayer thickness of 300 µm. W-15
Ibrahim et al.I-6 had investigated resistance spot welding of 2 mm A6061-T6 and 2 mm type 304 austenitic stainless steel with 80 µm thick Al-Mg alloy (80 wt % Al and 20 wt% Mg). Under the same welding condition, lap shear tensile strength was higher for welds with an Al-Mg interlayer than without the interlayer, and a peak strength of 8.4 kN can be obtained with welding current of 16.1 kA and welding force of 9.3 kN. A thin IMC layer of approximately 2 µm can be observed, which lead to a high strength. Fatigue strength of dissimilar RSW Aluminium/Steel samples were higher than Friction Stir Spot Welding samples. The failure mode depended on the load level. Pull-out failure occurred at high load (Pmax > 3 kN), shear fracture at 2.25 kN < Pmax <3 kN, upper Al sheet fracture at Pmax < 2.25 kN.
Figure 5: Relationship between peak load and number of cycles.I-6
Galvanized steel (GI) and Galvannealed steel (GA) are widely used in the automotive industry, and the presence of Zn layer may affect the weldability of Aluminium/Steel. Al-Zn eutectic liquid formed at Aluminium/Steel interface can efficiently remove oxide film and squeezed outside by electrode force. Thus, metallic surface of aluminium and steel can be revealed, and the Al-Fe IMC layer formed and a metallurgical bond was created.M-10, U-4 Arghavani et al.A-21 have investigated the resistance spot welding of 2 mm Al-5052 to 1 mm low carbon galvanized steel (ASTM A653 CS Type B-G60) (GI/Al) and compared that with the weldability of Al 5052 to uncoated steel DC01 (PS/Al). It showed the IMC layer at the GS/Al interface with the tongue-like layer of Fe2Al5 on the steel side and needle-like FeAl3 on the aluminium alloy side, as normally observed in Aluminium/Steel dissimilar welding (Figure 6).Z-3, U-4 GI/Al joints had thinner IMC layers at almost all the welding currents compared to PS/Al joints. And the IMC layer thickness in GI/Al increased initially with increasing welding current up to 12 kA and then decreased beyond it, which was due to heat consumption with Zn evaporation at higher welding current (I > 12 kA). Tensile shear strength of GI/Al welds were lower than PS/Al welds at welding current less than 12 kA since lower current led to incomplete nugget at GI/Al welds. However, tensile shear strength of GI/Al welds exceeded PS/Al welds at higher welding current since IMC layer thickness was over the critical value of approximately 5.5 µm for PS/Al joints at the higher welding current (Figure 7). Both GI/Al and PS/Al had an interfacial fracture mode with crack initiation at the peripheral regions of the weld and propagated through the IMCs layer/aluminium sheet.
Figure 6: SEM image of IMC layer in GS/Al specimen.A-21
Figure 7: (a) Ultimate tensile shear and cross-tension strength vs welding current; (b) schematics of load-displacement curve and fracture energy calculation for tensile shear testing; (c) Fracture energy vs welding current.A-21
Capacitive Discharge Welding (CDW) is a similar process to RSW except large amount of energy is released in relatively a short amount of time. A research group at The Ohio State University working under supervision of Dr. Menachem Kimchi and Jerry Gould from EWI has investigated the feasibility of Al/Steel joining via this process. Figure 1 shows the current waveforms at 1.3ms & 2.5 and their mechanical strength results.
Figure 1: (a) Current waveform for 1.3ms to reach peak value, (b) Current waveform at for 2.5ms to reach peak value (c-d) Lap shear tensile strength and indentation as a function of current and time to reach peak current.
A shorter amount of time can significantly suppress the growth of the intermetallics. The group reported that higher amount of current in short duration of time could result in stronger welds. Figure 15 shows the effect of time on the growth of intermetallic (IMC) and solidification pattern. At 1.3 ms IMC layer thickness is less than 3 microns whereas at 2.5 ms the IMC layer thickness was reported greater than 3 microns. If IMC layer is less than 3 microns it results in nugget pull out failure mode whereas IMC layer of 3 microns or greater mostly result on interfacial failure.P-10
Figure 2: Effect of the ramp up time on the intermetallic layer thickness (a) 2.5ms & (b) 1.3ms.
Among various dissimilar material combinations, Al-steel is one of the most desirable combination. This section will address the number of fundamental issues faced during al-steel joining. Later section will discuss the current approaches to overcome these issues.
Strong and adherent aluminium surface oxide layer needs to be removed for a sound joint between aluminium and steel. The presence of this oxide layer creates uncertainty in the Resistance Spot Welding (RSW) process and deteriorates the electrodes, hence decreasing electrode life. Moreover, it creates wettability issues between steel and aluminium which is an essential for joint formation. Joint is established once surface oxide layer is broken.
Formation of intermetallic compounds are unavoidable during Al-steel RSW joints. Figure 1 shows the phase diagram between aluminium and iron and from the phase diagram various intermetallics compounds are formed during the RSW process. Formed intermetallics could be iron rich or aluminium rich. Aluminium rich intermetallics are undesirable due to higher hardness compared to iron rich intermetallics. These intermetallics act as stress concentrators, increases the brittleness and making the Al-steel joints more susceptible to cracking.
Figure 1. Al-Fe phase diagramL-8
Another issue is to attain heat balance between aluminium and steel. Compared to steel, aluminium has more electrical & thermal conductivity, and lower bulk resistivity, usually requiring higher amount of current. A large variation in the melting temperature of the aluminium and steel make the RSW process more complicated. Moreover, the thermal conductivity of aluminium is much higher than steel, and a consequent thermal gradient exists and could result in an isolated nugget formation in steel. These factors make the selection of RSW process parameters more challenging.
Excessive electrode indentation in aluminium is another issue that determines the stress state of the joint during loading. It decreases the resistance to necking and decreases the peak load to failure.
Other defects include formation of voids and porosities due to shrinkage, vaporization, expulsion and lack of wetting. Other section in this menu will discuss the basic to advanced, updated approach utilized to improve the joint formation process between aluminium and steel.
Multi-material design approach involves using High-Strength Steels and low-density materials, such as aluminium. The key idea is to utilize the right material for the right application in such a way that it should fulfill the service requirements and achieve mass efficiency at the same time. However, it is challenging to fully utilize multi-material design concepts due to joining issues.
Joining is considered a backbone of any manufactured assembly, since the ultimate reliability and integrity of the manufactured product relies on these joints. Dissimilar materials are difficult to join due to the difference in the physical and thermal properties. For example, one of the most desired combinations is aluminium to steel joints, which is challenging due to the large mismatch in the mechanical properties as shown in Table 1. This Joining section is dedicated specifically to the key joining issues between aluminium and steel.
Table 1: Aluminium vs. Steel Material Mechanical Properties
Currently there are three approaches to joining dissimilar materials: solid-state joining, partial solid-state joining and arc joining. During solid state welding, the peak temperature of the process remains below the melting temperatures of the materials to be joined. Examples include diffusion bonding, ultrasonic welding, magnetic pulse welding, friction stir welding and vaporizing foil actuator welding. In partial solid-state welding processes, the peak temperature goes beyond the melting temperature of one of the materials to be joined (e.g. arc brazing & resistance spot welding). The last process (arc welding) has a peak temperature above the melting temperature of both materials to be joined. Practically it is not used anywhere however, it can be utilized in certain applications where the mismatch between the physical properties of the materials to be joined is little.
Among various joining processes, resistance spot welding (RSW) is one of the most widely used joining process in the automotive and aerospace industry due to its ease of automation and high productivity. Browse the topics below to learn more about joining dissimilar materials.