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.

The residual stress relaxation clauses of BS 7910:2013 date back to the 1991 edition of PD 6493 and have not changed substantially since then. A considerable programme of work was carried out by TWI at the time to justify and validate the clause, but the full underlying details of the work have not hitherto been available in the public domain, and are described in a separate companion paper. 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.

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