The past two years have seen a prevailing shortage of argon gas in South Africa, as well as the steadily increasing consumption of the gas, resulting in higher demand than supply, says Air Products South Africa bulk gas division national sales manager Sachin Kulkarni.
This is due to the gas’s pivotal role in the metals manufacturing and fabrication processes, which include automotive, construction and metals processing.
“Steel fabrication was strong in 2009, and the building of stadiums, rail and road transportation and other facilities in 2010, increased the demand for oxygen and argon, two essential gases in the processes of cutting and welding,” says Kulkarni.
The growth in demand for gases such as argon will continue as long as South Africa and other Pan-African countries require large-scale infrastructure development and construction.
Air Products believes that an artificial shortage was a contributing factor to the current supply shortage.
In the last quarter of 2008, the demand for oxygen, and, correspondingly, argon dropped, resulting in the reduction of operating and manufacturing capacity, says Air Products South Africa supply chain manager Nalen Alwar.
Once the demand for more ferrous-based grades of steel rebounded, some argon manufacturers experienced challenges in increasing argon gas manufacturing operations, partly owing to the global recession and power cuts, as well as increased power tariffs and argon prices.
“Some interest was shown in importing argon gas; however, owing to lead times and the costs involved, this was not deemed a viable option. “For the bulk gas sector, owing to its incremental requirements of about five to ten tons a day, it would be difficult to ensure sufficient and timely delivery from shipping containers,” says Alwar.
He adds that the steel market, which is difficult to predict, drives the yearly capacity required to meet argon demand.
However, sufficient quantities of argon gas should become available to the market over the next few months.
“Air Products South Africa is in a strong position to cater for current and future argon gas demand,” he says.
The company has made a significant investment in installing an argon manufacturing facility in northern KwaZulu-Natal, in November 2008, and another gas producer is currently installing a new facility at Secunda, which should also ease the argon shortage, Alwar concludes.
Engineering News previously reported that a 3 500-t/d air separation unit was being developed for petroleum giant Sasol and that this should offset the need for significant argon imports, which had become necessary owing to welding market growth ahead of the recession.
The plant is expected to increase South Africa’s argon production by more that 25% and will be marketed through industrial gas group Air Liquide’s existing supply chain in bulk, or compressed into cylinders at Air Liquide’s filling stations around the country.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gas metal arc welding
Gas metal arc welding (GMAW), sometimes referred to by its subtypes metal inert gas (MIG) welding or metal active gas (MAG) welding, is a welding process in which an electric arc forms between a consumable wire electrode and the workpiece metal(s), which heats the workpiece metal(s), causing them to melt, and join. Along with the wire electrode, a shielding gas feeds through the welding gun, which shields the process from contaminants in the air. The process can be semi-automatic or automatic. A constant voltage, direct current power source is most commonly used with GMAW, but constantcurrent systems, as well as alternating current, can be used. There are four primary methods of metal transfer in GMAW, called globular, short-circuiting, spray, and pulsed-spray, each of which has distinct properties and corresponding advantages and limitations.
Originally developed for welding aluminum and other non-ferrous materials in the 1940s, GMAW was soon applied to steels because it provided faster welding time compared to other welding processes. The cost of inert gas limited its use in steels until several years later, when the use of semi-inert gases such as carbon dioxide became common. Further developments during the 1950s and 1960s gave the process more versatility and as a result, it became a highly used industrial process. Today, GMAW is the most common industrial welding process, preferred for its versatility, speed and the relative ease of adapting the process to robotic automation. Unlike welding processes that do not employ a shielding gas, such as shielded metal arc welding, it is rarely used outdoors or in other areas of air volatility. A related process, flux cored arc welding, often does not use a shielding gas, but instead employs an electrode wire that is hollow and filled with flux.
Main article: Shielding gas
Shielding gases are necessary for gas metal arc welding to protect the welding area from atmospheric gases such as nitrogen and oxygen, which can cause fusion defects, porosity, and weld metal embrittlement if they come in contact with the electrode, the arc, or the welding metal. This problem is common to all arc welding processes; for example, in the older Shielded-Metal Arc Welding process (SMAW), the electrode is coated with a solid flux which evolves a protective cloud of carbon dioxide when melted by the arc. In GMAW, however, the electrode wire does not have a flux coating, and a separate shielding gas is employed to protect the weld. This eliminates slag, the hard residue from the flux that builds up after welding and must be chipped off to reveal the completed weld.
The choice of a shielding gas depends on several factors, most importantly the type of material being welded and the process variation being used. Pure inert gases such as argon and helium are only used for nonferrous welding; with steel they do not provide adequate weld penetration (argon) or cause an erratic arc and encourage spatter (with helium). Pure carbon dioxide, on the other hand, allows for deep penetration welds but encourages oxide formation, which adversely affect the mechanical properties of the weld. lts low cost makes it an attractive choice, but because of the reactivity of the arc plasma, spatter is unavoidable and welding thin materials is difficult. As a result, argon and carbon dioxide are frequently mixed in a 75%/25% to 90%/10% mixture. Generally, in short circuit GMAW, higher carbon dioxide content increases the weld heat and energy when all other weld parameters (volts, current, electrode type and diameter) are held the same. As the carbon dioxide content increases over 20%, spray transfer GMAW becomes increasingly problematic, especially with smaller electrode diameters.
Argon is also commonly mixed with other gases, oxygen, helium, hydrogen, and nitrogen. The addition of up to 5% oxygen (like the higher concentrations of carbon dioxide mentioned above) can be helpful in welding stainless steel, however, in most applications carbon dioxide is preferred. Increased oxygen makes the shielding gas oxidize the electrode, which can lead to porosity in the deposit if the electrode does not contain sufficient deoxidizers. Excessive oxygen, especially when used in application for which it is not prescribed, can lead to brittleness in the heat affected zone. Argon-helium mixtures are extremely inert, and can be used on nonferrous materials. A helium concentration of 50%–75% raises the required voltage and increases the heat in the arc, due to helium's higher ionization temperature. Hydrogen is sometimes added to argon in small concentrations (up to about 5%) for welding nickel and thick stainless steel workpieces. In higher concentrations (up to 25% hydrogen), it may be used for welding conductive materials such as copper. However, it should not be used on steel, aluminum or magnesium because it can cause porosity and hydrogen embrittlement.
Shielding gas mixtures of three or more gases are also available. Mixtures of argon, carbon dioxide and oxygen are marketed for welding steels. Other mixtures add a small amount of helium to argon-oxygen combinations, these mixtures are claimed to allow higher arc voltages and welding speed. Helium also sometimes serves as the base gas, with small amounts of argon and carbon dioxide added. However, because it is less dense than air, helium is less effective at shielding the weld than argon—which is denser than air. It also can lead to arc stability and penetration issues, and increased spatter, due to its much more energetic arc plasma. Helium is also substantially more expensive than other shielding gases. Other specialized and often proprietary gas mixtures claim even greater benefits for specific applications.
The desirable rate of shielding-gas flow depends primarily on weld geometry, speed, current, the type of gas, and the metal transfer mode. Welding flat surfaces requires higher flow than welding grooved materials, since gas disperses more quickly. Faster welding speeds, in general, mean that more gas must be supplied to provide adequate coverage. Additionally, higher current requires greater flow, and generally, more helium is required to provide adequate coverage than if argon is used. Perhaps most importantly, the four primary variations of GMAW have differing shielding gas flow requirements—for the small weld pools of the short circuiting and pulsed spray modes, about 10 L/min (20 ft³/h) is generally suitable, whereas for globular transfer, around 15 L/min (30 ft³/h) is preferred. The spray transfer variation normally requires more shielding-gas flow because of its higher heat input and thus larger weld pool. Typical gas-flow amounts are approximately 20–25 L/min (40–50 ft³/h).