Applied Fusion: At the Corner of Machining and Welding
California job shop prides itself on complex, high-quality weldments using a variety of standard and refractory alloys
By Sarah A. Webster
Editor in Chief
Applied Fusion (AFI), a job shop in San Leandro, CA, has found its sweet spot at the intersection of advanced machining and complex welding, producing parts for heavy hitters in the aerospace, semiconductor, clean energy, medical and space sectors. “We’re on the cutting edge of material joining using electron beam [EB] techniques. That’s our forte,” said Jeff Musgrove, company president and the son of the late founder, Ron Musgrove. “That’s the thing that AFI really specializes in, marrying the machining and welding crafts.”
Musgrove said his father, who founded AFI in 1972, was a visionary and the reason why AFI has the distinction of being one of the first shops in the United States to offer both electron beam and laser welding services years ago.
“He came from the Livermore National Laboratory as a designer and project coordinator. Back then, we built a lot of vacuum and pressure tanks for the government and other industries. In 1978, AFI bought its first tabletop EB welding machine. Then we started getting into lasers and branching out … He was constantly seeking practical solutions for difficult tasks. Today our high-voltage machines have very large chamber capacity [up to 64 m3] to allow EB applications on large components.”
Electron beam welding is a popular choice for welding when there is a need for a high degree of repeatability, weld penetration and a demand for the highest quality of weld integrity possible. It is also a welding solution for places a laser nozzle can’t access, such as down the inside of a tube or any other hard to reach applications. The only thing required for an EB weld is a “line of sight” to the weld joint.
After his father founded the company, Jeff Musgrove grew up in the shop, doing welding and fabricating for many years.
Today, the company offers an array of services in its 60,000-ft2 (5574-m2) building. Among them: EB welding and brazing; laser welding, cutting and drilling; dissimilar metal joining; CNC and conventional milling and turning; conventional welding; and vacuum and pressure leak testing.
While it can perform many different kinds of operations, Musgrove said AFI knows what it does best. “We excel when integrating laser and EB welding technology into complex designs,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, we realized that our niche would be highly specialized and technical.” AFI also provides EBW and laser services for many machine and engineering firms throughout California.
AFI has about 60 employees. Many of them are highly skilled machinists, operators and welders who have been with the company for more than 20 years, Musgrove said: “They are very loyal to the company and very creative. These guys are never comfortable with the status quo and are always being challenged with new projects.”
Musgrove said that AFI’s workforce, which has had almost no turnover, is a competitive advantage in the marketplace, as is the company’s investment in new technologies.
“We’ve been investing heavily in capital equipment over the years, especially into the EB facility, in EB welding machines, and supporting infrastructure,” Musgrove said. “In addition to typical necessary upgrades, AFI invests heavily into technology that we understand and can apply to advance our manufacturing capabilities.”
One area where Musgrove sees a great deal of growth, and where AFI distinguishes itself, is in marrying dissimilar metals and delivering on complex weldments, which may require a combination of welding and then machining.
AFI works with all alloys, including stainless, aluminum, Inconel and Hastelloy, as well as refractory metals such as titanium, tantalum, molybdenum, niobium and tungsten. Metal mixing is also increasing in frequency thanks to EB techniques. Engineers today in all industries have much more latitude when it comes to material selection.
“We have a lot of experience mixing and matching metals,” said Musgrove, whose company sees more copper to stainless, as well as nickel to titanium, copper to nickel and titanium to tantalum to name some, all of which are performed via EB brazing. Many customers’ designs require that all welds be machined, even over critical areas. The welds must also maintain vacuum and pressure integrity. EB welding is still the preferred way to assure this.
“The welding requirements today are much more stringent. We need to make weld coupons and samples to qualify the welds before the customer even approves welding on their parts. The game has been upped substantially. It’s all about high quality, repeatability and continuous efforts to improve while controlling costs,” Musgrove said.
“In a lot of semiconductor weldments, you don’t even see the weld joint because every surface is final machined. The semiconductor industry is using more aluminum in their processing chambers. It’s lighter, cheaper and with the new CAD capabilities, they design elaborate cooling channels and other internal features that were not possible to weld and machine 20 years ago.”
Musgrove said that all of its EB welding is performed in a high-vacuum environment, eliminating the contamination of oxygen and the need for shielding gases. This gives the engineering designer an opportunity to expand the design parameters and greatly reduces machining and conventional weld costs as well as minimizing costly restraining fixtures.
Looking to the Future
Because the quality and technology requirements to play in manufacturing these days are extraordinarily high, Musgrove said he is constantly asking himself whether his new technology investments are going to pay off.
“That question really has to be asked all the time,” he said. ME
This article was first published in the January 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.
Published Date : 1/1/2014