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4/27/2019 Welding Defects - How They Impact the Integrity of Piping Systems


Impact of Welding Defects on Integrity of Equipment & Piping

By Qasem Fandem (/author/478) at Saudi Aramco. This article appears in the January/February 2019 issue of Inspectioneering

Welding is one of the most important techniques in the fabrication industries to join metals in
different geometries and sizes with cost-effective and reliable assembly. There are several types of
welding processes used in the petrochemical industry that have been around for many decades
and new methods developed in recent years. Basically, these processes vary in setup, essential
variables and non-essential variables, such as shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), gas tungsten
arc welding (GTAW), etc. Each welding process has characteristics that affect its quality
performance and the soundness of the weld. For example, a weld acceptable for one application,
such as for a tank, may not meet the acceptance criteria for pressure vessels per applicable
international codes. Welding imperfections such as cracks, porosity, lack of fusion, incomplete
penetration, and spatter could be due to various causes, such as poor workmanship, design
issues, incorrect material, improper weld procedure specifications, and/or an unfavorable
environment. The impact of each defect varies from acceptable to not acceptable, and must be
either repaired or cut-out.

Therefore, it is important to ensure the quality and reliability of welds in equipment prior to
placing it into service using nondestructive testing (NDT) methods and ensuring compliance with
the requirements of international standards. Moreover, piping systems should be hydrotested to
ensure the integrity and strength of the entire system. Some welding defects, however, can only
be discovered while the facility is in operation, such as crack initiation. These defects will require
engineering assessment, such as Fitness-for-Service, to determine the proper remedial action.

Welding Defects Commonly Discovered During Fabrication of

Mechanical Equipment
There are about twenty-six types of welding defects that can occur from welding processes and
for different weld joint designs per ISO 5817. These defects could be on the surface of the weld,
inside the weld, in the root pass, or even in the base metal close to the welding area like the heat
affected zone (HAZ), portions of the base metal which, following welding, have different 1/18
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mechanical properties due to microstructures that have been altered by the heat from welding
per API 577. Figure 1 (a) shows the different types of welding defects in butt and fillet weld joints.
Examples of surface defects are arc strikes Figure 1 (f), undercut and spatter, which is a molten
metal splashed over the surface due to high welding current as shown in Figure 1 (b).

Figure 1 (a). Different types of welding defects in butt weld (left) and fillet
weld (right). [2] 2/18
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Figure 1 (b). Spatters over weld and base metal.

Figure 1 (c). Porosities inside a fillet weld. 3/18
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Examples of defects inside the weld are porosity, slag inclusions, and lack of fusion. Porosity is
entrapped hydrogen or oxygen gas inside the weld due to insufficient shielding from the
electrode flux, while a slag inclusion is a de-oxidation product from welding flux. Lack of fusion is
poor adhesion between the weld and base metal due to incorrect welding settings or design.
Figure 1 (c) and (d) show these defects. Cracks may exist on the weld or between weld-base metal
during solidification or after cooling “delayed cracking” as shown in Figure 1 (e).

Figure 1 (d). Lack of fusion and slag in butt weld.[3] 4/18
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Figure 1 (e). Solidification crack on the weld face.

Figure 1 (f) Arc strike over base metal. (Source: Courtesy of Larry Jeffus)

Nondestructive Testing (NDT) Methods

To check the soundness of the weld for the equipment without damaging or destroying it,
manufacturers, fabricators and repair agencies will often use NDT methods, such as penetrant
testing, radiographic testing (RT), ultrasonic testing (UT), magnetic testing (MT), and, of course,
visual testing (VT). There are also advanced NDT techniques used for testing critical services,
such as time of flight diffraction (TOFD). Some of these methods will be discussed briefly later in
this article.

Penetrant testing (PT) is a simple, low cost method used to detect surface-breaking defects, such
as cracks, by using three different chemical applications, typically applied from aerosol cans (i.e.,
penetrant, developer and cleaner sprayers). The procedure for applying this method includes
cleaning the surface and applying the penetrant, which is typically a red color, and then after
several minutes cleaning the area with a cleaner, followed by applying the developer, which is 5/18
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white, to bleed out the penetrant via capillary action to make any cracks easily visible (Figure 2).
The disadvantages of this method include being applicable only for open-to-surface defects,
temperature limits of 125°F maximum, and only being able to measure the flaw size where it
breaks the surface. [4, 5] Some types of flaws are tighter and may require longer dwell times (i.e.,
longer periods of time with the developer applied to discern the presence of a surface breaking
crack, flaw, etc.).

Figure 2. Penetrant testing reveals a crack at the primary weld joining the
two parts.

Another NDT method often deployed to test welds is ultrasonic testing (UT). There are various
manual and automated methods of UT. When applied properly, these methods can be quite
effective for detecting the indication, measuring defect size, for both internal and surface defects
by sending a beam of sound waves within a specific frequency range into the metal or material. If
there is any defect the waves will be reflected or refracted back to the probe and amplitude
intensity displayed on the screen. One disadvantage to this NDT method is it requires certified
operators; and even with certified personnel, it can be difficult to discern the type of welding
defect. With typical manual methods there is no permanent record of the measured defects, to 6/18
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which operators must pay particular attention. [4, 5] Often times, orientation of the anticipated
flaw to the incident angle of the UT is critical in detecting the flaw. For example, in typical UT
shear wave flaw detection, flaws that are parallel to the incident angle of the scan will be missed,
whereas flaws positioned perpendicular to the UT incident angle are more suited to detection.

Radiographic testing is one of the most effective NDT methods used to detect internal defects by
sending X-rays from radioactive sources (Ir 192 or Cobalt 60) placed at one side of the weld to an
image film placed with an image quality indicator (IQI) on the other side. The main
disadvantages of this method are health hazards (can be quite disruptive in the field or shop
floor), high cost, and hyper-sensitivity to the defect orientation. For example, if there is a crack
parallel to the X-rays as shown in Figure 3, it may appear on the film as a dot and the interpreter
may recognize it as porosity instead of a crack. That is why RT is not recommended for crack
detection or to be used at several different shooting angles at the same joints, which will result in
a higher cost. [4, 5]

Figure 3. Sensitivity of RT to the crack orientation; the crack appears as
porosity on the film. [4]

Pressure Testing Newly Constructed Systems 7/18
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To ensure the safety, reliability, and strength of newly constructed systems, in many cases ASME
and API codes mandate testing piping systems with a hydrostatic test or pneumatic pressure test.
This is an additional line of defense, beyond nondestructive testing, one must complete before
beginning operation of a newly constructed system. A hydrotest is performed using clean water
with specific water pH based on the material and other requirements at a pressure of 1.5X design
pressures, but not to exceed 0.9 of the yield strength. If hydrotesting is impractical, a pneumatic
test can be performed using air at a pressure of 1.1X the design pressure. However, because of its
high stored energy from the compressed gas, this test should only be performed under certain
circumstances due to the risk of failure.

These tests are considered destructive testing methods, which can cause brittle fracture failures
in the presence of the main weld defects. For the welding joints that cannot be hydrotested due to
design configuration (Golden Joints), advanced NDT methods, such as TOFD, can at times be
used as an alternative. Caution should be used to make sure no detrimental chemicals are
introduced to the equipment via the hydrotesting medium. This can cause big problems later
(e.g., accidentally introducing water containing caustic or chloride containing chemicals into the
systems made of materials that cannot tolerate these chemicals).

Figure 4. Two failures occurred during hydrotest due to the existence of
welding defects.

Welding Defects and their Effect on Fracture 8/18
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Some welding defects can be considered as potential fracture initiation sites, such as cracks. In
terms of fracture mechanics, lack of fusion and lack of penetration are also considered long
cracks that contribute to the crack driving force against the resistance of the material to crack
propagation as shown in Figure 5 (a). Other defects that might cause crack initiation are slag
inclusions and weld spatter. For the spatters, due to differences in temperature the spatter and
metal surface, localized strains can be introduced, which causes residual tensile stresses near the
droplets and impurities can act as crack initiators, as shown in Figure 5 (b). [2]

Figure 5 (a). Lack of fusion is considered a long crack. [6] 9/18
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Figure 5 (b). Spatter causes crack initiation. [2]

There are defects, such as porosity, that may or may not lead to or contribute to crack initiation
depending on the location of the defect in the weld. For instance, surface porosity may have an
effect on fracture depending on its volumetric size. The strength of the weld can also be

Therefore, welding defects can be classified into three categories, as follows [7]:

Crack and crack-like imperfections, such as lack of fusion, which can cause a fracture and must
be avoided.

Imperfections acting as crack initiation sites due to their geometry or sharp edges, which can
cause stress concentration and increase residual stress during solidification. These include weld
spatter, angular misalignment, slag inclusions, and undercut at the weld toe. Consequently, these
types of defects may initiate fatigue cracking during service. 10/18
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Imperfections, such as porosity, which do not have any effect on the fracture and fatigue life due
to their round shape geometry and hence, no stress concentration. Harrison proved that by using
fatigue data of porosity the severity of the porosity could be evaluated by only one factor, which is
the volume of the defect, and the test results revealed a similar fatigue strength. [8]

Acceptance Criteria of Welding Imperfections in Different

Welding defects discovered using NDT methods should be evaluated to identify whether they fall
within their Code required acceptable limits or not. Each NDT method has different criteria in
the construction and in-service codes for pressure vessels, storage tanks, and piping (i.e., ASME
VIII for pressure vessels, ASME B31.3 for piping, API 650 for storage tanks. Some of the
acceptance criteria for these codes are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Examples of welding acceptance criteria for RT method. [9, 10, 11]

Type of Defect Piping (ASME B31.3) Pressure Tanks (API

Vessel (ASME 650)
Sec. VIII)

Spatter Not acceptable Not acceptable Not acceptable

Crack Not acceptable Not acceptable Not acceptable

Porosity 1/4t or 5/32 in. (4 mm), 1/4t or 5/32 in. 1/4t or 5/32 in. (4
whichever is smaller (4 mm), mm), whichever
whichever is is smaller

Incomplete Not acceptable Not acceptable Vertical not

penetration and permitted /
lack of fusion Horizontal max

Slag inclusion L ≤ t /3, W ≤ 2.5 mm (³⁄₃₂ in.) 2/3 T, T is max T in length of

elongated and ≤ t /3 cumulative L ≤ t in thickness of plate 6T
any 12t weld length 11/18
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Hollow bead Not listed Not listed Not listed

Assessment of Welding Imperfections in Terms of Fracture

Sometimes the design and material properties fall outside the scope of the construction codes or
a flaw that is beyond the code’s acceptance limit is found in mechanical equipment already placed
into service. In this case, fracture mechanics is required for evaluation (i.e., Engineering Critical
Assessments (ECAs), such as BS7910, R6, Fitness-For-Service (FFS), such as API 579-1/ASME
FFS-1). The most common method used in refining and petrochemical plants is API 579. It was
first published in 2000 to evaluate flaws or damage discovered in in-service equipment to decide
if the equipment will continue to operate safely without failure and for how long. This code is
considered a supplement to ASME B31.3, API 650, ASME VIII, and API 570. Section 9 from API
579 (FFS) is used for assessing crack-like imperfections in welds, which will be discussed in

This method depends on a Failure Assessment Diagram (FAD) for evaluating flaws by calculating
the toughness ratio Kr and load ratio Lr, and then the point coordinate plot to determine the
acceptability for continued service if it is on or below the curve as shown in Figure 6. [12, 13] 12/18
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Figure 6. Failure Assessment Diagram (FAD) for evaluating flaws. [13]

There are three levels of an FFS assessment in Section 9 based on the amount of information
required. Level-1 is a basic level that requires the minimum amount of inspection and can be
conducted by an engineer or inspector. The most advanced level, Level-3, requires the most 13/18
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detailed evaluations, inspection, and analysis, and is based on numerical techniques such as the
finite element method. The assessment steps will be discussed later through a case study from
API 579. [13]

Case Study of Crack Presence in Plant Piping Weld

A crack was discovered during routine inspection in the external circumferential weld of a 20”
pipe, which was constructed per ASME B31.3. [13]

A Level-1 FFS assessment was conducted and the pipe was found to not be satisfactory for
continued service; therefore, a Level-2 assessment was used for the evaluation.

Step 1. Collect pipe data, operating conditions, and inspection data.

Pipe Data:

Material = SA-106 Grade B Year 2003

Design Conditions = 3.0 MPa at 250°C
Fluid Density = 0.8
Pipe Outside Diameter = 508 mm (NPS 20)
Pipe Thickness = 9.53 mm (Schedule 20)
Uniform Metal Loss = 0.0 mm
FCA = 0.0 mm
Weld Joint Efficiency = 1.0

Operating Conditions:

P =2 MPa
T=20 C.

Inspection Data:

Using UT sizing data the crack was measured at a depth of 3 mm located at the external
circumferential surface of the weld. 14/18
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Step 2. Perform the Various Stress and Related Analyses to produce the
Step 3. Plot the assessment point in FAD.

Figure 8. The assessment point on the FAD.[13] (Lr = reference
stress/yield strength and Kr = stress intensity/toughness)

As you can see in Figure 8, the assessment point, representing the length and depth of the crack,
was below the curve and within the context of the FFS calculations; therefore, the pipe could
continue in service safely until the next inspection or repair. If the assessment point was on or
above the curve, a Level-3 FFS assessment would need to be considered, or repair or
replacement, or possibly re-rating the equipment.

This article illustrates methods of ensuring the integrity of pressure vessels and piping systems
by using NDT and destructive testing (pressure testing). It explains in detail the impact of
welding defects on the integrity of piping systems and how these defects can lead to crack 15/18
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initiation and fracture failures. Welding defects were classified in terms of fracture mechanics
into three categories; crack and crack-like imperfections that can cause cracks to occur and
imperfections that do not have any effect on fracture and fatigue life. The article also compares
the acceptance criteria of welding imperfections per API and ASME codes for piping, pressure
vessels, and tanks. In addition, Engineering Critical Assessment (ECA) methods were discussed
for welding defects beyond acceptance code limits in equipment/piping already placed into
service and supported by case studies using detail calculations. In cases where welding defects
are discovered in equipment, API 579 addresses the FFS assessment methodology used to
evaluate the defects and help with decision making and achieving continuity of equipment in

The proper practices required to prevent welding defects in equipment include adhering to the
essential welding variables in the approved welding procedure specification per ASME XI, as well
as following the best practices for preventing reoccurrences mentioned in API 577. Below are
some examples from the code.

Type of Welding Typical Practical Solution

Discontinuity Processes NDE

Lack of Fusion All UT Proper heat input; proper welding

(LOF) technique

Incomplete All RT, UT, Proper heat input; proper joint design
Penetration VT

Slag Inclusion SMAW, RT, UT Proper welding technique; cleaning; avoid

FCAW, SAW excessive weaving

Porosity All RT, UT Low hydrogen; low sulfur environment;

proper shielding

1. Hayes B, Classic brittle failures in large welded structures, Engineering Failure Analysis, vol.
3, no. 2, 1996. 16/18
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2. "Review on Fracture and Crack Propagation in Weldments – A Fracture Mechanics

Perspective." Engineering Fracture Mechanics 132 (2014) 200–276. Elsevier. Web.
3. 50th Annual Conference of the British
Institute of Non-Destructive Testing, 13-15 Sept. 2011. Telford, UK. Web.
4. API Standard. Welding Inspection and Metallurgy API 577, American Petroleum Institute.
Washington, 2004.
5. ASME Standard. Nondestructive Examination ASME V. The American Society of
Mechanical Engineering. New York, 2007.
6. "Analysis of A Fractured Crane Frame Weldment."
failure.htm. Metallurgical Technologies, Inc. Web.
7. ISO 5817. Arc welded joints in steel- Guidance on quality levels for imperfections. Geneva:
International Organization for Standardization, 2003.
8. Harrison J. D., The basis for a proposed acceptance standard for weld defects, Metal
Construction and British Welding J., Part 1: Porosity, 1972.
9. ASME Standard. Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code Section VIII, Rules for Construction of
Pressure Vessels. The American Society of Mechanical Engineering. New York, 2008.
10. ASME Standard. Process Piping Code Section B31.3, Chapter VI Inspection, Examination,
and Testing. The American Society of Mechanical Engineering. New York, 2008.
11. API Standard. Welded Steel Tanks for Oil Storage API 650, American Petroleum Institute.
Washington, 2008.
12. Kenneth, A. Macdonald. Fracture and Fatigue of Welded Joints and Structures. 1St ed.
Woodhead, 2011. Print
13. API Standard. Fitness For Service API 579, American Petroleum Institute. 2nd ed.
Washington, 2007.
14. Larry Jeffus/Lawrence Bower, Welding Skills, Processes and Practices for Entry-Level
Welders, Book 3, no 2, 1996.

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About the Author

Qasem Fandem (/author/478) at Saudi Aramco 17/18
4/27/2019 Welding Defects - How They Impact the Integrity of Piping Systems

Qasem Fandem is a mechanical engineer with a MSc degree in Material Science & Engineering from University of South
Florida (USF). He has worked in the Project Inspection department for Saudi Aramco since 2007. Mr. Fandem holds nine
professional and technical certifications including API-570, API-510, API-653, API-936, API-577, CSWIP 3.1, Nace
Coating, ISO 9001, and six sigma green... Read more » (/author/478) 18/18