Brittle Failure of a Pressure Vessel After Welded Modifications Without Stress-Relief Heat Treatment
A spherical carbon steel fixed-catalyst bed reactor, fabricated from French steel A42C-3S, approximately equivalent to ASTM A201 grade B, failed after 20 years of service while in a standby condition. The unit was found to contain primarily hydrogen at the time of failure. The vessel had a type 304 stainless steel shroud around the catalyst bed as protection against the overheating that was possible if the gas bypassed the bed through the refractory material. The failure was observed to have begun at the toe of the shroud-support ring weld. The ring was found to have a number of small cracks at the root of the weld. The cleavage mode of fracture was confirmed by SEM. The presence of extensive secondary cracking and twinning (Neumann bands) where the fracture followed the line of the shroud-support ring was revealed by metallography. It was revealed by refinery maintenance records that the ring had been removed for hydrotest and welded without any postweld heat treatment. The final cause of failure was concluded to be cracking that developed during the installation of the new shroud ring. Stress-relief heat treatments were recommended to be performed to reduce residual-stress levels after welding.