A reduced pressure electron beam (RPEB) process is being developed in the UK by ‘The Welding Institute’ (TWI) for the manufacture of thick section plate, forging and pipe welds. Potential gains include minimal distortion, fewer weld defects and rapid production times, compared to conventional arc welding processes. To date, RPEB welding equipment and parameters have been successfully developed and applied in a sealed chamber under partial vacuum (∼1mbar), to produce 1-pass seam welds in low alloy steel plates and forgings. Rolls-Royce commissioned TWI to produce RPEB welds in SA508 Grade 3 Class 1 steel forgings of between 100mm and 160mm thickness, as part of a feasibility study for nuclear pressure vessel applications. This paper presents results of micro-structural examinations, material property tests and residual stress analyses of RPEB welds in SA508 Grade 3 steel forgings, both in the as-welded condition and after post weld heat treatment (PWHT). This data was required in order to assess the structural integrity of the weldment. A narrow uniform fusion zone approximately 10mm wide and 3mm deep heat affected zone (HAZ) was produced. High hardness levels were measured in the weld HAZ, but the application of PWHT at 600°C had a beneficial tempering effect, reducing the maximum hardness to below 300Hv. A 3D finite element model was used and deep hole-drilling measurements were independently performed, to determine welding residual stress distributions. In both cases yield magnitude tri-axial tensile stresses were evaluated in the centre of the weld and adjacent HAZ, of up to +600MPa. This result is as expected since the centre region is the last to solidify and cool, with a high degree of restraint to weld shrinkage. However effective stress relaxation occurs during PWHT, mainly due to creep, reducing the maximum residual stress to about 100MPa (or 20% yield strength). This feasibility study has shown that RPEB welding is a viable method for fabricating large pressure vessels in low alloy steels. Sound joints can be produced in sections up to 160mm thick in a vacuum chamber. Further development work is being done by TWI in order to apply the technique out-of-chamber using a local vacuum seal.

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