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Carbon steels in service in the o shore and oil re nery industries are susceptible to a cracking mechanism known as sul de

stress cracking (SSC) or hydrogen stress cracking (HSC) when in sour service, ie when hydrogen sul de (H2S) is present in the

process uid. Although the cracking is described as stress cracking, the main problem is the hardness of the parent metal, weld

metal and heat-a ected zone (HAZ).

NACE (formerly the National Association of Corrosion Engineers) has published two speci cations that provide guidance on

reducing the risk of in-service cracking, these also being ISO standards. The major di erence between these two primary

speci cations is the environmental and service condition.

The rst standard, NACE MR0175/ISO 15156, ‘Petroleum, petrochemical and natural gas industries – Materials for use in H2S-

containing environments in oil and gas production’, is intended for o shore applications. The second standard, NACE

MR0103/ISO 17945, ‘Petroleum, petrochemical and natural gas industries – Metallic materials resistant to sul de stress

cracking in corrosive petroleum re ning environments’, is intended for onshore process plant.

Both MR0175 and MR0103 have virtually identical requirements for specifying parent metal properties of carbon steels for sour

service; the major concern of the standards is the requirement of a maximum hardness. All steels that have been cold-worked

must be stress-relief heat-treated to ensure the hardness is less than 22HRC (Rockwell hardness, equivalent to 248Hv or

237HB). Carbon steels other than P1 can be used provided that their hardness is also less than 22HRC (237HBW).

Consideration must also be given to the resultant hardness of welds.

Standard practice guidance

MR0103 refers to a standard practice document for controlling welding activities, NACE SP0472, ‘Methods and controls to

prevent in-service environmental cracking of carbon steel weldments in corrosive petroleum re ning environments’. SP0472

and this article are concerned with the methods used to control the weldment hardness to prevent SSC and HSC. SP0472 also

gives some consideration to prevention of alkaline stress corrosion cracking (ASCC) via post-weld heat treatment (PWHT) but

this will not be covered in this article.

Whilst both MR0175 and MR0103 cover a wide range of materials (carbon steels, stainless and duplex steels, nickel alloys and

aluminium alloys), SP0472 is only concerned with carbon steels, classi ed as P1, Group 1 or 2 in ASME IX. These are hot nished

carbon steels with a speci ed ultimate tensile strength less than 485MPa (70,000p.s.i.). Note that the BS EN 10028 steels are

now assigned P numbers in ASME IX.

It should be remembered that parent metals may be weld-repaired as part of the plate production process. These base metal

repairs must also comply with the NACE requirements with respect to weld metal and HAZ hardness. In addition, although

SP0472 is concerned with the results of welding, any thermal cutting process will produce a heat-a ected zone, which if not

removed or welded over may result in HSC. In these cases, it is generally considered necessary to remove approximately 3mm

of material to ensure that there are no areas of unacceptably high hardness.

Welding processes covered by SP0472 are the more common processes; manual metal arc (MMA), metal active gas (MAG), ux-

cored arc welding (FCAW), tungsten inert gas (TIG) and submerged arc welding.

SP0472 provides a ‘Road Map’ of guidelines, with the aim of preventing the two cracking mechanisms by controlling weldment

hardness. There are three major components to this. The rst is prevention of the HSC or SSC cracking mechanism by control
of the weld deposit. The second is prevention of the HSC or SSC cracking mechanism by control of the HAZ. The third is

prevention of the ASCC cracking mechanism by PWHT of the entire weldment.

Control of weld deposit

Two control methods are considered for the weld deposit for prevention of cracking. Either production weld deposit hardness

must be limited to 200HBW, with hardness testing of production welds to demonstrate this, or particular welding process/ ller

metal combinations which are speci ed as exempt from hardness testing must be used.

The exempt combinations are MMA welding with E60xx or E70xx electrodes, TIG welding with ER70S-2, -3, -4 and -6 ller and

MAG welding with ER70S-2, -3, -4 and -6 ller. MAG welding must be performed in either the globular, spray or pulsed transfer

modes. ER70S-6 ller is only exempt if it complies with compositional restrictions (C<0.1 wt%, Mn<1.6 wt%, Si<1.0 wt%) which

must be con rmed by compositional analysis of the ller, performed either by the supplier or the user. This implies that

additional ller metal certi cation and batch control on the shop oor is necessary to demonstrate compliance.

One important aspect of the use of exempt combinations is that it may be di cult to achieve this maximum hardness gure

when there is a large amount of dilution from the parent metal, for example when depositing root passes or from single-pass

llet welds where very close control of the welding parameters is required. In these cases, consideration may be given to

performing some testing depending on design requirements.

Control of heat-a ected zone

SP0472 requires that the HAZs of all pressure boundary welds and internal attachment welds as well as repair welds and some

external attachment welds in pressure containing equipment comply with a maximum hardness of 248Hv10.

The SP0472 road map provides two overarching approaches to achieving this HAZ hardness. Both approaches require control

of the chemistry of the base metal and then an additional control method. The rst additional control is to apply PWHT to the

weldment. The second possible additional control is to apply one of the ‘thermal methods’ suggested by SP0472, namely

cooling time control or temper bead welding, and then perform a HAZ hardness survey during the procedure quali cation to

verify the thermal method was successful.

Base metal chemistry control

The base metal chemistry control is concerned with the carbon equivalent (CE) of the metal, calculated by the formula:

To minimise the risk of producing unacceptably hard HAZs it is recommended to use steels with a carbon equivalent (CE) less

than 0.43 (0.45 for components greater than an inch thick) where the C content of the steel is greater than 0.18wt%. Where the

carbon content is less than 0.18wt%, the maximum CE shall be speci ed by the user. Limits are also placed on the vanadium

and niobium content and consideration must be given to micro-alloying as discussed in Appendix A.

This is less of a problem with many of the BS EN steels as these are speci ed to have low carbon contents or a maximum CE

less than 0.42. The ASME steels are permitted far higher carbon contents with no requirement to specify all of the elements
required by the CE formula so care needs to be taken when ordering pressure containing materials against the ASME codes.

Additional control 1 – Post weld heat treatment

PWHT tempering will reduce both the hardness of a weld and the residual stresses and both of these factors will reduce the

risk of cracking. Depending on the construction code there may, in any case, be a requirement to PWHT – ASME VIII, Un red

pressure vessels, requires PWHT over some 32mm thick, ASME B31.3, process piping, when thickness exceeds 19mm. As high a

PWHT temperature as possible should be used to achieve the maximum amount of tempering. BS EN 13445 Part 4 – the

pressure vessel code – permits PWHT temperatures as low as 550°C and there is also an option in BS PD 5500 to use a similar

low temperature. Such low temperatures may not give the required reduction in hardness and consideration should be given

to prior experience.

PWHT must be performed correctly, and so a PWHT procedure must give consideration to process, heating and cooling rates,

hold times, hot zones, measurement positions and tolerances of all of these. Some guidance on the application of PWHT is

given in Appendix D of SP0472.

Additional control 2 – Thermal methods

As mentioned above, the rst possible thermal method for controlling HAZ hardness is to control the cooling time of the

weldment between 800°C and 500°C (1470°F and 930°F). This prevents the generation of hard microstructures.

The minimum cooling time ‘t8/5’ or cooling rate for production welding must be speci ed. The calculation of this cooling rate is

described in Appendix C of SP0472 and takes into account the joint con guration, preheat and the process heat input. The
method is quali ed by carrying out a pre-production weld test on representative parent material using the fastest cooling rate

at which the HAZ hardness is acceptable; several tests may therefore be required. A successful test potentially quali es all

other production welds made with cooling rates slower than that of the test piece, calculated from the formulae in Appendix C.

This may require the welders to be speci cally trained to deposit weld metal within very tight limits on travel speed, weaving

etc. and will require close supervision during production welding possibly with temperature monitoring.

The second possible thermal method is temper bead welding, which is a method of reducing the hardness of HAZs by using the

heat input from subsequent weld runs to re ne and temper the HAZ of underlying weld passes. Clause QW-290 of ASME IX

speci es the requirements for temper bead welding, essential variables and weld procedure quali cation.

The technique is very useful when there is a need to carry out a local weld repair but requires very precise placing of weld runs

and substantial skill on the part of the welder to ensure a correct and consistent bead overlap and travel speed and that the

temper bead layer does not overlap onto the base metal HAZ. A lengthy training period for the welder is likely to be required

before the welder can successfully pass the quali cation test and apply the technique in production.

Preproduction hardness survey

Welding procedure quali cation is the most common method of verifying that the methods put in place to control the

hardness generate welds complying with the hardness requirements. It is carried out in accordance with the ASME IX

requirements using actual production material or a steel of the same grade but with the maximum carbon equivalent of

material to be used. The welding variables are recorded during welding of the test piece and hardness testing is mandatory,

the hardness of the test weld HAZ to be less than 248Hv10, that of the weld metal less than an average of 200HBW. Hardness

testing surveys are as described in NACE MR0103. In addition to the ASME IX requirements, SP0472 requires butt welds and
llet welds to be quali ed separately; although not mandatory, it would also be advisable to qualify separately single and multi-

pass llet welds. The hardness in a single pass llet weld can easily exceed 300Hv, particularly when welding on thick steel, say

over 25mm thick.

Test piece thickness (and hence the cooling rate) may be an issue since ASME IX allows production components to be twice the

thickness of the quali cation test piece. Where PWHT is not carried out on the thicker components, thought needs to be given

to whether the procedure quali cation test is carried out using the thinnest test piece allowed by the code or using a test piece

matching the maximum production thickness.

The welding procedure speci cations (WPS) to be used in production must contain parameters matching those of the

quali cation test piece. Production welds must not di er more than -10% and +25% of the test piece and heat input, preheat

and interpass temperatures must be the same as or greater than those of the test piece. Production welding is restricted to the

same speci cation and grade of steel with matching or lower carbon equivalents.

Quality control must be based on best practice with well-trained and quali ed welders supervised by an adequate number of

competent welding foremen and inspectors. Post-weld inspection and NDE will be as required by the construction code.

SP0472 does not make hardness testing of production welds a mandatory requirement but since an acceptably low hardness is

crucial to satisfactory in-service performance and is sensitive to so many variables, it is advisable to perform some checking of

weld and HAZ hardness on completion. This requires the use of portable hardness testing equipment and Job Knowledge

articles numbers 74 and 75 discuss some of the methods available.

(This revision by Rob Shaw is based on an earlier article by Gene Mathers, updated in line with the current version of the

relevant standards.)
For more information please email:

Granta Park, Great Abington, Cambridge, CB21 6AL, UK

+44(0)1223 899000

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