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Duplex Stainless Steels - Fabrication & Welding

General Guidelines, Practical Aspects for production Welding, A Fabricators View

General Guidelines: Differences Between Duplex and Austenitic Stainless Steels, Selection of Starting Material, Cleaning Before Welding, Joint Design, Preheating, Heat Input and Interpass Temperature, Postweld Heat Treatment, Phase Balance in the Weld, Dissimilar Metal Welds, Applicable Welding Methods, Welding Procedure Qualification. By Ralph Davison, Technical Marketing Resources, USA Originally published by TAPPI journal 2000, volume 83, no.9.

It is assumed that the reader already has experience in welding of austenitic stainless steels such as Type 316L.This section addresses some to commonly discussed welding characteristics and procedures of the duplex stainless steels in terms of how they differ from austenitic stainless steels. Addressing each of these features is essential for the design of technically and economically effective welding procedures to be qualified.

Differences between Duplex and Austenitic Stainless Steels

Duplex stainless steels are typically twice as strong as common austenitic stainless steels. The thermal expansion of the duplex grades is intermediate to that of carbon steel and the austenitic stainless steels. The thermal conductivity of the duplex stainless steels is also intermediate to that of carbon steels and the austenitic stainless steels. When there are problems with welding of austenitic stainless steels, those problems are most frequently associated with hot cracking of the weld metal itself. This hot cracking tendency is aggravated by fully or predominantly austenitic solidification, and by the combination of high thermal expansion and low thermal conductivity. For the more common austenitic stainless steels, hot cracking is minimised by adjusting the composition of the filler metal to provide a significant ferrite content. For the more highly alloyed austenitic stainless steels where the use of a nickel-base filler metal is necessary, austenitic solidification is unavoidable. In these cases these problems must be managed by minimising joint constraint and by low heat input, often requiring many passes to build up the weld. Duplex stainless steels have good hot cracking resistance. Hot cracking of the duplex weld metal is seldom a concern. The problems most typical of duplex stainless steels are associated with the heat-affected zone (HAZ), not with the weld metal. The HAZ problems are not hot cracking but rather a loss of corrosion resistance and toughness, or of post-weld cracking. To avoid these problems, the welding procedure should focus on minimising total time at temperature in the "red hot" range for the whole procedure rather than managing the heat input for any one pass. Experience has shown that this approach can lead to procedures that are both technically and economically optimal.

The data shown in the appendix of ASTM A 923 suggest how rapidly intermetallic phases can precipitate to the extent that corrosion resistance and toughness are significantly affected. With this introduction in mind, it is possible to give some general guidelines for welding of duplex stainless steels and then to apply this background and those guidelines to specific welding methods. The welding characteristics of duplex stainless steels are much more sensitive to minor within-grade variations in chemistry or processing than are austenitic stainless steels. For example, the importance of having sufficient nitrogen in the duplex stainless steel base metal has been repeatedly emphasised. Air cooling of a plate, even when rapid, through the 705 to 980C (1300 to 1800F) range will use up some of the "time on the clock" for the welder to complete the weld before detrimental reactions occur. Similarly, if a plate is allowed to air cool into this range during transfer to water quenching, that time is no longer available to the welder. The metallurgical condition of the material used in actual fabrication should be the same quality with regard to composition and production practice, as the material used to qualify the welding procedure.

Cleaning Before Welding

The need to clean prior to welding applies to all stainless steels. But the duplex stainless steels are more sensitive to contamination, and especially to moisture, than the austenitic stainless steels. The chemistries of the base metal and the filler metal have been developed assuming no additional sources of contamination. Dirt, grease, oil, paint, and sources of moisture of any sort will interfere with welding operations and adversely affect the corrosion resistance and mechanical properties of the weldment. No amount of procedure qualification is effective if the material is not thoroughly clean before welding.

Joint Design
Duplex stainless steels require good joint preparation. For duplex stainless steels, a weld joint design must facilitate full penetration and avoid autogenous regions in the weld solidification. It is best to machine rather than grind the weld edge preparation to provide uniformity of the land thickness or gap. When grinding must be done, special attention should be given to uniformity of the weld preparation and the fit-up. Any grinding burr should be removed to maintain complete fusion and penetration. For an austenitic stainless steel, a skilled welder can overcome some deficiencies in joint preparation by manipulation of the torch. For a duplex stainless steel, these techniques can cause a longer than expected exposure in the harmful temperature range, leading to results outside of those of the qualified procedure. Examples of joint designs used with duplex stainless steels are shown in Figure 1.4 Other designs are possible provided that they assure full penetration welds and minimise the risk of burn-through. Examples of joint designs applied to 2205 duplex stainless steel:

Fig. 1a)

2 mm (0.08 in) < t < 4 mm (0.16 in) A = 1-2 mm (0.04-0.08 in) A. Square Butt Joint - Suitable for single-sided SMAW or double-sided SMAW or GMAW. Fig. 1b)

t < 2.5 mm (0.1 in) A = 1-2 mm (0.04-0.08 in) B. Square Butt Joint - Suitable for GTAW from one side. Backing gas required. Fig. 1c)

4 mm (0.16 in) < t < 12 mm (0.5 in) A = 2 mm (0.08 in) B = 2 mm (0.08 in) C. Suitable for heavier sections with SMAW or GMAW. Increase A to 3 mm (0.12 in) for vertical-up SMAW. Fig. 1d)

12 mm (0.5 in) < t < 60 mm (2.5 in) A = 3 mm (0.06 in) B = 2 mm (0.08 in) Radius = 6 mm (0.25 in) D. Suitable for very thick base metal with SMAW or GMAW. Fig. 1e)

9 mm (0.36 in) < t < 12 mm (0.5 in) B = 5 mm (0.2 in) E. Suitable for SAW. Grinding after first pass facilitates full penetration. Fig. 1f)

4 mm (0.16 in) < t < 12 mm (0.5 in) A = 2.5 mm (0.1 in) B = 5 mm (0.2 in) F. Full penetration Fillet. Suitable for SMAW. Tack weld with SMAW or GMAW.

Fig. 1g)

4 mm (0.16 in) < t < 12 mm (0.5 in) A = 2.5 mm (0.1 in) B = 2.5 mm (0.1 in) G. Single V Joint. Pipe welding. Suitable with SMAW Fig. 1h)

3 mm (0.12 in) < t < 12 mm (0.5 in) A = 1-2 mm (0.04-0.08 in) B = 2 mm (0.08 in) H. Single U Joint. Pipe Welding. Suitable with GTAW.

As a general rule, preheating of duplex stainless steel is not recommended because it slows the cooling of the heat-affected zone. Preheating should not be a part of a procedure unless there is a specific justification. Preheating may be beneficial when used to eliminate moisture from the steel as may occur in cold ambient conditions or from overnight condensation. When preheating to remove moisture, the steel should be heated to about 95C (200F) uniformly and only after the weld preparation has been cleaned. Preheating may also be beneficial in those exceptional cases where there is a risk for forming a highly ferritic HAZ because of very rapid quenching. Examples include welding a thin sheet to a plate, as with a liner to a vessel or a tube to a tubesheet, or any very low heat input weld where there is exceedingly rapid cooling.

Heat Input and Interpass Temperature

Compared to austenitic stainless steels, duplex stainless steels can tolerate relatively high heat inputs. The duplex solidification structure of the weld metal is resistant to hot cracking, much more so than that of highly austenitic weld metals. Duplex stainless steels, with higher thermal conductivity and lower coefficient of thermal expansion, do not create the same high intensity of local thermal stresses at the welds of austenitic stainless steels. While it is prudent to avoid severe restraint, hot cracking is seldom a common problem. To avoid problems in the HAZ, the weld procedure should allow rapid (but not extreme) cooling of this region. The temperature of the work piece is important because the plate itself provides the most effective cooling of the HAZ. Typically, the maximum interpass temperature is limited to 150C (300F). That limitation should be imposed when qualifying a weld procedure, and production welding should be monitored to assure that the interpass temperature is no higher than that used in the qualification. Electronic temperature probes and thermocouples are the preferred instruments for monitoring the interpass temperature. When a large amount of welding is to be performed, planning the welding to provide enough time for cooling between passes is good, economical practice. The size of the test piece used in qualifying a weld procedure may affect the cooling rate and the interpass temperature. There is a risk that the test piece for qualification of a multipass weld procedure may come to a lower interpass temperature than can be reasonably or economically achieved during actual fabrication. Therefore, the qualification might not detect the loss of properties that can occur the higher interpass temperature slows the cooling and increases the time at temperature for the HAZ in actual practice. Back to top of the page

Postweld Heat Treatment

Postweld stress relief is not necessary or useful for duplex stainless steels. Unlike the L-grade austenitic stainless steels, the duplex stainless steels are sensitive to even relatively short exposures to temperatures in the 300 to 1000 C (600 to 1800 F) range. Thermal stress relief in the 300 to 700 C (600-1300 F) range may cause precipitation of alpha prime phase ("475C (885F) embrittlement"), causing a loss of toughness and corrosion resistance. Stress relief in the range of 700 to 1000 C (1300 to 1800 F) leads to rapid precipitation of intermetallic phases with moderate to severe loss of toughness and corrosion resistance. Any heat treatment of a duplex stainless steel for whatever reason, should be a full solution anneal, meeting the minimum temperatures specified for the mill product in the ASTM specifications, followed by water quenching. For 2205 that minimum temperature is 1040 C (1900F) in most cases. Some types of equipment manufactured from duplex stainless steel require a full anneal. For example, the forming of large heads or the fabrication of some valve and pipe assemblies may require annealing. When there is a full solution anneal and quench subsequent to welding, that heat treatment is a part of the welding procedure. Annealing can restore the equilibrium phase balance and eliminate the problems associated with excessive ferrite and intermetallic phases. If the common duplex filler metals are used, typically overalloyed with nickel, phase balance in the fully annealed weld may shift toward austenite. Water quenching is essential after the final anneal, but air cooling from intermediate thermal exposures, such as in hot forming, have been found to be practical and economical.

Phase Balance in the Weld

Modern duplex stainless steel mill products are balanced to have about 40-50% ferrite with the balance being austenite. It is generally agreed that the characteristic benefits of duplex stainless steels (strength, toughness, corrosion resistance, resistance to stress corrosion cracking) are achieved when there is at least 25% ferrite with the balance austenite. The ferrite in the weld metal is typically in the range of 25 to 60%. In some welding methods, particularly those relying upon flux shielding, the phase balance of the filler has been adjusted toward more austenite to provide improved toughness, offsetting the loss of toughness associated with oxygen pickup from the flux. There have been no reports of problems associated with the ferrite contents at the lower end of this range, typically seen in SMAW (shielded metal arc, or stick) or SAW (submerged arc) welds. Rapidly quenched autogenous welds, e.g., arc strikes, repair of arc strikes, small GTA repair welds, etc., tend to have high ferrite, greater than 60%. Such welds can have low toughness and reduced corrosion resistance. Metallographic evaluation of the phase balance in the HAZ is an appropriate test for welding procedure qualification. However, metallographic evaluation is not technically or economically effective for evaluation of annealed mill products or production welds. Magnetic evaluation of the phase balance is widely used but has serious accuracy limitations when used on welds or HAZ.

Dissimilar Metal Welds

Duplex stainless steels can be welded to other duplex stainless steels, to austenitic stainless steels, and to carbon and low alloy steels. Duplex stainless steel filler metals with increased nickel content relative to the base metal are most frequently used to weld duplex stainless steels to other duplex grades. When welding duplex stainless steels to austenitic grades, the austenitic filler metals with low carbon and a molybdenum content intermediate between the two steels are typically used. AWS E309LMo/ER309LMo is frequently used for these joints. The same filler metal or AWS E309L/ER309L is commonly used to join duplex stainless steels to carbon and low alloy steels. Because austenitic stainless steels have lower strength than duplex grades, welded joints made with austenitic filler metals may not be as strong as the duplex base metal. When welding the highly alloyed austenitic stainless steels, nickel-base fillers are used. The nickel-base filler metals are not normally used for duplex stainless steels, but if they are, they should be free of niobium (columbium). Although not thoroughly documented, there have been suggestions that the ENiCrMo-3 filler (625) has been less than satisfactory, possibly because of interaction of the niobium from the filler with the nitrogen from the duplex base metal. Table I summarises filler metals frequently used to weld duplex stainless steels to dissimilar metals. These examples show the AWS bare wire designation (ER), but depending on the process, joint geometry and other considerations, electrodes (AWS designation E), and fluxcored wire may be considered. Table I: Welding Consumables Used for Dissimilar Metal Welding.

Applicable Welding Methods

Second-generation (nitrogen-alloyed) duplex stainless steels saw rapid development in the early 1980s. With only limited understanding of the formation of intermetallic phases, early views of welding duplex grades focused on limiting heat input, possibly because this approach is what is typically applied to special austenitic grades. With such severe limitations on heat input, many of the more economical welding methods with high deposition rates, such as submerged arc welding, were thought to be inappropriate for the duplex stainless steels. However, the final properties of the duplex stainless steels are of such interest that much effort was directed to learning how to use the more economical processes. Now virtually all welding processes, except for oxyacetylene with its associated carbon contamination of the weld, are applied to duplex stainless steels. Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW), Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), Flux Core Arc Welding (FCAW), Submerged Arc Welding (SAW), and Plasma Arc Welding (PAW) have all seen practical application. Electric Resistance Welding and Electron Beam Welding, although much less common, have also been qualified and used in particular fabrications. There are important differences among the welding procedures. For example, the decision to use a fluxshielded weld and selection of flux for that weld effect toughness.

Welding Procedure Qualification

"Qualification" of welding procedures for duplex stainless steels must be considered in a broad sense, i.e., demonstration that the welding procedure that will be used in fabrication will have acceptable engineering properties, especially toughness and corrosion resistance. For other types of stainless steels, qualification testing for weld procedures is fairly simple, with only a limited amount of testing to qualify a material, filler metal, and weld method. With hardness tests and bend tests, looking for martensite and hot cracking, respectively, these qualification tests reflect long experience for what can go wrong when welding ferritic, martensitic or austenitic steels. Duplex stainless steels are unlikely to have difficulty meeting these requirements, because these standard tests are unlikely to find intermetallic phases or excessive ferrite, the most likely problems for duplex stainless steels. A bend test may still be useful and economical, but it is not conservative in the sense of always detecting problems if present. Because of the limitation on total time at temperature for the HAZ, the properties of duplex grades will be sensitive to section thickness and details of actual welding practice. So the qualification of procedures for duplex stainless steels is specific to particular geometries of welding, much more so than for austenitic stainless steels. It would be desirable to qualify a weld procedure for every thickness, geometry, and method of welding because minor differences in setup may be significant in the results achieved in production. However, the complex nature of actual constructions makes such testing costly.

Savings are achieved by qualifying the procedures (defined by section, filler, and method) determined to be the most demanding on the duplex stainless steel. It is also prudent to test welds in the most critical joints in a construction, even when those joints might be exempt from testing of production welds under a strict reading of the ASME requirements. For example, ASME UHA 51 does not require testing for thickness of 3/8-inch or less, or for minimum design metal temperature above -29 C (-20 F).5 The temperature for toughness tests will depend on whether the purpose of the test is to check the metallurgical condition of a mill product or to demonstrate the suitability for use of a construction.