Welding Defects

1. Introduction

Common weld defects include:

Any of these defects are potentially disastorous as they can all give rise to high stress intensities which may result in sudden unexpected failure below the design load or in the case of cyclic loading, failure after fewer load cycles than predicted.

2. Types of Defects
i and ii. - To achieve a good quality join it is essential that the fusion zone extends the full thickness of the sheets being joined. Thin sheet material can be joined with a single pass and a clean square edge will be a satisfactory basis for a join. However thicker material will normally need edges cut at a V angle and may need several passes to fill the V with weld metal. Where both sides are accessible one or more passes may be made along the reverse side to ensure the joint extends the full thickness of the metal.
Lack of fusion results from too little heat input and / or too rapid traverse of the welding torch (gas or electric).
Excess penetration arises from to high a heat input and / or too slow transverse of the welding torch (gas or electric). Excess penetration - burning through - is more of a problem with thin sheet as a higher level of skill is needed to balance heat input and torch traverse when welding thin metal.

ii. Porosity - This occurs when gases are trapped in the solidifying weld metal. These may arise from damp consumables or metal or, from dirt, particularly oil or grease, on the metal in the vicinity of the weld. This can be avoided by ensuring all consumables are stored in dry conditions and work is carefully cleaned and degreased prior to welding.

iv. Inclusions - These can occur when several runs are made along a V join when joining thick plate using flux cored or flux coated rods and the slag covering a run is not totally removed after every run before the following run.

v. Cracking - This can occur due just to thermal shrinkage or due to a combination of strain accompanying phase change and thermal shrinkage.
In the case of welded stiff frames, a combination of poor design and inappropriate procedure may result in high residual stresses and cracking.
Where alloy steels or steels with a carbon content greater than about 0.2% are being welded, self cooling may be rapid enough to cause some (brittle) martensite to form. This will easily develop cracks.
To prevent these problems a process of pre-heating in stages may be needed and after welding a slow controlled post cooling in stages will be required. This can greatly increase the cost of welded joins, but for high strength steels, such as those used in petrochemical plant and piping, there may well be no alternative.

Solidification Cracking
This is also called centreline or hot cracking. They are called hot cracks because they occur immediately after welds are completed and sometimes while the welds are being made. These defects, which are often caused by sulphur and phosphorus, are more likely to occur in higher carbon steels.
Solidification cracks are normally distinguishable from other types of cracks by the following features:

A schematic diagram of a centreline crack is shown below:

On breaking open the weld the crack surface may have a blue appearance, showing the cracks formed while the metal was still hot. The cracks form at the solidification boundaries and are characteristically inter dendritic. There may be evidence of segregation associated with the solidification boundary.
The main cause of solidification cracking is that the weld bead in the final stage of solidification has insufficient strength to withstand the contraction stresses generated as the weld pool solidifies. Factors which increase the risk include:

Joint design can have an influence on the level of residual stresses. Large gaps between conponents will increase the strain on the solidifying weld metal, especially if the depth of penetration is small. Hence weld beads with a small depth to width ratio, such as is formed when bridging a large wide gap with a thin bead, will be more susceptible to solidification cracking.

In steels, cracking is associated with impurities, particularly sulphur and phosphorus and is promoted by carbon, whereas manganese and sulphur can help to reduce the risk. To minimise the risk of cracking, fillers with low carbon and impurity levels and a relatively high manganese content are preferred. As a general rule, for carbon manganese steels, the total sulphur and phosphorus content should be no greater than 0.06%. However when welding a highly restrained joint using high strength steels, a combined level below 0.03% might be needed.

Weld metal composition is dominated by the filler and as this is usually cleaner than the metal being welded, cracking is less likely with low dilution processes such as MMA and MIG. Parent metal composition becomes more important with autogenous welding techniques, such as TIG with no filler.

Avoiding Solidification Cracking
Apart from choice of material and filler, the main techniques for avoiding solidification cracking are:

Hydrogen induced cracking (HIC) - also referred to as hydrogen cracking or hydrogen assisted cracking, can occur in steels during manufacture, during fabrication or during service. When HIC occurs as a result of welding, the cracks are in the heat affected zone (HAZ) or in the weld metal itself.

Four requirements for HIC to occur are:

HIC in the HAZ is often at the weld toe, but can be under the weld bead or at the weld root. In fillet welds cracks are normally parallel to the weld run but in butt welds cracks can be transverse to the welding direction.

vi Undercutting - In this case the thickness of one (or both) of the sheets is reduced at the toe of the weld. This is due to incorrect settings / procedure. There is already a stress concentration at the toe of the weld and any undercut will reduce the strength of the join.

vii Lamellar tearing - This is mainly a problem with low quality steels. It occurs in plate that has a low ductility in the through thickness direction, which is caused by non metallic inclusions, such as suphides and oxides that have been elongated during the rolling process. These inclusions mean that the plate can not tolerate the contraction stresses in the short transverse direction.
Lamellar tearing can occur in both fillet and butt welds, but the most vulnerable joints are 'T' and corner joints, where the fusion boundary is parallel to the rolling plane.
These problem can be overcome by using better quality steel, 'buttering' the weld area with a ductile material and possibly by redesigning the joint.

3. Detection
Visual Inspection
Prior to any welding, the materials should be visually inspected to see that they are clean, aligned correctly, machine settings, filler selection checked, etc.
As a first stage of inspection of all completed welds, visual inspected under good lighting should be carried out. A magnifying glass and straight edge may be used as a part of this process.

Undercutting can be detected with the naked eye and (provided there is access to the reverse side) excess penetration can often be visually detected.

Liquid Penetrant Inspection
Serious cases of surface cracking can be detected by the naked eye but for most cases some type of aid is needed and the use of dye penetrant methods are quite efficient when used by a trained operator.
This procedure is as follows:

X - Ray Inspection
Sub-surface cracks and inclusions can be detected 'X' ray examination. This is expensive, but for safety critical joints - eg in submarines and nuclear power plants - 100% 'X' ray examination of welded joints will normally be carried out.

Ultrasonic Inspection
Surface and sub-surface defects can also be detected by ultrasonic inspection. This involves directing a high frequency sound beam through the base metal and weld on a predictable path. When the beam strikes a discontinuity some of it is reflected beck. This reflected beam is received and amplified and processed and from the time delay, the location of a flaw estimated.
Porosity, however, in the form of numerous gas bubbles causes a lot of low amplitude reflections which are difficult to separate from the background noise.
Results from any ultrasonic inspection require skilled interpretation.

Magnetic Particle Inspection
This process can be used to detect surface and slightly sub-surface cracks in ferro-magnetic materials (it can not therefore be used with austenitic stainless steels).
The process involves placing a probe on each side of the area to be inspected and passing a high current between them. This produces a magnetic flux at right angles to the flow of the current. When these lines of force meet a discontinuity, such as a longitudinal crack, they are diverted and leak through the surface, creating magnetic poles or points of attraction. A magnetic powder dusted onto the surface will cling to the leakage area more than elsewhere, indicating the location of any discontinuities.
This process may be carried out wet or dry, the wet process is more sensitive as finer particles may be used which can detect very small defects. Fluorescent powders can also be used to enhance sensitivity when used in conjunction with ultra violet illumination.

4. Repair
Any detected cracks must be ground out and the area re-welded to give the required profile and then the joint must be inspected again.

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David J Grieve, 18th September 2003.