Orbital welding is a specialized area of welding whereby the arc is rotated mechanically through 360° (180 degrees in double up welding) around a static work piece, an object such as a pipe, in a continuous process.
The main components of every orbital welding system are the power source and controller, the welding head and where required, a wire feed mechanism. Welding of certain sizes and material types will also require the use of a water/coolant system. There are a large number of factors that can have an influence on the welding result. These aspects include the arc length, magnitude and pulse frequency of the welding current, welding speed, inert shielding gas, parent material, filler material, weld preparation and thermal conductivity. Ultimately, a high quality weld is achieved through detailed knowledge of how to precisely adjust all these parameters for each individual welding task.
The welding process
It is very difficult to achieve the highest standards of quality and safety using manual welding. This is due to certain welding positions, overhead and down-hand welds for example, often leading to faulty welds due to restricted access the user has in these welding positions. In order to have complete control over the weld pool, a perfect balance must be maintained between gravitational force and surface tension at every position of the torch. By using mechanized variants of the technique, certain parts of the welding process are handled by mechanical components. Note that a welder will always be monitoring and controlling the process. In an ideal situation all welding parameters would be fully programmed before welding is started. In practice however, the presence of variable constraints means that it is often necessary for the welder to make corrective interventions. With automated welding the computer-controlled welding process runs completely independently without the need for any intervention from the operator.
Orbital welding has almost always exclusively been carried out by the Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG / GTAW) technique using non-consumable electrodes with additional cold-wire feed where necessary. The easy control of heat input makes TIG-welding the ideal welding method for fully orbital welding of tubes with specialized orbital welding heads that incorporate a clamping device, a TIG electrode on an orbital travel device and a shielding gas chamber. Many different types of metal can be welded; high-strength, high-temperature and corrosion-resistant steels, unalloyed and low-alloyed carbon steels, nickel alloys, titanium, copper, aluminum and associated alloys. Carried out in an inert atmosphere, this controlled technique produces results that are extremely clean, has low particle counts and are free from unwanted spatter. This enables the highest demands to be met regarding the mechanical and optical properties of a weld seam.
Due to the precision of orbital TIG welding even the smallest standard tube diameters from 1.6 millimeters can be processed. On larger scale pipes with diameters up to 170 mm and walls up to 3.5 mm thick can be joined using closed chamber weld heads. These weld heads allow the torch to be positioned very precisely and ensure that the pipe is held securely. The inert gas atmosphere in the closed chamber prevents heat from tinting,even with the most sensitive of materials. For tube diameters between 8 and 275 mm it is possible to use more manageable open welding heads. A flexible hose system is used to supply the welding head with power, inert gas, cooling water and filler wire where required. The need for filler wire during the welding process depends on the type of welding task. Thicker tube walls and difficult-to-control parent materials require the use of additional material, whereas thin-walled tubes can be welded without extra wire. In order to create high quality weld seams it is essential that tube ends are carefully prepared with the edges of the work pieces being free of scale and impurities. For thinner-walled tubes up to medium diameters a simple right-angled saw cut is often sufficient. For thicker tube walls it is necessary to prepare the edges more carefully, for example using a U-groove cross-section.