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Very Large Aluminum Panels Using FSW Technology

August 27, 2003

Showa Denko K.K. (SDK) has started commercial production of very large aluminum panels for transportation and construction applications using its friction stir welding (FSW) process facilities in Oyama, Tochigi Prefecture.
The facilities enable SDK to weld large aluminum extruded shapes into broader panels. The largest panel that can be produced through this process will be 2.2 m in breadth and 18 m in length. In the case of 6000 series aluminum alloys, the maximum thickness for welding will be 20 mm.
Demand is growing for large panels, because they are useful in facilitating block system construction of ships and bridges. The system shortens the construction period and reduces the need for correcting distortion resulting from on-site welding work. Aluminum panels, made by welding extruded shapes together, are increasingly used in deck and shell plates of vessels, outside plate of cars and trucks, floor system of bridges, and roofing.
The FSW technology was invented by The Welding Institute (TWI) of the U.K. in 1991. Compared with the conventional arc welding process, FSW reduces distortion of base metal after welding because the welding temperature is lower.
After obtaining a license from TWI in 1993, SDK has conducted research into applying the technology to aluminum welding. SDK has already applied for over 130 patents concerning its proprietary FSW-related technologies. The FSW process facilities recently completed in Oyama represent the combination of the licensed technology and SDK’s own patented technologies.
SDK is planning to sell a total of 1 billion in FSW products in 2005, consisting of 400 million in large aluminum panels and 600 million in such applied products as automotive suspension units.
Under the consolidated business plan for the 2003-2005 period named the “Sprout Project,” SDK is restructuring its commodity aluminum extrusion operation. Specifically, the product mix is being shifted from building materials to large, precision extruded shapes and tubes/rods. The company will continue developing differentiated products like the ones based on the FSW technology.
Meanwhile, SDK will suspend its extrusion operation in Sakai by the fall of this year and focus on Oyama and Hikone to strengthen the competitiveness of the business.