The GTAW (TIG) welding process was first developed in Southern California in the early 1940’s by Russell Meredith of Northrop Aircraft Corporation. At that time Northrop needed a way to weld aluminum and magnesium and current welding processes were not adequate to weld these alloys. President Roosevelt, in a letter to Winston Churchill, would later boast about the discovery of new welding techniques that enabled America to build ships with a speed unequaled in the history of shipbuilding.
TIG or GTAW (Heliarc) was developed to join light alloys used in airframe manufacturing, specifically, Magnesium. The TIG process provided a consistent, inexpensive way to quickly achieve high-quality welds.
The Union Carbide Corporation, Linde Division bought the rights to the GTAW welding patent and began to develop different torch designs, consumables and spare parts for the Heliarc torches. At that time the GTAW process used helium as the shielding gas and Linde marketed the process and the torches under the “Heliarc” brand name.
In the 1960’s and 70’s many of the original the patents expired on the welding process and the torch designs.
Many aftermarket companies started in the business of making GTAW torches, but it was CK Worldwide and Weldcraft that really set the standards for design, and quality in TIG welding torches. Both of these companies were located in large aerospace markets.
CK Worldwide, located in Seattle Washington, started doing business with the Boeing Aircraft Corporation. CK actually made specialty torches that solved TIG / GTAW welding application problems and by the mid 1960’s CK became a recognized leader, and the designated preferred vendor for many aircraft companies.
The CK brand is still recognized around the world as an innovator, from the legacy of the aerospace industry in the Pacific Northwest to design innovations like the Master Series, Trim-Line and Flex-Loc TIG torches, to the popular Gas Saver kits, Turbo Sharp V Tungsten Grinder, Flexible Purge Chambers, TIG Cold Wire Feeders, Remote Amperage Controls and much more.
Weldcraft, originally located in Burbank California, started doing business with Northrop, Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works®, Rockwell, Hughes, Douglas, McDonnell Aircraft Corporations and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Weldcraft started by repairing spent TIG torches that were scrapped by the local aircraft manufacturers. In the beginning, Weldcraft burned off the old “hard plastic” molding, repaired the torch body, then remolded it with a high-dialectic silicone rubber. This process made the torches less likely to “arc out” which is common in TIG welding due to the high-frequency current used to start the arc.
The first Heliarc machines were big transformer-rectifier based power sources that weighed hundreds of pounds. The first technological breakthrough came when Miller introduced the “Square Wave Form” which allowed for much better arc control for AC welding applications.
The next big change was the introduction of the printed circuit board and inverter style machines that feature virtually infinite adjustment capabilities, much lighter weight and smaller foot print. The arc characteristics are much improved and can be controlled down to .5 amps on some machines.
I can’t but wonder what innovations are coming next and how it will change the way we weld!