Heat Treatment-PWHT, Stress Relieving, Normalizing, Tempering, Aging, Quenching

Subodh Technologists performs heat treatment using a Automatic Furnace with error free computerized graph plotting.

PWHT

Post weld heat treatment (PWHT) is a controlled process in which a material that has been welded is reheated to a temperature below its lower critical transformation temperature, and then it is held at that temperature for a specified amount of time. It is often referred to as being any heat treatment performed after welding; however, within the oil, gas, petrochemical and nuclear industries, it has a specific meaning.

Industry codes, such as the ASME Pressure Vessel and Piping Codes, often require mandatory performance of PWHT on certain materials to ensure a safe design with optimal mechanical and metallurgical properties.

The need for PWHT is mostly due to the residual stresses and micro-structural changes that occur after welding has been completed. During the welding process, a high temperature gradient is experienced between the weld metal and the parent material. As the weld cools, residual stress is formed. For thicker materials, these stresses can reach an unacceptable level and exceed design stresses. Therefore, the part is heated to a specified temperature for a given amount of time to reduce these stresses to an acceptable level. In addition to residual stresses, microstructural changes occur due to the high temperatures induced by the welding process. These changes can increase hardness of the material and reduce toughness and ductility. The use of PWHT can help reduce any increased hardness levels and improve toughness and ductility to levels acceptable for design.

The requirements specified within various pressure vessels and piping codes are mostly due to the chemical makeup and thickness of the material. Codes such as ASME Section VIII and ASME B31.3 will require that a specified material be post weld heat treated if it is over a given thickness. Codes also require PWHT based solely on the micro-structural make-up of the material. A final consideration in deciding the need for PWHT is based on the components' intended service, such as one with a susceptibility to stress corrosion cracking. In such cases, PWHT is mandatory regardless of thickness.

Normalizing

Normalizing is a technique used to provide uniformity in grain size and composition (equiaxing) throughout an alloy. The term is often used for ferrous alloys that have been austenized and then cooled in open air. Normalizing not only produces pearlite, but also martensite and sometimes bainite, which gives harder and stronger steel, but with less ductility for the same composition than full annealing.

In normalising process the process of heating the steel to about 40 degree Celsius above its upper critical temperature limit held at this temperature for sometime and then cooled in air.

Stress relieving

Stress relieving is a technique to remove or reduce the internal stresses created in a metal. These stresses may be caused in a number of ways, ranging from cold working to non-uniform cooling. Stress relieving is usually accomplished by heating a metal below the lower critical temperature and then cooling uniformly. Stress relieving is commonly used on items like air tanks, boilers and other pressure vessels, to remove all stresses created during the welding process.

Aging

Some metals are classified as precipitation hardening metals. When a precipitation hardening alloy is quenched, its alloying elements will be trapped in solution, resulting in a soft metal. Aging a "solutionized" metal will allow the alloying elements to diffuse through the microstructure and form intermetallic particles. These intermetallic particles will nucleate and fall out of solution and act as a reinforcing phase, thereby increasing the strength of the alloy. Alloys may age "naturally" meaning that the precipitates form at room temperature, or they may age "artificially" when precipitates only form at elevated temperatures. In some applications, naturally aging alloys may be stored in a freezer to prevent hardening until after further operations - assembly of rivets, for example, may be easier with a softer part.

Examples of precipitation hardening alloys include 2000 series, 6000 series, and 7000 series aluminium alloy, as well as some superalloys and some stainless steels. Steels that harden by aging are typically referred to as maraging steels, from a combination of the term "martensite aging."

Quenching

Quenching is a process of cooling a metal at a rapid rate. This is most often done to produce a martensite transformation. In ferrous alloys, this will often produce a harder metal, while non-ferrous alloys will usually become softer than normal.

To harden by quenching, a metal (usually steel or cast iron) must be heated above the upper critical temperature and then quickly cooled. Depending on the alloy and other considerations (such as concern for maximum hardness vs. cracking and distortion), cooling may be done with forced air or other gases, (such as nitrogen). Liquids may be used, due to their better thermal conductivity, such as oil, water, a polymer dissolved in water, or a brine. Upon being rapidly cooled, a portion of austenite (dependent on alloy composition) will transform to martensite, a hard, brittle crystalline structure. The quenched hardness of a metal depends on its chemical composition and quenching method. Cooling speeds, from fastest to slowest, go from brine, polymer (i.e. mixtures of water + glycol polymers), fresh water, oil, and forced air. However, quenching a certain steel too fast can result in cracking, which is why high-tensile steels such as AISI 4140 should be quenched in oil, tool steels such as ISO 1.2767 or H13 hot work tool steel should be quenched in forced air, and low alloy or medium-tensile steels such as XK1320 or AISI 1040 should be quenched in brine.

Some Beta titanium based alloys have also shown similar trends of increased strength through rapid cooling. However, most non-ferrous metals, like alloys of copper, aluminum, or nickel, and some high alloy steels such as austenitic stainless steel (304, 316), produce an opposite effect when these are quenched: they soften. Austenitic stainless steels must be quenched to become fully corrosion resistant, as they work-harden significantly.

Tempering

Untempered martensitic steel, while very hard, is too brittle to be useful for most applications. A method for alleviating this problem is called tempering. Most applications require that quenched parts be tempered. Tempering consists of heating steel below the lower critical temperature, (often from 400 to 1105 ˚F or 205 to 595 ˚C, depending on the desired results), to impart some toughness. Higher tempering temperatures (may be up to 1,300 ˚F or 700 ˚C, depending on the alloy and application) are sometimes used to impart further ductility, although some yield strength is lost.

Tempering may also be performed on normalized steels. Other methods of tempering consist of quenching to a specific temperature, which is above the martensite start temperature, and then holding it there until pure bainite can form or internal stresses can be relieved. These include austempering and martempering.