In northern Indiana, due east from Chicago, a small start-up company with eight employees is touting a metal-joining process said to create a seal “much stronger than traditional welding methods,” according to the Elkhart, Indiana, Truth, a hometown newspaper that should have truth high on its agenda.
The welding technique is called “friction stir welding,” and it accomplishes its task so well that Bond Technologies, which began only a year ago, has already landed a contract worth several million dollars – the exact sum was not posted – to build a welding machine for Posiva Oy of Finland.
Posiva Oy’s need is for a machine that can secure the lids on 3 feet wide, 25 feet long copper barrels designed to last 100,000 years while stored in a deep underground repository in Finland, which is the first country to get as far as this in an effort to find a long-term solution for nuclear waste.
The copper for the barrels is about two inches thick, according to a company press release. And the trick behind friction stir welding is not to melt two metals together, using a beaded welding seam for bonding, but to use a spinning tool to heat the metal just hot enough to soften it. The two metals – in this case the barrel and the barrel’s lid – are then pressed together, forming a natural seam, which is stronger than one in which metal is super-heated at stress points, as it is in traditional welding.
The Truth compared the process to pressing together two clumps of Play-Doh.
The friction stir welding machine will measure 10 feet long, 10 feet wide and stand six feet tall. It is expected to weigh 40,000 pounds. The company’s founder, Tim Haynie, also began Transformation Technologies in 2000, which landed an impressive contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 2007 that tasked them with building a welder to assist in assembling fuel tanks for the Ares I rocket, a $6 billion vehicle designed to serve as a launch rocket for a manned spacecraft.
That project, which was intended to replace the space shuttle program, was scrapped in 2010.
The original patent for the friction stir process, first developed in England, has expired, said Haynie, who predicts it will soon be used in a wider range of applications.
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