Welding is now the universally accepted method of permanently joining all metals. In some respects, it might be considered a mature industry but it is still a growing industry. The true impact of welding on the metalworking industry should be measured in the value of the parts produced by welding, the amount of money saved by the use of welding over other metal fabrication processes, and in the value of products made possible by welding.

Historical data are available that record the growth of the welding equipment and materials industry, which in turn gives an indication of the projected growth for the future.

The arc welding segment of the industry seems to be growing the fastest with recent years showing maximum growth. The growth of the welding industry has been approximately 6% per year. Conventional electric arc welding equipment and filler metals represent over two-thirds of this total. Each segment of the industry and each welding process has its own growth patterns.

In order to make a projection we must determine the past historic growth patterns, determine the present position, and consider those factors that will have an impact on the growth in the future. Future growth of the arc welding processes depends on factors that may have an impact on the industries served by welding.

The future of these industries will largely determine the future of welding. It is possible to estimate the amount of each type of arc welding that is being done in the U.S.A. and how it is being applied. The most suitable approach for this analysis is to divide filler metals sold into the following categories:

  • Covered electrodes (stick electrodes) all types

  • Submerged arc welding electrode wire [solid steel larger than 1/16 in. (1.6mm) in diameter]

  • Gas metal arc welding electrode wire [solid steel wire 1/16 in. (1.6mm) and smaller]

  • Flux-cored arc welding electrode wire

At this point we can project into the future. This is done by charting the bar graph information into line charts and extending these lines for five years. This shows that based on the percentage of the total:

  • Covered electrodes have been decreasing steadily for the last 14 years dropping from 81% to 59% and projected to 45%.

  • Submerged arc welding has remained constant at about 5% to 7%.

  • Gas metal arc welding has almost doubled, rising from 10% to 20%, and is projected to double again in the next ten years.

  • Flux-cored welding is increasing, but at a slower rate.

This information shows that semiautomatic welding will greatly increase, machine and automatic welding will increase modestly, but manual welding is decreasing at least as a percentage of the total.

After analyzing recent trends in welding and manufacturing it becomes evident that the following must be considered with regard to the future of welding:

  1. There will be continuing need to reduce manufacturing costs and to improve productivity, since (a) wage rates for the people in manufacturing industries will continue to increase, (b) the cost of metals for producing weldments and filler metals will also continue to be more expensive, and (c) energy and fuel costs will increase and shortages may occur.

  2. There will be a continuing trend towards the use of higher-strength materials, particularly in the steels and lighter-weight materials.

  3. There will be more use of welding by manufacturing industries, probably decreasing the use of castings.

  4. There will be a trend towards higher levels of reliability and higher-quality requirements.

  5. The trend towards automatic welding and automation in welding will accelerate.

Productivity is considered the amount of welding that can be done by a welder in a day. This is determined by several factors, the most important of which is the operator factor or duty cycle. Operator factor for a welder is the number of minutes per eight-hour period that is spent actually welding.

The different methods of welding have different average duty cycles. Manual welding has the lowest operator factor with semiautomatic welding approximately double and machine welding the next highest, with automatic welding approaching 100%. Efforts will be made to utilize those processes that have the highest-duty cycles. The expected trend will be away from manual welding towards semiautomatic welding and to machine or automatic welding when possible.

Another factor affecting productivity of welders relates to the deposition rate of the welding process. The higher current processes have the highest deposition rates, thus the submerged arc welding process and the electroslag welding process will remain important as costs must be reduced.

The next factor deals with increasing material costs. It is imperative to obtain the maximum utilization of filler metals. The cold wire type processes, gas tungsten arc and plasma arc, can actually deposit 100% of the filler metal purchased. Submerged arc welding, when the electrode only is considered, approaches 100% as does electroslag welding. Gas metal arc welding will give about 95% utilization. Flux-cored welding is the lowest of the continuous wire processes, normally in the 80% plus range. Covered electrodes have the lowest utilization because of the stub end and coating loss that results in approximately 65% of the weight of the filler metals purchased actually being deposited in the weld joint.

Another factor closely related to filler metal efficiency and operator factor is the total deposit of weld metal to produce a given weldment. If the amount of weld metal can be reduced to make a weld it is an economic savings, thus there is an advantage to methods such as narrow gap welding. The higher penetration characteristics of CO2 welding gives it an advantage over shielded metal arc welding because fillet weld sizes can be reduced and the same weld strength retained.

In forecasting the arc welding field, we will consider each process separately since each has its own historical development and utilization and will have a different future. However, the arc welding processes will continue to dominate the welding industry.

The shielded metal arc welding process is the oldest of the current arc welding processes but is losing ground in the total arc welding market. This trend will continue and manual electrode welding in the near future may represent only a third of arc welding.

The percentage of filler metal used by submerged arc welding has remained almost constant through the years. It is impossible to differentiate between filler metal used for electroslag welding and submerged arc welding; however, both processes will increase modestly.

Gas metal arc welding will continue to accelerate since it is being substituted for shielded metal arc, gas welding, brazing, and resistance welding. This process, since it is a continuous wire process with high filler metal utilization, will continue to rise at the highest rate.

The flux-cored arc welding process started from a lower base and has been gaining modestly. This trend will continue; however, lower filler metal utilization and higher filler metal cost will keep it from growing as fast as gas metal arc welding.

Gas tungsten arc welding will grow as fast or faster than the total welding market. There are three reasons; it is adaptable to automation, it is being used on high quality work, and for welding newer thin specialty metals.

Plasma arc welding will grow faster than gas tungsten arc as soon as its capabilities are better known.

Special automated fixtures will become increasingly important. It is expected that fixtures will soon be specified by the type of work and the size of work they are expected to perform, thus we will have automatic machines for seamers, for tank making, for pipe welding, for attaching spuds, for overlaying, and for other special applications. Automatic and computer-controlled machines will become more common place in the years ahead. Every effort will be made to reduce the amount of manual labor involved in making welds.

Some of the newer processes and some which are of a more specialized nature will grow quite rapidly; however, they will never become large segments of the total welding industry. These include electron beam welding, laser beam welding, friction welding, ultrasonic welding, diffusion welding, and cold welding.

With increased emphasis on welding as a basic manufacturing technology the growth rate in the future will approximate 8% per year and welding equipment shipments are expected to more than double in the next five years. Growth rate is expected to be shared by all of the different welding processes. However, the more conventional arc welding processes may not grow as fast as the more exotic processes primarily because of a larger base.