Welding with Helium – The Future Is Up in the Air



There is approximately 6.2 billion cubic feet of helium gas consumed per year worldwide for use in all market segments with demand increasing by about two percent annually into the near future. From this total consumption, approximately five percent, or 300 million cubic feet, is used in the global industrial welding and cutting market, and about 56 percent (160 million cubic feet) of that is consumed for welding processes in the US.

For a variety of reasons, helium used for welding is likely to remain a small percentage of total consumption with a flat to slightly declining future demand. 

With the scarcity of helium, prices have increased and helium is being channeled to segments like the electronics and medical fields, where both demand and profits are growing. Customers in lower profit margin markets like balloons are having more difficulty with reliable supply. And in the welding industry, where helium can be replaced by other gases, its supply is being directed to applications in which it is a pure necessity. 

Welding Processes that Use Helium 

The two major welding processes that use helium are GTAW (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding: aka TIG) and GMAW (Gas Metal Arc Welding: aka MIG). Helium gas is used for three main reasons: (1) to control the bead profile (create a wider bead face); (2) to increase the heat input to high heat conducting materials such as copper and aluminum; and (3) to enhance welding travel speeds by elongating the “puddle” with greater heat intensity. The most prominent materials for helium applications are stainless and aluminum. Adding a helium component to the shielding gas mix for stainless creates a greater “wetting action,” which develops fasters travel speeds and reduces distortion especially in thin gage stainless. A helium mix is often used to weld thick (9.5+ mm; 3/8+ in) aluminum where higher heat transfer allows better penetration in this rapid heat conducting material. 

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