Until the end of the 19th century, the only welding process was forge welding, which blacksmiths had used for millennia to join iron and steel by heating and hammering. Arc welding and oxy-fuel welding were among the first processes to develop late in the century, and electric resistance welding followed soon after. Welding technology advanced quickly during the early 20th century as world wars drove the demand for reliable and inexpensive joining methods. Following the wars, several modern welding techniques were developed, including manual methods like shielded metal arc welding, now one of the most popular welding methods, as well as semi-automatic and automatic processes such as gas metal arc welding, submerged arc welding, flux-cored arc welding and electroslag welding. Developments continued with the invention of laser beam welding, electron beam welding, magnetic pulse welding, and friction stir welding in the latter half of the century. Today, as the science continues to advance, robot welding is commonplace in industrial settings, and researchers continue to develop new welding methods and gain greater understanding of weld quality.
Welding is a fabrication process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion. Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal.
In addition to melting the base metal, a filler material is typically added to the joint to form a pool of molten material (the weld pool) that cools to form a joint that, based on weld configuration (butt, full penetration, fillet, etc.), can be stronger than the base material (parent metal). Pressure may also be used in conjunction with heat or by itself to produce a weld. Welding also requires a form of shield to protect the filler metals or melted metals from being contaminated or oxidized.
Many different energy sources can be used for welding, including a gas flame (chemical), an electric arc (electrical), a laser, an electron beam, friction, and ultrasound. While often an industrial process, welding may be performed in many different environments, including in open air, under water, and in outer space. Welding is a hazardous undertaking and precautions are required to avoid burns, electric shock, vision damage, inhalation of poisonous gases and fumes, and exposure to intense ultraviolet radiation.