Flux-cored arc welding (FCAW or FCA) is a semi-automatic or automatic arc welding process. FCAW requires a continuously-fed consumable tubular electrode containing a flux and a constant-voltage or, less commonly, a constant-current welding power supply. An externally supplied shielding gas is sometimes used, but often the flux itself is relied upon to generate the necessary protection from the atmosphere, producing both gaseous protection and liquid slag protecting the weld. The process is widely used in construction because of its high welding speed and portability.
FCAW was first developed in the early 1950s as an alternative to shielded metal arc welding (SMAW). The advantage of FCAW over SMAW is that the use of the stick electrodes used in SMAW is unnecessary. This helped FCAW to overcome many of the restrictions associated with SMAW.
One type of FCAW requires no shielding gas. This is made possible by the flux core in the tubular consumable electrode. However, this core contains more than just flux, it also contains various ingredients that when exposed to the high temperatures of welding generate a shielding gas for protecting the arc. This type of FCAW is attractive because it is portable and generally has good penetration into the base metal. Also, windy conditions need not be considered. Some disadvantages are that this process can produce excessive, noxious smoke (making it difficult to see the weld pool); As with all welding processes, the proper electrode must be chosen to obtain the required mechanical properties. Operator skill is a major factor as improper electrode manipulation or machine setup can cause porosity.
Another type of FCAW uses a shielding gas that must be supplied by an external supply. This is known informally as "dual shield" welding. This type of FCAW was developed primarily for welding structural steels. In fact, since it uses both a flux-cored electrode and an external shielding gas, one might say that it is a combination of gas metal (GMAW) and flux-cored arc welding (FCAW). This particular style of FCAW is preferable for welding thicker and out-of-position metals. The slag created by the flux is also easy to remove. The main advantages of this process is that in a closed shop environment, it generally produces welds of better and more consistent mechanical properties, with fewer weld defects than either the SMAW or GMAW processes. In practice it also allows a higher production rate, since the operator does not need to stop periodically to fetch a new electrode, as is the case in SMAW. However, like GMAW, it cannot be used in a windy environment as the loss of the shielding gas from air flow will produce porosity in the weld.