Butt fusion welding of polyethylene pipes
The butt fusion process is extensively used in the joining of polyethylene (PE) pipes by the water and gas industries. This welding process although deceptively simple, is rather poorly understood, with much of the initial developments being of a rather empirical nature. The Water Research centre (WRc) have funded the present research in an attempt to optimise the welding of high pressure pipeline (PE100) systems. The main aims of this research were to investigate the effect of different welding conditions on the physical and mechanical properties of the joints produced and to investigate these effects on the micro- and macro-structures of the joints produced. A series of welds were made using Eltex Tub 124 and Rigidex 002-50 pipes of 180mm diameter. The fusion pressure and heatsoak times were varied. A milling machine witha twin cutter arrangement was used to obtain the test specimens from around the circumference of the pipes. Differential scanning calorimetry was used to study the effect of sample preparation methodology on the thermo-oxidative stability. Polarised light microscopy and image analysis were used to study the macro- and micro-structural developments in the weld joint. Joint strength was evaluated via standard and non-standard tensile test methods. Milling the samples to produce the test specimens was found to decrease significantly the thermo-oxidative resistance of the polymer. Reasons for this behaviour have been proposed. In order to achieve high quality thin films from microtomy, custom-made blades were used. This programme also developed the optimum polishing method for the microtomed blades. The macro-structure of the bead: its shape and dimensions were found to be a function of temperature and pressure. Correlation was found between the bead geometry and the position around the circumference of the pipe. The macrostructures within the weld zone also showed this dependence on the position along the circumference of the pipe. An examination of the microstructures of each weld had shown the presence of five different zones. The feasibility of using microtomed thin sections in a tensile test was demonstrated. The test method provides a means to study failure initiation and propagation in the tensile test specimen. Initial deformation was found to occur in the centre of the melt-affected zone (MAZ) and the final failure occurs at the junction of the weld bead and the bulk polymer. Tests on films without the weld bead showed that maximum deformation occurred at the centre of the sample within the MAZ. The presence of the bead and the asymmetry in the test specimens caused by the welding process were found to have a significant influence on the failure mode and the failure strain. The strain rate was also found to play a significant role in both beaded and debeaded samples. The failure was initiated from the pseudo notches in the beaded samples. In the debeaded sample the failure was within the MAZ.