Prevention and Control of Weld Distortion
What is Weld Distortion?
Distortion in a weld results from the expansion and contraction of the weld metal and adjacent base metal during the heating and cooling cycle of the welding process. Doing all welding on one side of a part will cause much more distortion than if the welds are alternated from one side to the other. During this heating and cooling cycle, many factors affect shrinkage of the metal and lead to distortion, such as physical and mechanical properties that change as heat is applied. For example, as the temperature of the weld area increases, yield strength, elasticity, and thermal conductivity of the steel plate decrease, while thermal expansion and specific heat increase (Fig. 3-1). These changes, in turn, affect heat flow and uniformity of heat distribution.
To understand how and why distortion occurs during heating and cooling of a metal, consider the bar of steel shown in Fig. 3-2. As the bar is uniformly heated, it expands in all directions, as shown in Fig. 3-2(a). As the metal cools to room temperature it contracts uniformly to its original dimensions.
Shrinkage Control - What You Can Do to Minimize Distortion
To prevent or minimize weld distortion, methods must be used both in design and during welding to overcome the effects of the heating and cooling cycle. Shrinkage cannot be prevented, but it can be controlled. Several ways can be used to minimize distortion caused by shrinkage:
1. Do not overweld
When welding heavy plate (over 1 inch thick) bevelling or even double bevelling can save a substantial amount of weld metal which translates into much less distortion automatically.
In general, if distortion is not a problem, select the most economical joint. If distortion is a problem, select either a joint in which the weld stresses balance each other or a joint requiring the least amount of weld metal.
3. Use as few weld passes as possible
Fewer passes with large electrodes, Fig. 3-7(d), are preferable to a greater number of passes with small electrodes when transverse distortion could be a problem. Shrinkage caused by each pass tends to be cumulative, thereby increasing total
shrinkage when many passes are used.
4. Place welds near the neutral axis
Distortion is minimized by providing a smaller leverage for the shrinkage forces to pull the plates out of alignment. Figure 3-7(e) illustrates this. Both design of the weldment and welding sequence can be used effectively to control distortion.
5. Balance welds around the neutral axis
This practice, shown in Fig. 3-7(f), offsets one shrinkage force with another to effectively minimize distortion of the weldment. Here, too, design of the assembly and proper sequence of welding are important factors.
6. Use backstep welding
Presetting parts (at first glance, I thought that this was referring to overhead or vertical welding positions, which is not the case) before welding can make shrinkage perform constructive work. Several assemblies, preset in this manner, are shown in Fig. 3-7(h). The required amount of preset for shrinkage to pull the plates into alignment can be determined from a few trial welds.
use of opposing mechanical forces to counteract distortion due to welding. The top of the weld
groove - which will contain the bulk of the weld metal - is lengthened when the plates are preset.
Thus the completed weld is slightly longer than it would be if it had been made on the flat plate. When the clamps are released after welding, the plates return to the flat shape, allowing the weld to relieve its longitudinal shrinkage stresses by shortening to a straight line. The two actions coincide, and the welded plates assume the desired flatness.
Another common practice for balancing shrinkage forces is to position identical weldments back to back, Fig. 3-7(j), clamping them tightly together. The welds are completed on both assemblies and allowed to cool before the clamps are released. Prebending can be combined with this method by inserting wedges at suitable positions between the parts before clamping.
8. Plan the welding sequence
A well-planned welding sequence involves placing weld metal at different points of the assembly so that, as the structure shrinks in one place, it counteracts the shrinkage forces of welds already made. An example of this is welding alternately on both sides of the neutral axis in making a complete joint penetration groove weld in a butt joint, as in Fig. 3-7(k). other example, in a fillet weld, consists of making intermittent welds according to the sequences shown in Fig. 3-7(l). In these examples, the shrinkage in weld No. 1 is balanced by the shrinkage in weld No. 2.
Clamps, jigs, and fixtures that lock parts into a desired position and hold them until welding is finished are probably the most widely used means for controlling distortion in small assemblies or components. It was mentioned earlier in this section that the restraining force provided by clamps increases internal stresses in the weldment until the yield point of the weld metal is reached. For typical welds on low-carbon plate, this stress level would approximate 45,000 psi. One might expect this stress to cause considerable movement or distortion after the welded part is removed from the jig or clamps. This does not occur, however, since the strain (unit contraction) from this stress is very low compared to the amount of movement that would occur if no restraint were used during welding.
9. Remove shrinkage forces after welding
Peening is one way to counteract the shrinkage forces of a weld bead as it cools. Essentially, peening the bead stretches it and makes it thinner, thus relieving (by plastic deformation) the stresses induced by contraction as the metal cools. But this method must be used with care. For example, a root bead should never be peened, because of the danger of either oncealing a crack or causing one. Generally, peening is not permitted on the final pass, because of the possibility of covering a crack and interfering with inspection, and because of the undesirable work-hardening effect. Thus, the utility of the technique is limited, even though there have been instances where between-pass peening proved to be the only olution for a distortion or cracking problem. Before peening is used on a job, engineering approval should be obtained.
Another method for removing shrinkage forces is by thermal stress relieving - controlled heating of the weldment to an elevated temperature, followed by controlled cooling. Sometimes two identical weldments are clamped back to back, welded, and then stressrelieved while being held in this straight condition. The residual stresses that would tend to distort the weldments are thus minimized.
10. Minimize welding time
Since complex cycles of heating and cooling take place during welding, and since time is required for heat transmission, the time factor affects distortion. In general, it is desirable to finish the weld quickly, before a large volume of surrounding metal heats up and expands. The welding process used, type and size of electrode, welding current, and speed of travel, thus, affect the degree of shrinkage and distortion of a weldment. The use of mechanized welding equipment reduces welding time and the amount of metal affected by heat and, consequently, distortion. For example, depositing a given-size weld on thick plate with a process operating at 175 amp, 25 volts, and 3 ipm requires 87,500 joules of energy per linear
inch of weld (also known as heat input). A weld with approximately the same size produced with a process operating at 310 amp, 35 volts, and 8 ipm requires 81,400 joules per linear inch. The weld made with the higher heat input generally results in a greater amount of distortion. (note: I don't want to use the words "excessive" and "more than necessary" because the weld size is, in fact, tied to the heat input. In general, the fillet weld size (in inches) is equal to the square root of the quantity of the heat input (kJ/in) divided by 500. Thus these two welds are most likely not the same size.
Various techniques have been developed to control distortion on specific weldments. In sheet-metal welding, for example, a water-cooled jig (Fig. 3-33) is useful to carry heat away from the welded components. Copper tubes are brazed or soldered to copper holding clamps, and the water is circulated through the tubes during welding. The restraint of the clamps also helps minimize distortion.
The "strongback" is another useful technique for distortion control during butt welding of plates, as in Fig. 3-34(a). Clips are welded to the edge of one plate and wedges are driven under the clips to force the edges into alignment and to hold them during welding.Thermal Stress Relieving Except in special situations, stress relief by heating is not used for correcting distortion. There are occasions, however, when stress relief is necessary to prevent further distortion from occurring before the weldment is finished.
Summary: A Checklist to Minimize Distortion
In summary, follow the checklist below in order to minimize distortion in the design and fabrication of weldments:
- Do not overweld.
- Control fitup.
- Use intermittent welds where possible and consistent with design requirements.
- Use the smallest leg size permissible when fillet welding.
- For groove welds, use joints that will minimize the volume of weld metal. Consider double-sided joints instead of single-sided joints.
- Weld alternately on either side of the joint when possible with multiple-pass welds.
- Use minimal number of weld passes.
- Use low heat input procedures. This generally means high deposition rates and higher travel speeds.
- Use welding positioners to achieve the maximum amount of flat-position welding. The flat position permits the use of large-diameter electrodes and high-deposition-rate welding procedures.
- Balance welds about the neutral axis of the member.
- Distribute the welding heat as evenly as possible through a planned welding sequence and weldment positioning.
- Weld toward the unrestrained part of the member.
- Use clamps, fixtures, and strongbacks to maintain fitup and alignment.
- Prebend the members or preset the joints to let shrinkage pull them back into alignment.
- Sequence subassemblies and final assemblies so that the welds being made continually balance each other around the neutral axis of the section.
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