The long-term behaviour of butt fusion welds in polyethylene pipeline systems
The objective of the study was to examine factors that influence the strength of butt welds and gain an understanding of the process of failure. The study was divided into several sectors. The first and primary part of the programme was to determine the extent to which the pipe system's long-term strength under both internal fluctuating and constant pressure is reduced by the presence of axially misaligned butt welds. The second objective was to examine fracture initiation sites and crack propagation paths of the failed aligned and misaligned butt welded samples in relation to the melt flow zone and the weld bead in order to establish the cause of failure. Finally the project considered the influence of selected welding parameters on the fatigue performance of aligned butt fusion welds and an investigation into the influence of elevated temperature (79°C) testing technique on the basic material's properties. Fatigue and stress-rupture lifetimes were found to decrease significantly with increasing axial misalignment at the butt fusion weld in 63,90 and 125mm MDPE pipe systems at 79°C in a water environment. In the butt fusion weld having axial misalignment of 20 per cent of the wall thickness and above, the reduction in the fatigue and stress-rupture lifetime was greater than 50 per cent compared to the aligned weld. It was not clear whether there is a pipe size effect or not; there was no marked change in the fatigue performance of misaligned butt welds for the three pipe diameters examined. However, the fatigue performance of the aligned butt welds in 90 and 125mm was noticeably better compared to 63mm pipe systems. The stress rupture performance of misaligned butt welds in 90 and 125mm MDPE pipes was more than halved compared to those in 63mm pipe systems. Both the fatigue and stress rupture performance of misaligned butt welds could be explained in terms of amplified axial stress and in general, the Ory expression for evaluating the increase in axial stress due to misalignment appears to be valid. The temperature dependence of the fatigue performance of aligned and misaligned butt fusion welds in 63 and 90mm MDPE pipe systems suggests that if continuous internal fluctuating pressure under the conditions examined is maintained, then the butt fusion welds with axial misalignment of below 10 per cent of the wall thickness may well meet the design lifetime of 50 years at the service termperature. Under stress-rupture conditions, all the misaligned butt welds considered in the three pipe diameters surpassed the minimum specified requirement of 170 hours at 79°C. The fatigue was the most aggresive condition of the two for minor misalignment. Examination of the circumferential butt weld failures revealed that the crack invariably initiated from the notch located at the inner weld bead and no preferred crack propagation path was taken in relation to the melt flow zone. It was proved that the notch was responsible for the observed circumferential failure of aligned butt welds in 63mm MDPE pipes by testing these butt fusion welds where the internal weld bead was machined off. The failure site for the internal weld bead machined off sample was in the pipe remote from the weld inferring that the material in the melt flow zone does not constitute any weakness. The effect of elevated temperature (79°C) testing in 63mm HDPE pipe was found to increase the density (and crystallinity) signifying a slow annealing process in the material. However, the changes in these parameters were not of sufficient scale to strongly influence the performance. The main effect of elevated temperature testing in water environment appears to be the extraction of stabiliser from the base polymer as was indicated by the rapid decrease in oxidation induction time with the ageing times.