Weld Failure Analysis

a. General. Only rarely are there failures of welded structures, but failures of large engineered structures do occur occasionally. Catastrophic failures of major structures are usually reported whenever they occur. The results of investigations of these failures are usually reported and these reports often provide information that is helpful in avoiding future similar problems. In the same manner, there are occasional failures of noncritical welds and weldments that should also be investigated. Once the reason is determined it can then be avoided. An objective study must be made of any failure of parts or structures to determine the cause of the failure. This is done by investigating the service life, the conditions that led up to the failure, and the actual mode of the failure. An objective study of failure should utilize every bit of information available, investigate all factors that could remotely be considered, and evaluate all this information to find the reason for the failure. Failure investigation often uncovers facts that lead to changes in design, manufacturing, or operating practice, that will eliminate similar failures in the future. Failures of insignificant parts can also lead to advances in knowledge and should be done objectively, as with a large structure. Each failure and subsequent investigation will lead to changes that will assure a more reliable product in the future.

b. The following four areas of interest should be investigated to determine the cause of weld failure and the interplay of factors involved:

(1) Initial observation. The detailed study by visual inspection of the actual component that failed should be made at the failure site as quickly as possible. Photographs should be taken, preferably in color, of all parts, structures, failure surfaces, fracture texture appearance, final location of component debris, and all other factors. Witnesses to the failure should all be interviewed and all information determined from them should be recorded.

(2) Background data. Investigators should gather all information concerning specifications, drawings, component design, fabrication methods, welding procedures, weld schedules, repairs in and during manufacturing and in service, maintenance, and service use. Efforts should be made to obtain facts pertinent to all possible failure modes. Particular attention should be given to environmental details, including operating temperatures, normal service loads, overloads, cyclic loading, and abuse.

(3) Laboratory studies. Investigators should make tests to verify that the material in the failed parts actually possesses the specified composition, mechanical properties, and dimensions. Studies should also be made microscopically in those situations in which it would lead to additional information. Each failed part should be thoroughly investigated to determine what bits of information can be added to the total picture. Fracture surfaces can be extremely important. Original drawings should be obtained and marked showing failure locations, along with design stress data originally used in designing the product. Any other defects in the structure that are apparent, even though they might not have contributed to the failure, should also be noted and investigated.

(4) Failure assumptions. The investigator should list not only all positive facts and evidence that may have contributed to the failure, but also all negative responses that may be learned about the failure. It is sometimes important to know what specific things did not happen or what evidence did not appear to help determine what happened. The data should be tabulated and the actual failure should be synthesized to include all available evidence.

c. Failure cause can usually be classified in one of the following three classifications:

(1) Failure due to faulty design or misapplication of material.

(2) Failure due to improper processing or improper workmanship.

(3) Failure due to deterioration during service.

d. The following is a summary of the above three situations

(1) Failure due to faulty design or misapplication of the material involves failure due to inadequate stress analysis, or a mistake in design such as incorrect calculations on the basis of static loading instead of dynamic or fatigue loading. Ductile failure can be caused by a load too great for the section area or the strength of the material. Brittle fracture may occur from stress risers inherent in the design, or the wrong material may have been specified for producing the part.(2) Failures can be caused by faulty processing or poor workmanship that may be related to the design of the weld joint, or the weld joint design can be proper but the quality of the weld is substandard. The poor quality weld might include such defects as undercut, lack of fusion, or cracks. Failures can be attributed to poor fabrication practice such as the elimination of a root opening, which will contribute to incomplete penetration. There is also the possibility that the incorrect filler metal was used for welding the part that failed.

(3) Failure due to deterioration during service can cause overload, which may be difficult to determine. Normal wear and abuse to the equipment may have result-ed in reducing sections to the degree that they no longer can support the load. Corrosion due to environmental conditions and accentuated by stress concentrations will contribute to failure. In addition, there may be other types of situations such as poor maintenance, poor repair techniques involved with maintenance, and accidental conditions beyond the user’s control. The product might be exposed to an environment for which it was not designed.

e. Conclusion. Examination of catastrophic and major failures has led the welding industry to appreciate the following facts:

(1) Weldments are monolithic in character.(2) Anything welded onto a structure will carry part of the load whether intended or not.

(3) Abrupt changes in section, either because of adding a deckhouse or removing a portion of the deck for a hatch opening, create stress concentration. Under normal loading, if the steel at the point of stress concentration is notch sensitive at the service temperature, failure can result.


a. There are two other welding problems that require some explanation and solutions. These are welding over painted surfaces and painting of welds.


Cutting painted surfaces with arc or flame processes should be done with caution. Demolition of old structural steel work that had been painted many times with flame-cutting or arc-cutting techniques can create health problems. Cutting through many layers of lead paint will cause an abnormally high lead concentration in the immediate area and will require special precautions such as extra ventilation or personnel protection.

b. Welding over paint is discouraged. In every code or specification, it is specifically stated that welding should be done on clean metal. In some industries, however welds are made over paint, and in other flame cutting is done on painted base metal.

(1) In the shipbuilding industry and several other industries, steel, when it is received from the steel mill, is shot blasted, given a coating of prime paint, and then stored outdoors. Painting is done to preserve the steel during storage, and to identify it. In sane shipyards a different color paint is used for different classes of steel. When this practice is used, every effort should be made to obtain a prime paint that is compatible with welding.(2) There are at least three factors involved with the success of the weld when welding over painted surfaces: the compatibility of the paint with welding; the dryness of the paint; and the paint film thickness.

(3) Paint compatibility varies according to the composition of the paint. Certain paints contain large amounts of aluminum or titanium dioxide, which are usually compatible with welding. Other paints may contain zinc, lead, vinyls, and other hydrocarbons, and are not compatible with welding. The paint manufacturer or supplier should be consulted. Anything that contributes to deoxidizing the weld such as aluminum, silicon, or titanium will generally be compatible. Anything that is a harmful ingredient such as lead, zinc, and hydrocarbons will be detrimental. The fillet break test can be used to determine compatibility. The surfaces should be painted with the paint under consideration. The normal paint film thickness should be used, and the paint must be dry.

(4) The fillet break test should be run using the proposed welding procedure over the painted surface. It should be broken and the weld examined. If the weld breaks at the interface of the plate with the paint it is obvious that the paint is not compatible with the weld.

(5) The dryness of the paint should be considered. Many paints employ an oil base which is a hydrocarbon. These paints dry slowly, since it takes a considerable length of time for the hydrocarbons to evaporate. If welding is done before the paint is dry, hydrogen will be in the arc atmosphere and can contribute to underbead cracking. The paint will also cause porosity if there is sufficient oil present. Water based paints should also be dry prior to welding.

(6) The thickness of the paint film is another important factor. Some paints may be compatible if the thickness of the film is a maximum of 3 to 4 mm. If the paint film thicknesses are double that amount, such as occurs at an overlap area, there is the possibility of weld porosity. Paint films that are to be welded over should be of the minimum thickness possible.

(7) Tests should be run with the dry maximum film thickness to be used with the various types of paints to determine which paint has the least harmful effects on the weld deposit.

c. Painting over welds is also a problem. The success of any paint film depends on its adherence to the base metal and the weld, which is influenced by surface deposits left on the weld and adjacent to it. The metallurgical factors of the weld bead and the smoothness of the weld are of minor importance with regard to the success of the paint. Paint failure occurs when the weld and the immediate area are not properly cleaned prior to painting. Deterioration of the paint over the weld also seems to be dependent upon the amount of spatter present. Spatter on or adjacent to the weld leads to rusting of the base material under the paint. It seems that the paint does not completely adhere to spatter and some spatter does fall off in time, leaving bare metal spots in the paint coating.


Aluminum and aluminum alloys should not be cleaned with caustic soda or cleaners having a pH above 10, as they may react chemically. Other nonferrous metals should be investigated for reactivity prior to cleaning.

(1) The success of the paint job can be insured by observing both preweld and postweld treatment. Preweld treatment found most effective is to use antispatter compounds, as well as cleaning the weld area, before welding. The antispatter compound extends the paint life because of the reduction of spatter. The antispatter compound must be compatible with the paint to be used.(2) Postweld treatment for insuring paint film success consists of mechanical and chemical cleaning. Mechanical cleaning methods can consist of hand chipping and wire brushing, power wire brushing, or sand or grit blasting. Sand or grit blasting is the most effective mechanical cleaning method. If the weldment is furnace stress relieved and then grit blasted, it is prepared for painting. When sand or grit blasting cannot be used, power wire brushing is the next most effective method. In addition to mechanical cleaning, chemical bath washing is also recommended. Slag coverings on weld deposits must be thoroughly removed from the surface of the weld and from the adjacent base metal. Different types of coatings create more or less problems in their removal and also with respect to paint adherence. Weld slag of many electrodes is alkaline in nature and for this reason must be neutralized to avoid chemical reactions with the paint, which will cause the paint to loosen and deteriorate. For this reason, the weld should be scrubbed with water, which will usually remove the residual coating slag and smoke film from the weld. If a small amount of phosphoric acid up to a 5% solution is used, it will be more effective in neutralizing and removing the slag. It must be followed by a water rinse. If water only is used, it is advisable to add small amounts of phosphate or chromate inhibitors to the water to avoid rusting, which might otherwise occur.

(3) It has been found that the method of applying paint is not an important factor in determining the life of the paint over welds. The type of paint employed must be suitable for coating metals and for the service intended.

(4) Successful paint jobs over welds can be obtained by observing the following: minimize weld spatter using a compatible anti-spatter compound; mechanically clean the weld and adjacent area; and wash the weld area with a neutralizing bath and rinse.

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