Weld residual stress is a major driving force for initiation and growth of primary water stress corrosion cracking (PWSCC), which is a critical challenge for weld integrity of reactor pressure vessel nozzles in nuclear industry. Predicting weld residual stresses for the purpose of understanding and mitigating PWSCC requires the knowledge of material constitutive rule especially strain hardening behavior over a wide range of temperatures. Though it is adequate for describing deformation at low temperature, the conventional, rate-independent, elastic-plastic constitutive rule falls short in predicting the strong microstructure-mechanical interaction such as the softening due to recovery (dislocation annihilation and realignment) and recrystallization at elevated temperature in welding.

To quantify the extent of softening under temperature and strain conditions relevant to welding, a framework has been developed by combining advanced experimental techniques and finite element modeling. First, physical simulation in a Gleeble testing machine is used to simulate the temperature transients typical of dissimilar metal weld by subjecting round tensile bar shaped specimens to rapid heating and cooling. Second, the digital image correlation (DIC) technique is used to map the non-uniform strain field and extract local strain history needed for accurately determining the true stress vs. true strain curve of softened material. Third, the thermally-mechanically processed specimens are characterized metallographically to correlate the microstructure changes to the measured stress-strain behavior. Finally, a thermal-stress finite element model of three-bar frame is used to study the effect of softening on the predicted weld residual stresses. As a first step toward developing the much-needed, comprehensive material constitutive relation database for dissimilar metal weld, the framework has been applied to study AISI 304L austenitic stainless steel. The extent of softening due to different duration of high-temperature exposure is studied and its influence on final residual stresses is discussed.

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