Welding is an efficient, reliable, and aesthetically pleasing method for joining metal assemblies together. But with so many different welding processes to choose from, product designers may not know which is best for their project.
While some applications will require niche processes like electron beam or submerged arc welding, most producers will first consider applying one of three different types of welding — stick, MIG, or TIG.
1) Stick Welding (SMAW)
Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), more commonly called stick welding, is probably the most widely used for field repairs, small fixes, and “garage” welds. The consumable 9 to 18-inch long flux-covered electrodes used for stick welding have three main purposes.
First, the metallic wire core of the electrode carries current from the welder to the base metal and controls the arc. Second, the wire acts as a filler metal, often with the same composition as the base metal, to fill in gaps and mechanically bond the base components. Lastly, the flux coating on the stick welding electrode improves weld quality. Flux produces crucial shielding gasses during welding to prevent atmospheric contamination of the weld (along with an assortment of other benefits).
The flux replaces the need for separately supplying inert welding gasses, which are essential for MIG and TIG. This makes it easier for welders to pick up and relocate, as well as to weld under windy conditions. The downside of these consumable welding rods is that frequent electrode replacement and slag removal slow processing times for repetitive applications.
2) MIG Welding (GMAW)
MIG, short for metal inert gas, uses a consumable spool of welding wire as the current-carrying electrode and filler metal. Also known as gas metal arc welding (GMAW), a separate supply of compressed inert gas flows through the same welding gun as the electrode wire to flood the weld area with shielding gas.
MIG is often considered either a semi-automatic or fully automatic process depending on whether humans or robots do the welding. This is because the welding machinery controls the wire feed rate and arc characteristics while operators control the gun position and travel speed.
MIG welding requires a very clean welding surface and a controlled environment to create quality welds. Note that some MIG welders are compatible with flux-cored wire, which can help mitigate these issues at the cost of other MIG benefits.
3) TIG Welding (GTAW)
As its name suggests, gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) uses a tungsten electrode to complete exceptionally high-quality welds. Unlike in MIG and SMAW, the tungsten electrode does not melt and is not consumed by the extremely high temperatures of the weld arc. This makes TIG capable of autogenous welding, which is welding without a filler metal. In most cases though, a separate “handheld” rod of filler metal is still used to improve the strength of the joint.
Generally speaking, TIG requires a more experienced operator with a lot of patience. The base metal must be exceptionally well-cleaned and often requires slower travel speeds. This may be worth it though for seamless, strong, highly-precise welds.
Which Welding Method Should You Choose? Comparing These 3 Types of Welding
We can’t recommend a “best” welding method because their differing strengths make all of them useful depending on the circumstances. Deciding which type of welding to use for your project will likely depend on an assortment of factors, but the table below may help you decide:
|Stick Welding||MIG Welding||TIG Welding|
|Weld Quality||Good, though cleaning is required||Good||Very high|
|Welding Speed||Moderate overall due to frequent replacement of consumables.||Faster than stick or TIG for repetitive processes. Frequently switching consumables would decrease productivity.||Typically slower, though some variant methods offer improved speeds.|
|Automation Potential||Cannot be effectively automated.||Highly compatible with autonomous robots.||Good compatibility with robotic processes to increase production.|
|Operator Skill Requirement||Moderate||Moderate||High|
|Base Metal Cleanliness||Can accommodate some rust or paint in the weld area.||Requires a “bright white” clean metal surface.||Requires an immaculately clean metal surface.|
|Ideal Applications||Field welds and repairs, especially in windy areas.||Widely applicable, but best suited for controlled environments. Also the most easily automated process.||Preferred for high-quality, precision welds in advanced materials.|
Other factors to account for can include things like the material used for the base metal since high-performance materials will typically benefit more from using TIG while cheaper materials are welded just as easily with stick or MIG.
Gensun has partnered with experienced operators knowledgeable in each of these three types of welding and can provide the welding services you need to make your next production project a success.