Lead Forensics

Nanoparticle-infused metal could revolutionise welding

Nanoparticle technology is being developed that could make it practical to weld what are normally unweldable materials.

A problem with many non-steel metals is that during the post-welding cooling process, the temperature of the metal is uneven in various areas. This causes stress, which weakens the material. Researchers at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering are developing metal that is infused with nanoparticles, which makes temperatures more even to reduce stress.

A warehouse equipment manufacturer might use tubular steel because it is lightweight, strong and is easy to cut, shaped and weld. Skilful metal workers create very strong joints to make the shelves, trolleys, tables and other equipment durable and able to withstand heavy loads. Steel is used because many other types of metal cannot be welded successfully.

Aluminium shelving is available for domestic use because it is cheap, but these are not made for heavy commercial use. Aluminium 7075 is strong enough for aeroplanes, but conventional welding tends to crack this metal, so specialist cold welding is required. It is hoped that this new technology can open up more options to metalworkers.

The development of the technology is in its early stages, and the researchers have yet to establish the exact size of nanoparticles and scale the process to make the technology cost-effective. It could be years before nanotechnology can be used commercially.

However, if the researchers are successful, nanoparticle-infused metals could mean that metal fabricators will have a wider range of metals that can be cut, punched, formed and welded in reliable and stable ways.

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