Current trends in ship design are to reduce panel thickness in order to minimise the vessels weight and hence maximise speed. These panels are manufactured through butt welding thin steel plates with the addition of fillet welded stiffeners. Excessive distortions are exhibited in these thin plates due to the welding process, resulting in major rectification or re-manufacturing costs. The aim of this study is to develop a tool to predict welding residual stresses and distortions in order to understand their governing factors, and thus enabling the optimum fabrication processes to be realized to minimise welding distortion. Finite element simulations are performed of the butt and fillet welding process in 4 mm thick plates of ferritic DH-36 steel and the residual stresses and distortions are predicted. Thermal and residual stress profiles are verified against experimental measurements. The effects of plate and stiffener dimensions are examined numerically. In addition, a sensitivity analysis has been carried out to quantify the effects of restraint on a small butt welded plate. It is concluded that final distortion may be severely reduced, in the plate size considered, if only an out-of-plane constraint is imposed on the plate’s surfaces. Further welding experiments are required to validate these findings.

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