Failure of a Thick-Wall Alloy Steel Pressure Vessel Caused by Cracks in Weld HAZ
A large pressure vessel designed for use in an ammonia plant failed during hydrostatic testing. It was fabricated from ten Mn-Cr-Ni-Mo-V steel plates which were rolled and welded to form ten cylindrical shell sections and three forgings of similar composition. The fracture surfaces were metallographically examined to be typical for brittle steel fracture and associated with the circumferential weld that joined the flange forging to the first shell section. Featureless facets in the HAZ were observed and were revealed to be the fracture-initiation sites. Pronounced banding in the structure of the flange forging was revealed by examination. A greater susceptibility to cracking was interpreted from the higher hardenability found within the bands. Stress relief was concluded to have not been performed at the specified temperature level (by hardness and impact tests) which caused the formation of hard spots. The mode of crack propagation was established by microstructural examination to be transgranular cleavage. It was concluded that failure of the pressure vessel stemmed from the formation of transverse fabrication cracks in the HAZ fostered by the presence of hard spots. It was recommended that normalizing and tempering temperatures be modified and a revised forging practice explored.