Failure of welded structures due to the presence of flaws is typically driven by a mixture of applied and residual stresses, yet in most cases only the former are known accurately. In as-welded structures, a typical assumption is that the magnitude of welding residual stress is bounded by the room temperature yield strength of the parent material. The UK flaw assessment procedure BS 7910:2013 also assumes that mechanical loading (either as a result of proof testing or during the initial loading of an as-welded structure) will bring about a relaxation in residual stress. Conversely, the UK structural assessment code for nuclear structures, R6, contains a warning on the ‘limited validation’ of the BS 7910 approaches for stress relaxation and suggests that they should be used ‘with caution’. The aim of this study was therefore to review the basis of the BS 7910 clauses on stress relaxation with a view to harmonising the BS 7910 and R6 rules for cases in which the original welding residual stress distribution is not known.

A companion paper describes the history of the residual stress relaxation clauses of BS 7910. A considerable programme of work was carried out in the late 1980s to justify and validate the clauses, using a range of experimental and numerical work. This included analysis of work carried out by the UK power industry and used in the validation of the R6 procedure. The full underlying details of the work have not hitherto been available in the public domain, although the principles were published in 1988. The approach proposed in BS 7910 combines ‘global’ relaxation of residual stress (Qm) under high mechanical load with ‘local’ enhancement of crack tip driving force through the adoption of a simplified primary/secondary stress interaction factor, ρ. This is different from the method adopted by R6, but appears to be equivalent to allowing negative values of ρ under conditions of high primary stress.

A re-analysis of the original TWI work, using the current version of BS 7910, has shown nothing to contradict the approach, which represents a workable engineering solution to the problem of how to analyse residual stress effects in as-welded structures rapidly and reasonably realistically when the as-welded stress distribution is unknown.

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