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How the faceted cylinder made a Russian scientist world-famous

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“The Slavyanov cylinder” in 1893 at the world exhibition in Chicago received a gold medal with the wording: “For the technical revolution produced.” His photographs, accompanying the relevant news, appeared in many newspapers in Europe and the United States. What kind of scientific breakthrough was he talking about?

Experts were shown a sample of eight ferrous and non-ferrous metals, considered at the time to be incompatible: bronze, nickel, steel, copper, cast iron, bell bronze, tombak and nesilber. The faceted cylinder was made by mining engineer Slavyanov by arc welding with a metal electrode. When he had obtained patents describing the method two years earlier, including in the United States, American experts did not believe in its suitability. They claimed that “you can’t weld non-ferrous metals to ferrous metals at all.” As a peculiar response, Nikolai Slavyanov made that very cylinder and brought it to Chicago.

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Metal products were made as early as the Iron and Bronze Ages. Plates were overlapped by pressure and friction. In the Middle Ages, cold and hot forging appeared. However, we cannot call the ancient craftsmen welders: they were rather blacksmiths and the first metallurgists. Before the invention of electricity, electrodes and the electric arc had to wait more than 500 years.

Everything changed with the advent of the 19th century. The transition to a new model of socio-economic development, i.e., large-scale machine production, required reference points. They were the steam engine, development of railroads, lathe and, of course, electric welding.

The history of its development began in 1802, when a self-taught electrician Vasily Petrov discovered the phenomenon of electric arc. It is a type of electric charge in a gas. When the voltage between two electrodes increases to a certain level, plasma is formed and the arc burns, which is a powerful and concentrated source of heat.

In 1881-1882, inventors Nikolai Benardos and Nikolai Slavyanov, based on the above mentioned arc and independently of each other, developed a method of joining metal parts using welding. However, there were serious technological differences between their variants. Bernados suggested working with a carbon electrode, but this method had disadvantages: it was extremely power-consuming and the joint was quite brittle and uneven. The metal quickly broke down. In addition, there was a risk of metal deterioration due to the high temperature of the carbon electrode and severe carburizing in the welding area due to carbon particles entering the molten metal from the high-temperature carbon rod.

Фото © Промышленное использование сварки Славянова

Slavianov created a fundamentally different method that involved the use of a metal electrode (fusible - in connection with what he called his method “electrical metal casting”). It is the analogue of the modern and most common variant of welding. As the second pole it was suggested to take an additive material - different kinds of metal were suitable (copper alloys, cast iron, different grades of steel and iron). The main condition was that their chemical composition had to be similar to that of the product to be welded. The rod electrodes were melted under the action of the arc, and their thickness varied depending on the current strength.

The new method ensured continuous melting and significantly increased the efficiency of the process. Whereas Benardos’ method required direct current, Slavianov’s technology was more versatile and involved the use of alternating current. Within a month he had welded the crankshaft of a steam engine in the presence of a state commission. In the same year, improving the technology the inventor developed a differential electric regulator-automatic device capable of maintaining a constant arc length, and created an electric welding generator - the world’s first source of welding arc power with direct current.

Фото © Первый в мире электрогенератор для электрической сварки, построенный по проекту Славянова в 1888 году

Nikolai Slavyanov was born in 1854 in the Voronezh region. He came from an old impoverished noble family, distinguished mainly by military deeds. For their son to receive a decent education, his parents even had to sell the family estate. As it turned out later, the hopes put on their offspring were more than well-justified.

After graduating from the Voronezh Gymnasium with a gold medal, the young man entered the oldest technical school in Russia - the St. Petersburg Mining Institute. During his studies, the young man showed an interest in revolutionary ideas. Together with another student of the Mining Institute, Grigory Plekhanov, whose name the institute bore from 1956 to 2011, he actively participated in the unrest. And while the future Marxist theorist was expelled from the institute for such behavior, Nikolai Slavyanov was saved from expulsion by his remarkable engineering abilities. For example, during his last year at the Institute, he designed a unique project for a steam engine equipped with a special steam distributor. As a result, the student graduated among the best graduates and received the title of mining engineer of the 1st category by specialty “metallurgist.”

Slavyanov received his initial production experience at the Ural plants - Votkinskiy Treasury Mining Works and Omutinskiy Iron and Steel Works.

пушечный завод
Фото © Пермские пушечные заводы

In 1883 he was invited to serve at the Perm cannon factories. After 8 years, Nikolay Gavrilovich was already at the head of these enterprises, working there until the end of his life and making most of his inventions.

In Russia, at the end of the 19th century, the electrical engineering was in an embryo state: we didn’t produce electrical appliances, and that’s why the initiators of the development of the region independently designed the equipment, tested it, and introduced it in the industry of the country.

In addition to electric welding, Slavyanov designed two steam-powered DC dynamos. On the basis of one of them the inventor built a power station designed to illuminate the factory workshops.

Фото © Славянов в главном зале заводской электростанции у динамо-машины собственной конструкции

Continuing to work on the modernization of the production process, the engineer proposed a “bath method” in metallurgy: to combat the leakage of molten base and electrode metal, he enclosed the work piece in a coke or quartz mold.

Other innovations of the scientist include arc lamps of his own design, various electric measuring instruments, and semi-automatic regulator of the welding arc length, which he called “electric melting pot.” The mechanism was the world’s first semiautomatic welding machine and it allowed the use of a dynamo instead of a battery.

Фото © Славянов с рабочими

assemblies and mechanisms, such as crankshafts, steam cylinders, gears, steam plant frames, and much more. At the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, thanks to his ideas, large industrial units were manufactured for metallurgical enterprises in Yekaterinodar, Lugansk, Izhevsk, Zlatoust, Sevastopol.

The life of the talented engineer was short-lived. In the autumn of 1897, at the age of 43, Nikolai Slavyanov supervised the process of welding in the open air in Perm, caught a bad cold and died shortly.

Today, the process of welding metal is performed by hundreds of thousands of people and tens of thousands of robots across the globe. The importance of inventing the most cost-effective and efficient way of permanently joining metals, in which two or more parts become one, cannot be overestimated. In developed countries, more than half of the created GDP, in one way or another is associated with its use. Welding is used in large-scale production facilities, in private workshops, underwater and even in space. No industry can do without it: construction is unthinkable without cranes, the extractive industry without pipelines and all-welded drills, the agricultural sector without tractors and harvesters.

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“The outstanding Russian scientist and talented inventor of arc welding with a metal electrode, Nikolay Gavrilovich Slavyanov, was one of the pioneers of electrical engineering in Russia and with his greatest invention, having enriched mankind, has forever entered the history of science and technology in our country and throughout the world,” Sergey Vavilov, President of the USSR Academy of Sciences and founder of the scientific school of physical optics in the USSR.