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Factors Affecting Inservice Cracking of Weld Zone in Corrosive Service

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Technical Articles

Factors Affecting Inservice Cracking of Weld Zone in Corrosive Service

Harold L. Schmeilski
Illinois Division of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Safety, D. R. Gallup, Superintendent.
January 1986
Category: Incidents
Summary: The following article is a part of National Board Classic Series and was reprinted in the January
1986 National Board BULLETIN. Permission to reprint was granted by the Illinois Division of Boiler and
Pressure Vessel Safety, D. R. Gallup, Superintendent. (6 printed pages)
This article describes the cause of failure of a monoethandamine (MEA) absorber vessel that ruptured in the
state of Illinois in 1984, resulting in 17 fatalities and property damage in excess of $100 million.
The ruptured vessel was designed in accordance with The American Society of Mechanical Engineers
(ASME) Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, Section VIII rules. The vessel was constructed of 1 inch thick
SA516 Gr 70 steel plates rolled and welded with full penetration submerged arc joints, without postweld heat
treatment. The cylindrical vessel measures 81/2 feet in diameter with hemispherical ends comprising an
overall height of 55 feet. Operating conditions were 200 psig internal pressure containing largely propane and
hydrogen sulfide at 100F. An internal system distributed monoethanolamine (MEA) through the vessel for the
purpose of removing hydrogen sulfide from the gas.


The vessel went into operation in 1969. Soon after start-up, hydrogen blisters were observed to be forming in
the bottom two courses of the cylindrical vessel wall. Metallurgical analysis showed laminations to be present
in the steel.
In 1974, due to the large blister area found in the second course, a full circumferential ring 8 feet high was
replaced in field by inserting a preformed ring in three equal circumferential segments. The welding was
accomplished by the shielded metal arc process ("stick welding") without preheating or postweld heat
The ASME Code does not require preheating or postweld heat treatment for SA516 Gr 70 steel 1 inch thick
or less. However, this steel is slightly air hardenable during welding, depending on the welding process,
position and procedure employed. This material is classified as a P1, Group 2 material according to ASME
Code Section IX.
The vessel was operated under the owner/user option of the Illinois Boiler and Pressure Vessel Safety Act
and received a certification inspection approximately every two years. Continuing corrosion problems in the
lower end of the vessel resulted in the installation of an internal Monel liner in 1976 covering the bottom head
and most of the first ring, stopping short of the replaced ring. Periodic internal inspections were mainly visual
with wall thickness determinations made by an ultrasonic thickness gauge.
Just prior to the rupture, an operator noted a horizontal crack about 6 inches long spewing a plume of gas.
While attempting to close off the main inlet valve, the operator noted the crack had increased in length to
about 2 feet. As the operator was evacuating the area and as the firemen were arriving, the vessel ruptured
releasing a large quantity of flammable gas which ignited shortly thereafter creating a large fireball and the
ensuing of deaths and damage. The separation occurred along the lower girth weld joint made during the
1974 repair. The upper portion of the vessel was propelled 3500 feet by the thrust of the escaping gas.

The fracture surfaces exhibited the presence of four major prerupture cracks in the heat affected zone (HAZ)
of the lower girth field repair weld. The cracks originated on the inside surface and had progressed nearly
through the wall over a period of time. The largest precrack was located in the same area as the prerupture
leak reported by the operator. In total, the four cracks encompassed a circumferential length of about 9 feet
(33.7% of circumference). The remainder of the fracture exhibited a fast running brittle separation.
Microscopic examination of various cross sections through the failed weld joint area showed the cracking
originated in a hard microstructure in the HAZ and progressed in a manner characteristic of hydrogen related
damage in hard steels (see figures above). The HAZ exhibited hardness of up to 45 HRC (Hardness Rockwell
"C") (450 Brinell), equivalent to a tensile strength of over 200,000 psi in the region of weld cracking. By
comparison, the base metal had a hardness value of less than 20 HRC (229 BHN [Brinell Hardness Number],
110,000 psi tensile strength). The following sections discuss technical factors contributing to in-service
cracking of weld joints under such conditions.
Welding procedures adopted must take into account not only the minimum requirements of ASME Code
Section IX and the appropriate design section, but must also be suitable for the specific service conditions

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A Boiler: The Explosive Potential of a

Acoustic Emission Examination of
Metal Pressure Vessels
Anatomy of a Catastrophic Boiler
Austenitic Stainless Steel
Basic Weld Inspection - Part 1

likely to be encountered. Stress corrosion cracking, hydrogen embrittlement and corrosion fatigue are typical
of material/environment interactions that are not fully accounted for in the ASME Code design rules.
Appreciation of such potential problems is left to the process designer, vessel designer, owner, contractor or
inspector. Reliance on only the ASME Code rules is not enough to assure safety of vessels operating in many
corrosive environments.
The weld HAZ contains potentially crack susceptible metallurgical structure, hardness variations and residual
stresses that can promote various types of unexpected service induced cracking depending on the chemical
environment and operating temperature. Industry experience has shown that steel having a hardness of 22
HRC maximum is resistant to cracking even under severe exposure conditions where hydrogen can be
absorbed by the steel. At hardness levels above 22 HRC, steel becomes less resistant to hydrogen induced
cracking and other environmental effects. At high hardness (above about 40 HRC), steel becomes quite
susceptible to cracking in the presence of hydrogen.

Basic Weld Inspection - Part 2

Black Liquor Recovery Boilers - An
Boiler Efficiency and Steam Quality:
The Challenge of Creating Quality
Steam Using Existing Boiler

In potentially critical environments, the weld joint properties must be carefully controlled. Weld HAZ hardness
is a function of the cooling rate after welding. Preheating to at least several hundred degrees and maintaining
an interpass temperature during welding can warm the joint area sufficiently to prevent rapid cooling after
welding. Carbon content and alloy composition will dictate the appropriate temperature. Rapid cooling of even
mild steel can result in unacceptably high HAZ hardness for service in aggressive chemical environments.

Boiler/Burner Combustion Air Supply

Requirements and Maintenance

Postweld heat treating (PWHT) is often necessary in critical weld joints to temper (soften) or stress relieve
weld joints in rugged duty or aggressive chemical environments. Higher carbon steels and more alloyed steels
are nearly always given PWHT. Even when not specifically called for in ASME Code Section IX, preheating or
PWHT may be necessary. In hydrogen environments, avoiding formation of a hard HAZ is crucial. Other
corrosive environments present similar concerns.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Preventable With Complete

The specific weld procedure employed must be developed by individuals with pertinent knowledge of the
ASME Code (which should be viewed as the minimum guideline) as well as material behavior expertise in
aggressive environments.

Combustion Air Requirements:The

Forgotten Element In Boiler Rooms


Boiler Logs Can Reduce Accidents

Creep and Creep Failures

Description of Construction and
Inspection Procedure for Steam
Locomotive and Fire Tube Boilers
Ensuring Safe Operation Of Vessels
With Quick-Opening Closures
Environmental Heat Exchangers
Factors Affecting Inservice Cracking
of Weld Zone in Corrosive Service
Failure Avoidance in Welded
Finite Element Analysis of Pressure
Fuel Ash Corrosion

There are many specific ways that corrosion may contribute to unexpected failures. Often, corrosion
problems are handled simply by making the component thicker (a corrosion allowance). This is appropriate so
long as the corrosive conditions are known, the vessel is periodically inspected and if the corrosion is not
highly localized. Corrosion fatigue, pitting, stress corrosion and hydrogen attack are examples of
metal/environment problems that cannot be adequately handled by a corrosion allowance and superficial
inspection methods alone.
Hydrogen-assisted cracking and stress corrosion cracking will not always be readily apparent. Carefully
preparing the surface for visual examination, along with other techniques such as dye penetrant, magnetic
particle, or shear wave ultrasonic inspection methods, may be required to detect such defects. Corrosionenhanced damage is often associated with welds, nozzles, or areas of unstable environmental conditions;
places where either the environment, stress, or metallurgical condition may abruptly change.
High pressure hydrogen or acidic environments can introduce damaging levels of hydrogen into steel,
particularly hard steels or hard HAZs. The mechanism of hydrogen evolution and penetration is illustrated
above. The absorbed hydrogen atoms are attracted to high stress regions in the structure, such as crack-like
defects. The combination of hard steel and absorbed hydrogen leads to the development of cracks. Once
inside the steel, these hydrogen atoms also migrate to inclusions or laminations and create hydrogen fissures
and blisters.

Fuel Firing Apparatus - Natural Gas

Grain Boundaries
Heat Treatment - What Is It?
How to Destroy a Boiler -- Part 1
How to Destroy a Boiler -- Part 2
How to Destroy a Boiler -- Part 3
Identifying Pressure Vessel Nozzle

Hydrogen sulfide, cyanide and arsenic, even in trace deposits, are examples of materials that greatly increase
the amount of hydrogen that becomes absorbed by steel. Therefore, under acidic corrosive conditions,
particularly those environments that also contain hydrogen sulfide, cyanide or arsenic, hydrogen damage can
be severe. Weld HAZ hardness must be carefully controlled under these circumstances, regardless of
whether or not the ASME Code or the National Board Inspection Code specifically address the subject.
Welding procedures, repair methods, and inspection procedures must include careful consideration of
potential failure modes in corrosive environments. If pressure vessels or allied components are operating in an
aggressive environment, special steps should be taken to assure that individuals with pertinent expertise are
involved in the planning and review stages of design, inspections and repairs. When distress signals are
present, take the time to evaluate the cause and determine what special precautions are necessary.

Inspection, Repair, and Alteration of

Yankee Dryers


Inspection, What Better Place to


The problems of in-service cracking of weld zones can be minimized by attention to the important factors
summarized below.

Laminations Led to Incident

Lay-up of Heating Boilers

Preheat or postweld heat treat weld joints that may develop a hard HAZ when corrosive conditions are

Low Water Cut-Off Technology

Inspect weld HAZs for cracks by a suitable NDE method if hard HAZs are suspected.
Field repair welds are likely to have hard HAZs unless proper preheat or PWHT is applied.
Small welds on thick members and arc strikes are examples of conditions resulting in rapid heating
and cooling and are likely areas for trouble.

Low-Water Cutoff: A Maintenance


Shop welds made according to the ASME Code may also crack in service under severely corrosive

Magnetic Particle Examination

Preheating field weld joints will help drive off the dissolved hydrogen that has been picked up by the
steel in service.

Liquid Penetrant Examination

Low Voltage Short Circuiting-GMAW

Be particularly cautious when inspecting critical components in unfamiliar corrosive service, especially
when prior history reveals problems and when field repairs have been made.

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Maintaining Proper Boiler Inspections

Through Proper Relationships
Microstructural Degradation

Editor's note: Some ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code requirements may have changed because of
advances in material technology and/or actual experience. The reader is cautioned to refer to the latest
edition and addenda of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code for current requirements.

Miracle Fluid?
Organizing A Vessel, Tank, and
Piping Inspection Program
Paper Machine Failure Investigation:
Inspection Requirements Should Be
Changed For Dryer Can
Pipe Support Performance as It
Applies to Power Plant Safety and
Polymer Use for Boilers and
Pressure Vessels
Pressure Vessel Fatigue
Pressure Vessels: Analyzing Change
Preventing Corrosion Under
Preventing Steam/Condensate
System Accidents
Proper Boiler Care Makes Good
Business Sense:Safety Precautions
for Drycleaning Businesses
Putting a Stop to Steam Kettle Failure
Quick Actuating Closures
Quick-Actuating Door Failures
Real-Time Radioscopic Examination
Recommendations For A Safe Boiler
Recovering Boiler Systems After A
Rendering Plants Require Safety
Repair or Alteration of Pressure
Residential Water Heater Safety
School Boiler Maintenance
Programs: How Safe Are The
Secondary Low-Water Fuel Cutoff
Probe: Is It as Safe as You Think?
Short-Term High Temperature
Specification of Rupture Disk Burst
Steam Traps Affect Boiler Plant
Steps to Safety: Guide for Restarting
Boilers after Summer Lay-Up
Stress Corrosion Cracking of Steel in
Liquefied Ammonia Service - A
Suggested Daily Boiler Log Program
Suggested Maintenance Log
System Design, Specifications,
Operation, and Inspection of
Tack Welding
Temperature And Pressure Relief
Valves Often Overlooked
Temperature Considerations for
Pressure Relief Valve Application

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Factors Affecting Inservice Cracking of Weld Zone in Corrosive Service

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The Authorized Inspector s

Responsibility for Dimensional
The Effects of Erosion-Corrosion on
Power Plant Piping
The Forgotten Boiler That Suddenly
The Trend of Boiler/Pressure Vessel
Incidents: On the Decline?
The Use of Pressure Vessels for
Human Occupancy in Clinical
Hyberbaric Medicine
Thermally Induced Stress Cycling
(Thermal Shock) in Firetube Boilers
Top Ten Boiler and Combustion
Safety Issues to Avoid
Typical Improper Repairs of Safety
Wasted Superheat Converted to Hot,
Sanitary Water
Water Maintenance Essential to
Prevent Boiler Scaling
Water Still Flashes to Steam at 212
Welding Consideration for Pressure
Relief Valves
Welding Symbols: A Useful System
or Undecipherable Hieroglyphics?
What Should You Do Before Starting
Boilers After Summer Lay-Up?
Why? A Question for All Inspectors

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