February 20. 2012 2:00PM - Last modified: February 23. 2012 2:40PM

American Friction Welding invests in equipment

  
American Friction Welding recently welded its 10 millionth part, with no plans of slowing down.

The Brookfield company has invested $500,000 in two new friction welders and a lathe to increase its productivity, precision and range.

"The growth has come in the variety of sizes and lengths of components we can work with," said David Hoel, who leads new business and market development at AFW.

Friction welding is an alternative to forging that allows two dissimilar metals to be joined together through friction heat, Hoel said. Components, most commonly types of steel and aluminum, are fused using a rotating spindle.

"It's for metal parts that are aligned end to end," he said.

AFW has 25 employees and serves a diverse array of industries, including agriculture, construction, automotive, oil, nuclear and aerospace. It has more than 150 customers across the world, most of them in the Midwest.

"We focus on the fact that we're not so much an automotive company—we're a company that provides services for all manufacturers," Hoel said.

Those services include design engineering assistance, process analysis, friction welding, turning, milling, quality control and product testing.

A friction weld itself is highly automated and can take just a few seconds, Hoel said. Most of the production time is spent on loading the parts, machine set-up and quality inspection.

The company can now friction weld solid parts from 1/16-inch to 4 ¼-inch and up to 8 ¼-inch wall tubes, Hoel said.

Most of the parts AFW welds are used in motor shafts and pump shafts, where an exposed area is made of a higher-priced metal than an internal portion. The company also helps customers with specialty designs, where a part has different demands on one end than the other.

AFW makes both prototypes and finished products, said Rick Leachy, who leads technical sales and process planning at the company. It also subcontracts heat treating, plating, grading and threading if the customer requests a finished product.

"We have products here that the welding is not the bulk of the sale price," Leachy said.

AFW's projects can cost anywhere from 90 cents per part to $7,000, he said.

One of the most common part shapes AFW creates is the fusion of a disc to a shaft. It can save the customer money on engine parts, so they don't have to create the one-piece shape from a metal roll.

"Instead of cutting that roll down to the shaft, we're welding the shaft on there," Hoel said.

After a part is welded, it is transferred to the quality testing area. A computerized robotic arm analyzes the dimensions of a part and assures they meet the design. An ultrasound machine is used to see if there are any voids in the welded areas that could weaken the part.

"We're looking for 100 percent fusion across the weld surface," Hoel said.

Friction welding can be an advantage over forging in some situations, since the process allows AFW to use cut metal parts without pounding them into a form and the production time is usually shorter, he said.

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