In this study, Friction stir welding (FSW) of aluminum alloy 6061-T6511 to TRIP 780 steel are analyzed under various process conditions. Two FSW tools with different sizes are used. To understand the underlying joining mechanisms and material flow behavior, nano-CT is applied for a 3D visualization of material distribution in the weld. With insufficient heat input, steel fragments are generally scattered in the weld zone in large pieces. This is observed in a combined condition of big tool, small tool offset and low rotating speed or a small tool with low rotating speed. Higher heat input improves the material flowability and generates a continuous strip of steel. The remaining steel fragments are much finer. When the volume fraction of steel involved in the stirring nugget is small, this steel strip can be in a flat shape near the bottom, which generally corresponds to a better joint quality and the joint would fracture in the base aluminum side. Otherwise, a hook structure is formed and reduces the joint strength. The joint would fail with a combined brittle behavior on the steel hook and a ductile behavior in the surrounding aluminum matrix.

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