Over the past decades, the complexity of requirements regarding the properties of large-diameter linepipes has increased steadily. This is driven by factors such as increasing operating pressures or more hostile environmental conditions. Steel producers all over the world have responded to these demands by continuous development along the entire processing route from steelmaking to thermomechanical rolling and pipe production. Understanding the influence of the microstructure on pipe properties is a key element to extend the use of linepipe steels to more challenging conditions. For this reason, the techniques that are used for microstructure characterization are constantly refined.
The microstructure of modern microalloyed linepipe steels that are produced by thermomechanical rolling in combination with accelerated cooling depends strongly on the processing parameters during production. The grain size of the base metal is typically below 10 μm and may contain fractions of ferrite, bainite and M/A-constituents. Because of their size, these microstructure constituents are often not readily accessible to a quantitative analysis by classical light-optical microscopy. This was also found to be true within the heat-affected zone (HAZ) of large-diameter pipes. High-resolution scanning electron microscopy in combination with electron backscatter diffraction was found to offer a wide range of possibilities to characterize the microstructure quantitatively with regard to the effective grain size, the volume fraction of constituents and their variation over the wall thickness. The effects of variations in processing parameters in laboratory-scale trials on the microstructure and properties are illustrated. Based on these investigations, it was possible to refine the alloy design and processing parameters in order to improve the low-temperature toughness of the base metal of high strength plate material and the HAZ of longitudinal weld seams.