When flaws are detected in pressure retaining components, assessments have to be done in order to demonstrate the fitness-for-service (FFS) of the component for continued operation. This FFS demonstration is performed in accordance with FFS Codes providing flaw assessment procedures and acceptance standards. Before performing analyses, a flaw characterization has to be carried out in order to determine unequivocally the flaw geometry. This flaw characterization is done according to rules provided in the FFS Codes and hence appears as crucial for the rest of the flaw assessment.

The first step of the flaw characterization addresses the interaction of the flaw and the free surface of the component: if a subsurface flaw is located near the free surface, this step consists of characterizing the flaw as surface or subsurface according to subsurface-to-surface flaw proximity rules. The recharacterization process from subsurface to surface flaw is addressed in all fitness-for-service (FFS) Codes. The second step of the flaw characterization addresses the interaction of the flaw with adjacent flaws: if a flaw is located near another flaw, this step consists of combining the flaws between them according to flaw proximity rules.

However, in some FFS Codes and in the ASME B&PV Section XI Code particularly, there is a lack on how to treat the interaction of a combined flaw and the free surface of the component. The ASME B&PV Section XI Code flaw characterization is not clear on this topic which could lead to misinterpretations and unreliable flaw assessment results.

Some typical examples of unrealistic flaw assessment results due to these misinterpretations of the ASME B&PV Code Section XI flaw characterization rules are depicted in this paper. After analyzing more in-depth the origin of the inconsistencies based on 3D Extended Finite Element Method (XFEM) calculations, the paper is used as Technical Basis for the improvement of the ASME B&PV Code Section XI in order to clarify the treatment of combined flaw in the flaw characterization (IWA-3300) and in the flaw acceptability assessment as well (IWB/IWC-3510-1).

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