Resistance spot welding is the most commonly applied process for joining thin metal sheet in automotive body structures, with a typical family car containing up to 5000 spot welds. The spot welding process offers a high level of reliability with modern welding systems able to accurately control and monitor spot welding process times, currents and forces.

Spotwelding: AC, DC, CD or HF

Which Spot Welding Power Supply Should I Use?

 

Some of you may not be familiar with the different resistance spot welding power supply technologies, how they work, and what they can be used for. So here is a short description of the four different types, including both closed loop and open loop designs.

First of all, let's talk about the difference between closed loop and open loop welders.  Simply put, closed loop welders use sensors to measure the current and voltage during the weld so you can adjust for part and process variation as you go; open loop welders don't - you just get what you get.

 

CLOSED LOOP TECHNOLOGIES:  Linear DC and HF Inverter

In Linear DC power supplies, a capacitor bank is charged up and the welding energy is released through a bank of transistors.  Linear DC power supplies deliver an ultra stable output with a very fast rise time.  Most DC power supplies can be programmed in constant current, constant voltage, or constant power.  Time control can be programmed in increments as small as 0.01 milliseconds.  Because DC power supplies offer the best low energy control, it is the best choice for welding fine wires and thin foils.

High frequency inverter technology utilizes pulse width modulation circuitry to control the weld energy.  3-phase input current is full wave rectified to DC, which is then switched to produce an AC current at the primary of the welding transformer.  The resulting secondary current, when rectified, is in the form of DC with an imposed, low-level AC ripple.  Like Linear DC welders, High Frequency Inverters can be programmed for constant current, voltage, or power operation.  Time control can be programmed in 1 millisecond or 0.01 millisecond increments.  High Frequency Inverters have very high repetition rates, so they are frequently used for automated applications.

 

OPEN LOOP TECHNOLOGIES: Capacitor Discharge (CD) and Direct Energy (AC):

Capacitor Discharge (CD) power supplies store energy in a capacitor bank prior to the weld.  The energy is discharged through a pulse transformer to the weld head.  The resulting high peak current and very fast rise time is useful for welding very conductive parts.  The level of charge on the capacitor bank is usually programmed in watt-seconds or % energy.  Time control is achieved by changing the transformer tap settings, which changes the pulse duration, or pulse width.  Unfortunately, since a capacitor discharge power supply is open loop (no feedback), changes in the secondary circuit, such as loose cables or corroded connections can result in inconsistent energy delivery to the parts.

Direct Energy (AC) power supplies take energy directly from the power line as the weld is being made.  Coarse current control is achieved by changing the tap settings on the welding transformer, which changes the voltage of the output.  Fine adjustment of weld current is achieved by controlling the amount, in percent, of the AC power that is applied to the primary of the welding transformer.  The weld time is controlled in line cycles (1 cycle = 16.67 milliseconds @ 60 Hz), the minimum usually being one half cycle.  Line voltage fluctuations can affect the weld current delivered by open loop AC power supplies.  For this reason, the input line must be well regulated.  AC power supplies are general purpose welders with high energy output (not suitable for critical, fine welding applications).  The longer welding times are useful for resistance brazing applications.

 

Resistance Spot Welding Tips

1.Resistance welding is not recommended for aluminum, copper, or copper alloys. Use for steel and stainless steel only.
2.For more heat (amperage output), use shorter tongs.
3.For units without a heat control, tong length can be used for a control. For instance, for thin metals where you want less heat, longer tongs can be used.
4.Keep in mind that longer tongs can bend, and you may lose pressure at the weld.
5.For the metals being welded, make sure there is no gap between the pieces - this will weaken the weld.
6.Keep the alignment of the tongs straight, so that the tips touch each other exactly. Also, maintain a proper pressure adjustment - not too much or too little pressure.
7.When you need one side of the weld to have good appearance, you can flatten (machine) the tip somewhat on that side.
8.Clean the tips on a regular basis, or you will lose output (amperage). Dress the tips with a proper tip dresser.

Parameters in resistance welding

 

The principle of resistance welding is the Joule heating law where the heat Q is generated depending on three basic factors as expressed in the following formula:

Q = I²Rt

where I is the current passing through the metal combination, R is the resistance of the base metals and the contact interfaces, and t is the duration/time of the current flow.

The principle seems simple. However, when it runs in an actual welding process, there are numerous parameters, some researchers had identified more than 100, to influence the results of a resistance welding. In order to have a systematic understanding of the resistance welding technology, we have carried out a lot of experimental tests and summarized the most influential parameters into the following eight types:

1) Welding current
The welding current is the most important parameter in resistance welding which determines the heat generation by a power of square as shown in the formula. The size of the weld nugget increases rapidly with increasing welding current, but too high current will result in expulsions and electrode deteriorations. The figure below shows the typical types of the welding current applied in resistance welding including the single phase alternating current (AC) that is still the most used in production, the three phase direct current (DC), the condensator discharge (CD), and the newly developed middle frequency inverter DC. Usually the root mean square (RMS) values of the welding current are used in the machine parameter settings and the process controls. It is often the tedious job of the welding engineers to find the optimized welding current and time for each individual welding application.

2) Welding time
The heat generation is directly proportional to the welding time. Due to the heat transfer from the weld zone to the base metals and to the electrodes, as well as the heat loss from the free surfaces to the surroundings, a minimum welding current as well as a minimum welding time will be needed to make a weld. If the welding current is too low, simply increasing the welding time alone will not produce a weld. When the welding current is high enough, the size of the weld nugget increases with increasing welding time until it reaches a size similar to the electrode tip contact area. If the welding time is prolonged, expulsion will occur or in the worst cases the electrode may stick to the workpiece.

3) Welding force
The welding force influences the resistance welding process by its effect on the contact resistance at the interfaces and on the contact area due to deformation of materials. The workpieces must be compressed with a certain force at the weld zone to enable the passage of the current. If the welding force is too low, expulsion may occur immediately after starting the welding current due to fact that the contact resistance is too high, resulting in rapid heat generation. If the welding force is high, the contact area will be large resulting in low current density and low contact resistance that will reduce heat generation and the size of weld nugget. In projection welding, the welding force causes the collapse of the projection in the workpiece, which changes the contact area and thereby the contact resistance and the current density. It further influences the heat development and the welding results.

4) Contact resistance
The contact resistance at the weld interface is the most influential parameter related to materials. It however has highly dynamic interaction with the process parameters. The figure below shows the measured contact resistance of mild steel at different temperatures and different pressures. It is noticed that the contact resistance generally decreases with increasing temperature but has a local ridge around 300°C, and it decreases almost proportionally with increasing pressure. All metals have rough surfaces in micro scale. When the welding force increases, the contact pressure increases thereby the real contact area at the interface increases due to deformation of the rough surface asperities. Therefore the contact resistance at the interface decreases which reduces the heat generation and the size of weld nugget. On the metal surfaces, there are also oxides, water vapour, oil, dirt and other contaminants. When the temperature increases, some of the surface contaminants (mainly water and oil based ones) will be burned off in the first couple of cycles, and the metals will also be softened at high temperatures. Thus the contact resistance generally decreases with increasing temperature. Even though the contact resistance has most significant influence only in the first couple of cycles, it has a decisive influence on the heat distribution due to the initial heat generation and distribution.

5) Materials properties
Nearly all material properties change with temperature which add to the dynamics of the resistance welding process. The resistivity of material influences the heat generation. The thermal conductivity and the heat capacity influence the heat transfer. In metals such as silver and copper with low resistivity and high thermal conductivity, little heat is generated even with high welding current and also quickly transferred away. They are rather difficult to weld with resistance welding. On the other hand, they can be good materials for electrodes. When dissimilar metals are welded, more heat will be generated in the metal with higher resistivity. This should be considered when designing the weld parts in projection welding and selecting the forms of the electrodes in spot welding. Hardness of material also influences the contact resistance. Harder metals (with higher yield stress) will result in higher contact resistance at the same welding force due to the rough surface asperities being more difficult to deform, resulting in a smaller real contact area. Electrode materials have also been used to influence the heat balance in resistance welding, especially for joining light and non-ferrous metals.

6) Surface coatings 
Most surface coatings are applied for protection of corrosion or as a substrate for further surface treatment. These surface coatings often complicate the welding process. Special process parameter adjustments have to be made according to individual types of the surface coatings. Some surface coatings are introduced for facilitating the welding of difficult material combinations. These surface coatings are strategically selected to bring the heat balance to the weld interface. Most of the surface coatings will be squeezed out during welding, some will remain at the weld interface as a braze metal.

7) Geometry and dimensions 
The geometry and dimensions of the electrodes and workpieces are very important, since they influence the current density distribution and thus the results of resistance welding. The geometry of electrodes in spot welding controls the current density and the resulting size of the weld nugget. Different thicknesses of metal sheets need different welding currents and other process parameter settings. The design of the local projection geometry of the workpieces is critical in projection welding, which should be considered together with the material properties especially when joining dissimilar metals. In principle, the embossment or projection should be placed on the material with the lower resistivity in order to get a better heat balance at the weld interface.

8) Welding machine characteristics 
The electrical and mechanical characteristics of the welding machine have a significant influence on resistance welding processes. The electrical characteristics include the dynamic reaction time of welding current and the magnetic / inductive losses due to the size of the welding window and the amount of magnetic materials in the throat. The up-slope time of a welding machine can be very critical in micro resistance welding as the total welding time is often extremely short. The magnetic loss in spot welding is one of the important factors to consider in process controls. The mechanical characteristics include the speed and acceleration of the electrode follow-up as well as the stiffness of the loading frame/arms. If the follow-up of the electrode is too slow, expulsion may easily occur in projection welding. The figure below shows measured process parameters in a projection welding process, which include the dynamic curves of the welding current, the welding force and the displacement of the electrode, where the sharp movement corresponds to the collapse of the projection in the workpiece.