Eclipse Aviation Corporation has announced its intention to pioneer the use of friction stir welding to create the Eclipse 500, an aircraft that Eclipse believe will break new ground in price and performance. Eclipse Aviation will be the first to extend the use of friction stir welding to thin materials.
Invented and patented by The Welding Institute, a UK research and technology organisation, friction stir welding is a machine process in which a special tool with a protruding pin is inserted between two pieces of material to be joined.
The tool moves along the joint area while rotating at a high speed. The action between the tool and the aluminium creates frictional heat, which softens the aluminium. The plasticised material is then consolidated to create a single piece of metal.
‘The benefits of friction stir welding are numerous,’ said Oliver Masefield, vice president of engineering for Eclipse. ‘It eliminates the need for thousands of rivets resulting in reduced assembly costs. It also produces stronger, lighter more efficient joints than traditional processes.’
Eclipse is working with MTS Systems Corporation of Eden Prairie, and the Alcoa Technical Centre in Pittsburgh, to develop, validate and certify the process.
Other applications for friction stir welding include the main structures of the Boeing Delta family of rockets, shipbuilding, marine industries, and approval for use in building the Space Shuttle’s external fuel tank for lightweight materials.
Other technical innovations in the design and manufacture of the Eclipse 500 jet include high-volume tooling, assembly process automation, and the use of integrated structures to reduce part counts.