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7/11/2017 Critical Metallurgical Problems | Arc Machines, Inc.

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Orbital Welding Solves Critical

Metallurgical Problems in Furnace

Orbital Welding Solves Critical Metallurgical Problems in Furnace Shutdown

Gas tungsten arc welding has often been moved far afield to solve
critical metallurgical problems. A good example is how Dow
Chemical Canada, Inc., Western Canada division, in Fort
Saskatchewan, Canada, near Edmonton, Alberta, made excellent
use of automatic orbital GTA welding equipment during its June
1991 furnace shutdown. According to Dow maintenance personnel,
the June shutdown was the largest major furnace shutdown since
the plant was built more than 11 years ago. The shutdown was
planned in order to replace the furnace tubes in its four VCM (vinyl
chloride monomer) furnaces.

The VCM cracking furnaces at Dow are used to heat liquid ethylene
dichloride (EDC) inside the coils to a temperature of 500 degrees C
(932 degrees F) until the liquid changes to a vapor producing a
vinyl chloride monomer. The intense heating and the hydrochloric
acid (HCI) creates a very severe service environment subjecting
the metal coils to extreme thermal as well as chemical stresses. Very little clearance was available for the operation of the
GTA welding machine.

Reasons for Using Orbital Welding

Al Schell, supervisor of Dow maintenance services, along with Gilles Benoit, the company's welding specialist, elected to
use orbital pipe welding equipment because of the very tight space restrictions for welding the upper convection coils.
Previous manual welds on these coils had to be done using mirrors in order for the welder to see the weld joint, and this
situation often resulted in welds having to be redone in order to meet Dow's stringent quality control requirements.

The success of this job depended upon cooperation and planning among
Dow's maintenance services, purchasing and engineering, as well as between
Dow and its suppliers. A Model 215 microprocessor-controlled pipe welding
power supply and a water-cooled Model 81 small diameter pipe weld head
were purchased from Arc Machines, Inc. Training on the operation of this
equipment was provided to Dow welding personnel long in advance of the
planned shutdown. Frank York (Fig. 1), pipe welding product manager and
welding specialist for Arc Machines, trained Benoit, Norm Potvin and three
orbital weld welding operators for seven days in April. This was sufficient time
for the operators to become comfortable in the operation of the equipment Fig. 1 - Welding operators at Dow Chemical
were trained by Frank York (in dark glasses) to
and for the development and testing of welding procedures. run the new GTA equipment.

Solving One Problem

In the course of developing the welding parameters, a problem was

encountered initially with a slight concavity of the root on the weld inside
diameter (ID) at the 6 o'clock position. This difficulty was overcome by
making a split pass starting at 5 o'clock and welding clockwise to the 12
o'clock position, and then starting at 7 o'clock and welding counterclockwise
to the 12 o'clock position. This meant that wire would feed into the weld pool
from the leading edge of the pool in one direction and from the trailing edge
Fig. 2 - Close-up of the inside of a weld made by
in the other direction. The resulting weld had a smooth, uniform inner surface the GTA orbital welding equipment during
with no concavity on the ID and a desirable weld profile. training and qualification, in April 1991. The
weld is fully penetrated, even and smooth, and
is free from concavity or excessive penetration.
Because of the severe service environment, which, in addition to the stresses
mentioned above, would include very high thermal stresses brought about by steam snuffing of the system in case of
an emergency situation, the welds had to meet the requirements of ANSI/ASME B31.3 code for severe cyclic chemical

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piping as well as ASME Section IX of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code for the weld procedure used. Guided bend,
tensile tests and sections of the welds were done by Hanson Materials Engineering, a local testing facility. The weld
procedures and the welding operators were certified at this time and the results of all tests registered with the Alberta
Boiler Branch which monitors the codes for Alberta Province. The metallurgical engineers were very impressed by the
uniformity of the welds. Although 100% radiography was not required for these welds, Larry Young, Dow inspection
services, elected to work to even tighter than required tolerances in the interest of safety and quality. No linear
indications were permitted and 100% radiography was employed to attain this goal.

Welding Specifics

During the June shutdown, 60 or nearly half of the out-convection furnace tubes were replaced making a total of 138
butt joints. Included in this total were 120 return bend-to-tube welds (Fig. 3) and tube-to-tube welds required to tie
into the existing system and welding of a pup piece to one end of the tubing and a large flange to another end. The
tubes were 3.5-in. (89-mm) OD Inconel(1) 600 with a wall thickness of 0.320 in. (8 mm). Inconel 600 consists of
76%Ni, 15.5%Cr, and 8%Fe. The weld joint was a 45 deg-25 deg compound bevel with 1/8-in. (3.2-mm) OD Inconel
600 insert rings, fusion-tacked in place prior to welding. Inconel 600 wire (ERNICR-3), 0.035 in. (0.9 mm) OD, was
used as the filler metal. An argon purge was provided to the inside diameter of the weld joint prior to and during the
tacking. This step is an important part of the weld procedure, since the arc tends not to consume an oxidized tack and
this could result in incomplete fusion at this point on the finished weld. The shielding gas was a mixture of 95% argon
and 5% hydrogen. The hydrogen was added to produce a hotter weld in order to effectively consume the insert ring.
The resulting weld was also cleaner appearing than a similar weld using pure argon.

The initial welds of the return bends to the straight sections of the upper
convection coils were done in the shop, and installed or "speared" into place
as a unit. Then the other end of the return bends were done in the field. A
tent-like enclosure (hoarding) was built to enclose the outdoor area where
the field welds were done to protect against wind and cold. As an extra
precaution against the cool weather, the tubing was preheated with an
acetylene torch prior to welding. An interpass temperature of 4000 C (7264
F) was observed. The radial clearance for the field welds was a maximum of
2-1/2 in. (63.5 mm) with some clearances under 2 in. (51 mm). The Model
81 weld head has a nominal radial clearance of 1-3/4 in. (44.5 mm) and in
Fig. 3 - Close-up of the weld of a return bend to
some cases the tubing was spread slightly in order to facilitate mounting of upper convection tube was made by the new
the weld head. The head fit snugly but neatly between the tubes to do easily GTA weld head. The weld bead pattern on the
cap pass shows the effects of torch oscillation.
what would have been extremely difficult welds to do manually (Fig. 4).

Purging of the inside of the coils was done as a unit with argon gas entering from the bottom. An oxygen meter reading
of 0% was used as a guideline to indicate when the purge was adequate before welding on additional segments. The
weld joint design with the insert rings provided a good fitup which made it easier to get a good ID purge. After the
initial purge was established, it took about 6 min. with a flow rate of 40 ft3/hr (1.12 m/h) to purge the next section of
two tubes connected at one end by the return bend for a total length of 56 ft (171 m). During the actual weld, the flow
rate was turned down to 2 to 3 ft3/h (0.06 to 0.08 m/h), thus eliminating the possibility of pressurization of the weld ID
which could result in a concave inner weld bead, or even a blow-out of the liquid weld pool.

Hoisted into Place

The Model 215 power supply had been hoisted to the top of the furnace platform above the location of the upper
convection coils. The weld head cables controlling motor drive, wire feed, arc voltage control (AVC), torch oscillation
and shielding gas were draped down from above. The field return bend welds were done in five passes with each pass
using a single level. This procedure was developed to be very forgiving in the field. Similar welds done in the shop were
done with two levels or current changes for each pass. Tube-to-tube welds were done in four passes.

Each type of weld had a different program, and the weld programs or
schedules specifying weld parameters for welding current, travel speed, time,
pulse times, wire feed rate, AVC and oscillation, were entered into the power
supply using the hand-held program operator pendant (POP), and stored in
the power supply memory (Fig. 5). The AVC automatically maintains a
constant arc gap between the tungsten electrode and the weld surface when
traveling over an uneven surface. The oscillation controls the tungsten travel
from side to side and is programmed as part of the weld program. Minor
corrections in steering of the torch may be made by the welding operator as
necessary during the weld from the POP or the smaller auxiliary pendant.

There were four tie-ins required to connect the new tubing to existing tubing.
These were difficult, but critical welds to make. In these joints there was as
much as l/8 or 3/32 in. (3.2 or 2.3 mm) difference in the wall thickness
resulting from variable wear on the old tubing. It was necessary to machine
away some of the wall of the new tubing to match that of the old tubing.
These variations in wall thickness made it virtually impossible to use identical

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weld parameters for each of these joints. Instead, the welders sealed the
tubing ends with a transparent Plexiglas purge plug, with a suitable opening
for the ID purge gas to escape, and used the auxiliary operator pendant from
the power supply to adjust the welding current based on their observations of
penetration while the welds were in progress.


Dow's welding personnel worked 12-hr shifts and were able to complete an
average of six welds per shift, with a minimum of five welds and a maximum
of eight welds logged per shift. Maintenance supervisor Schell keeps
meticulous records of previous repairs including extensive photos neatly
arranged in an album. His records show that on previous jobs done with
manual techniques, one acceptable x-ray joint not requiring repair per shift
was considered good. During the course of this job, only three repairs were
required. These occurred on the same day near the end of the project when
gusts of wind coming from the tubesheet side of the weld caused the arc to
extinguish. These were easily repaired. Radiographic inspection was done by
Dow personnel, and zero linear defects were achieved within the scheduled
one-month time frame. Thus, not only were Dow's quality requirements met, Fig. 4 - Very little clearance was available for
the operation of the GTA welding machine. Here
but the automatic welding equipment provided a bonus of a substantial the weld head is mounted on tubing of the
increase in productivity as well. The cost savings realized in time nearly upper convection coils.
covered the cost of the equipment on this job alone.

Dow Chemical Canada, Western Canada division, has assumed a leadership

role in the application of state-of-the-art orbital welding technology. For
example, Dave Thomas, one of the division's engineering employees, is on a
Dow committee of U.S. and Canadian personnel that meets several times a
year to discuss welding problems and their solutions within the Dow plants.
Technology exchange and cooperation among plants on a national and
international basis is consistent with Dow's commitment to upgrade the
quality, efficiency and safety of its operations. Fig. 5 - Norm Potvin of Dow Chemical employs
the auxiliary operator pendant to make minor
steering adjustments during welding on the
By Barbara K. Henon, Ph.D., Arc Machines, Inc. upper convection coils.


The photographs for this article were taken by Al Schell, maintenance supervisor, Dow Chemical Canada, Inc., Western
Canada Division.

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