Welding arc blow is the deflection of an electric arc from its normal path due to magnetic forces. It is mainly encountered with dc welding of magnetic materials, such as steel, iron, and nickel, but can also be encountered when welding nonmagnetic materials. It will usually adversely affect appearance of the weld, cause excessive spatter, and can also impair the quality of the weld. It is often encountered when using the shielded metal arc welding process with covered electrodes. It is also a factor in semiautomatic and fully automatic arc welding processes. Direct current, flowing through the electrode and the base metal, sets up magnetic fields around the electrode, which deflect the arc from its intended path. The welding arc is usually deflected forward or backward of the direction of travel; however, it may be deflected from one side to the other. Back blow is encountered when welding toward the ground near the end of a joint or into a corner. Forward blow is encountered when welding away from the ground at the start of a joint. Arc blow can become so severe that it is impossible to make a satisfactory weld. Figure 6-61 shows the effect of ground location on magnetic arc blow.
When an electric current passes through an electrical conductor, it produces a magnetic flux in circles around the conductor in planes perpendicular to the conductor and with their centers in the conductor. The right-hand rule is used to determine the direction of the magnetic flux. It states that when the thumb of the right hand points in the direction in which the current flows (conventional flow) in the conductor, the fingers point in the direction of the flux. The direction of the magnetic flux produces polarity in the magnetic field, the same as the north and south poles of a permanent magnet. This magnetic field is the same as that produced by an electromagnet. The rules of magnetism, which state that like poles repel and opposite poles attract, apply in this situation. Welding current is much higher than the electrical current normally encountered. Likewise, the magnetic fields are also much stronger.
The welding arc is an electrical conductor and the magnetic flux is set up surrounding it in accordance with the right-hand rule. The magnetic field in the vicinity of the welding arc is the field produced by the welding current which passes through it from the electrode and to the base metal or work. This is a self-induced circular magnetic field which surrounds the arc and exerts a force on it from all sides according to the electrical-magnetic rule. As long as the magnetic field is symmetrical, there is no unbalanced magnetic force and no arc deflection. Under these conditions, the arc is parallel or in line with the centerline of the electrode and takes the shortest path to the base plate. If the symmetry of this magnetic field is disturbed, the forces on the arc are no longer equal and the arc is deflected by the strongest force.
The electrical-magnetic relationship is used in welding applications for magnetically moving, or oscillating, the welding arc. The gas tungsten arc is deflected by means of magnetic flux. It can be oscillated by transverse magnetic fields or be made to deflect in the direction of travel. Moving the flux field surrounding the arc and introducing an external-like polarity field roves the arc magnetically. Oscillation is obtained by reversing the external transverse field to cause it to attract the field surrounding the arc. As the self-induced field around the arc is attracted and repelled, it tends to move the arc column, which tries to maintain symmetry within its own self-induced magnetic field. Magnetic oscillation of the gas tungsten welding arc is used to widen the deposition. Arcs can also be made to rotate around the periphery of abutting pipes by means of rotating magnetic fields. Longer arcs are moved more easily than short arcs. The amount of magnetic flux to create the movement must be of the same order as the flux field surrounding the arc column. Whenever the symmetry of the field is disturbed by some other magnetic force, it will tend to move the self-induced field surrounding the arc and thus deflect the arc itself.
Except under the most simple conditions, the self-induced magnetic field is not symmetrical throughout the entire electric circuit and changes direction at the arc. There is always an unbalance of the magnetic field around the arc because the arc is roving and the current flow pattern through the base material is not constant. The magnetic flux will pass through a magnetic material such as steel much easier than it will pass through air, and the magnetic flux path will tend to stay within the steel and be more concentrated and stronger than in air. Welding cur-rent passes through the electrode lead, the electrode holder to the welding electrode, then through the arc into the base metal. At this point the current changes direction to pass to the work lead connection, then through the work lead back to the welding machine. This is shown by figure 6-62. At the point the arc is in contact with the work, the change of direction is relatively abrupt, and the fact that the lines of force are perpendicular to the path of the welding current creates a magnetic unbalance. The lines of force are concentrated together on the inside of the angle of the current path through the electrode and the work, and are spread out on the outside angle of this path. Consequently, the magnetic field is much stronger on the side of the arc toward the work lead connection than on the other side, which produces a force on the stronger side and deflects the arc to the left. This is toward the weaker force and is opposite the direction of the current path. The direction of this force is the same regardless of the direction of the current. If the welding current is reversed, the magnetic field is also reversed, but the direction of the magnetic force acting on the arc is always in the same direction, away from the path of the current through the work.
The second factor that keeps the magnetic field from being symmetrical is the fact that the arc is moving and depositing weld metal. As a weld is made joining two plates, the arc moves from one end of the joint to the other and the magnetic field in the plates will constantly change. Since the work lead is immediately under the arc and moving with the arc, the magnetic path in the work will not be concentric about the point of the arc, because the lines of force take the easiest path rather than the shortest path. Near the start end of the joint the lines of force are crowded together and will tend to stay within the steel. Toward the finish end of the joint, the lines of force will be separated since there is more area. This is shown by figure 6-63. In addition, where the weld has been made the lines of force go through steel. Where the weld is not made, the lines of force must cross the air gap or root opening. The magnetic field is more intense on the short end and the unbalance produces a force which deflects the arc to the right or toward the long end.
When welding with direct current, the total force tending to cause the arc to deflect is a combination of these two forces. These forces may add or subtract from each other, and at times may meet at right angles. The polarity or direction of flow of the current does not affect the direction of these forces nor the resultant force. By analyzing the path of the welding current through the electrode and into the base metal to the work lead, and analyzing the magnetic field within the base metal, it is possible to determine the resultant forces and predict the resulting arc deflection or arc blow.
Forward blow exists for a short time at the start of a weld, then diminishes. This is because the flux soon finds an easy path through the weld metal. Once the magnetic flux behind the arc is concentrated in the plate and the weld, the arc is influenced mainly by the flux in front of it as this flux crosses the root opening. At this point, back blow may be encountered. Back blow can occur right up to the end of the joint. As the weld approaches the end, the flux ahead of the arc becomes more crowded, increasing the back blow. Back blow can become extremely severe right at the very end of the joint.
The use of alternating current for welding greatly reduces the magnitude of deflection or arc blow; however, ac welding does not completely eliminate arc blow. Reduction of arc blow is reduced because the alternating current sets up other currents that tend to either neutralize the magnetic field or greatly reduce its strength. Alternating current varies between maximum value of one polarity and the maximum value of the opposite polarity. The magnetic field surrounding the alternating current conductor does the same thing. The alternating magnetic field is a roving field which induces current in any conductor through which it passes, according to the induction principle. Currents are induced in nearby conductors in a direction opposite that of the inducing current. These induced currents are called eddy currents. They produce a magnetic field of their own which tends to neutralize the magnetic field of the arc current. These currents are alternating currents of the same frequency as the arc current and are in the part of the work nearest the arc. They always flow from the opposite direction as shown by figure 6-64. When alternating current is used for welding, eddy currents are induced in the workpiece, which produce magnetic fields and reduce the intensity of the field acting on the arc. Alternating current cannot be used for all welding applications and for this reason changing from direct current to alternating current may not always be possible to eliminate or reduce arc blow.
Arc blow is not as severe with alternating current because the induction principle creates current flow within the base metal which creates magnetic fields that tend to neutralize the magnetic field affecting the arc.
The greatest magnetic force on the arc is caused by the difference resistance of the magnetic path in then the base metal around the arc. The location of the work connection is of secondary importance, but may have an effect on reducing the total magnetic force on the arc. It is best to have the work lead connection at the starting point of the weld. This is particularly true in electroslag welding where the work lead should be connected to the starting sump. On occasion, the work lead can be changed to the opposite end of the joint. In sane cases, leads can be connected to both ends.
The welding fixture can be a source of arc blow; therefore, an analysis with respect to fixturing is important. The hold-down clamps and backing bars must fit closely and tightly to the work. In general, copper or nonferrous metals should be used. Magnetic structure of the fixture can affect the magnetic forces controlling the arc.
Another major problem can result from magnetic fields already in the base metal, particularly when the base metal has been handled by magnet lifting cranes. Residual magnetism in heavy thick plates handled by magnets can be of such magnitude that it is almost impossible to make a weld. Attempt to demagnetize the parts, wrap the part with welding leads to help overcome their effect, or stress relieve or anneal the parts.