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A fracture mechanics approach for analyzing spiral weld

pipes containing crack

Spiral weld pipes are used extensively in the gas and oil industries. Compared to the
longitudinal seam pipes, the spiral weld pipes can be manufactured straighter, rounder, longer
and with more uniform stress distribution and higher rigidity. However, because of the longer
weld line these pipes are more susceptible to damage due to the growth of cracks and defects
which exist or are generated in the weldment area. Therefore, it is important to investigate the
integrity and the remaining service life for the defected spiral weld pipes. Due to the arbitrary
orientation of cracks and application of various external loads in spiral pipes, these pipes
experience complex state of stress and deformation. In such cases, crack growth may occur
under any combination of shear and tensile loads in the cracked area. In this paper, the
application of a fracture criterion called the maximum hoop stress (MHS) criterion is
described for predicting the integrity of cracked spiral weld pipes. This criterion can evaluate
both the direction of fracture initiation and the final sustainable load of gas and oil pipes
containing crack. The failure design curve which is presented in this paper for different
loading types and crack orientations can be used for failure assessment of cracked spiral weld
pipes or other similar engineering applications.

Key words: spiral weld pipes, crack, brittle fracture, engineering analysis.

Petroleum products such as oil and gas are very often transported by means of
pipelines. There are three major types of pipelines for transporting oil and gas:
gathering lines, transmission lines and distribution lines. Gas or crude oil gathering
lines are used between a well and a processing plant or collection point. The gathering
lines are often relatively small-diameter lines and operate at a variety of pressures.
The transmission pipelines transport natural gas, natural gas liquids, liquid petroleum
products, crude oil etc. These are often made of steel pipes welded together and
interrupted only by valves, compression stations (for gas lines) or pumping stations
(for liquid lines). The third type of pipeline is a gas-distribution line that mainly
transports natural gas within cities.
There are several techniques for manufacturing steel pipes. The longitudinally welded
pipes and the spiral welded pipes are two major types of pipe manufacturing
techniques. The longitudinally welded pipes can be manufactured with two main
processes of double submerged arc welds and electric-resistance welds. The spiral
weld pipes are used extensively by the petroleum industry, for oil and gas lines, for
low-pressure steam lines, etc. They are also used in other industries for high- and low1

pressure water lines, vacuum lines, exhaust-steam lines, low-pressure air lines, sand
and gravel conveying and similar services. However, under the applied loads such as
the internal gas pressure or the soil pressure in the case of buried pipes, these pipes
can be susceptible to damage and fracture due to extension of cracks, flaws and
defects which are found in the weldment area. The main purpose of this research is to
study the integrity and load bearing capacity of spiral weld pipes. Therefore, more
details of manufacturing process and faults detected in this type of pipes are described
in the next sections. Then application of a damage criterion for failure assessment of
defected spiral weld pipes under complex service loads is investigated.

Spiral weld pipes

The spiral weld pipes are strong lightweight steel pipes with a single continuous
welded helical seam from end to end. Typical processes of manufacturing are
described below. The spiral weld pipes are made from hot rolled steel strip in coil.
The coils of various thicknesses are brought to size by the slitting and cut-to-length
line. Both ends of the coil are monitored using devices like a pulse reflection type
ultrasonic device. The coils having faulty or defected ends are rejected. The faultless
coils are placed on an uncoiler and the leading end of strip is welded to the trailing
end of the preceding strip. The strip is then leveled, its edges are trimmed, and
beveled by milling for weld structure. Main pinch roll feeds the strip to prebending
rolls prior the forming section. This is basically a three-roll bending system. The
inside welding is done by submerged arc welding process. The same process is then
used for outside welding. The manufactured pipes are finally cut to desired lengths by
plasma or oxyacethylene cutting at the exit gate of the pipe machine. Fig. 1 shows a
typical manufactured spiral weld pipe.

Fig. 1: Spiral weld pipe.

The spiral weld pipes offer several advantages over the traditional pipes with
longitudinal welding line. The spiral weld pipes are manufactured straighter, rounder
and longer. Consequently, the line-up and welding processes are faster. They obtain
their final shapes on the pipe mill without any need for further treatments such as
straightening, calibration, etc. The spiral weld pipes offer a more uniform stress
distribution and a higher rigidity than the longitudinal seam pipes. Various
independent tests have proved that in the event of failure, the spiral weld pipes are
safer. This is because, in the spirally welded pipes the rupture area is confined and the
energy is dispersed around the pipe in the direction of the weld, thus the break is
restricted to a small area. It has also been reported that the spiral weld pipes can resist
well the local effects of notches in the form of long cutting on the surface of pipe [1].
However, a disadvantage of the spiral weld pipe is its longer weld line. It is known
that cracks and defects are more likely to exist in the welding area. Therefore, the
possibility of finding cracks in the spiral weld pipes is more than the longitudinal
weld pipes. This underlines the importance of developing a suitable fracture

assessment procedure for cases where cracks are found in the welding strip in spiral
weld pipes.

Defects and cracks in welded pipes

The results of numerous failure investigations in pipelines have shown that failure
initiates generally at a local defect [2]. Therefore, it is important to detect
appropriately the possible flaws and cracks in pipelines. There are a few
nondestructive testing techniques to monitor the pipes for possible defects. For
example, one of the frequently used techniques called the eddy current testing is
described briefly here. Eddy currents are alternating electrical currents that can be
induced to flow in electrically conducting materials like metals. Eddy current flow
follows a closed-loop pattern unless it is interrupted or diverted by a non-conductivity
area such as a crack, pinhole, or similar discontinuity. Eddy current testing is the
science of detecting flaws while ignoring other influences on the flow pattern created
by dimensional variations, stress, chemistry changes, magnetic properties, electrical
interference, mechanical movement, vibration, etc [3]. Generally, the signals to be
ignored are termed noise, while the ones of interest are called signals.
Eddy current testing is widely used for nondestructive testing in the longitudinal as
well as the spiral weld pipes. It is relatively simple to install and operate. It can also
detect a range of defects and discontinuities at varying mill speeds. Once calibrated,
modern drift correction techniques help ensure that systems operate for periods of
years with little maintenance or attention, except for size changing. There is no
physical contact between the transducer and the material under test, so wear is not a
factor, although damage sometimes results from misalignment or from crashes on the
With seam or spiral welded products the most likely area for detecting flaws is the
welding strip itself. Flare and flattening tests are essential tests on any mill, but
precise inspection of the heat-affected zone (HAZ) indicates frequently irregularities
or deviation in the process. This allows the operator to correct the process as early as
possible and hence reduce potential scrap. Eddy current inspection can be made fully
automatic with accurate tracking, marking, and rejection of defective sections.
In addition to the eddy current testing, there are other nondestructive testing methods
for pipe industry. Details of two other techniques called the ultrasonic testing and Xray radiography and their applications for the spiral weld pipes can be found in [4].

Brittle fracture in spiral weld pipes

The results of nondestructive testing show that the most probable locations for finding
cracks in piping systems are: (1) the welding material and (2) the material in the
immediate vicinity of the welding which is often called the heat affected zone (HAZ)
(see Fig. 2). Since the length of welding in the spiral weld pipes is higher than the
longitudinal weld pipes, the possibility of finding flaws and cracks in the spiral weld
pipes is more. Although the presence of cracks itself is not considered as failure in a
structure, it increases noticeably the risk of failure modes like brittle fracture.
Therefore, it is important to use an appropriate fracture and failure criterion for
evaluating the safe operation of spiral weld pipes containing cracks.

Welding material

Heat Affected Zone


Fig. 2: Welded zone.

Fig. 3 shows a typical crack in the welding material of a spiral welded pipe. The
typical crack shown in this figure has been assumed to be in line with the welding
direction. However, in general the cracks in spiral weld pipes can be in any directions
relative to the pipe axis. The direction of crack depends on the type of deficiency that
takes place during the welding operation.
When the pipe is subjected to an internal pressure or the soil weight, the crack is often
subjected to complex loading. Usually a crack detected in the weldment zone of a
spiral pipe, experience two major mode of deformation namely: mode I (crack
opening mode) and mode II (crack in-plane sliding or shearing mode). These two
types of crack deformations are shown schematically in Fig. 3 for a crack in the
weldment. Thus in practice damage and failure of such defected spiral pipes can be
occurred under mixed mode tensile-shear loading. The ratio of these modes of
deformation can be quantified by using the mode I and mode II stress intensity factors
which depend on the geometry of cracked structure and the loading conditions.

Mode II (shearing)

Mode I (opening)

Generated Crack in weldment

Fig. 3: A typical crack in the weld material subjected to mixed mode I (opening) mode II (shearing) loads.

The evaluation of brittle fracture in mixed mode loading is considerably more

complicated than in the conventional pure mode I problems. While the direction of
fracture initiation in mode I is always along the line of initial crack, it depends on the
type of loading in mixed mode crack problems. The proposed criteria for mixed mode
fracture such as the maximum hoop stress [5], the minimum strain energy density [6]
and the maximum energy release rate [7] criteria should determine both the direction
of fracture initiation as well as the fracture load.

Failure assessment theory


m ax

cr a


In this section a well-known theory called the maximum hoop stress (MHS) criterion
is described. The criterion can be used for studying brittle fracture in spiral weld pipes
containing cracks. According to this criterion, a crack subjected to mixed mode
(tension-shear) loading will propagate from the crack tip in a radial direction o when
the maximum value of hoop stress along this direction reaches a critical stress level.
Schematic representation of this criterion is presented in Fig. 4.


Fig. 4: Schematic representation of MHS criterion for predicting mixed mode brittle
The hoop stress distribution near the crack tip can be written by an infinite series
expansion as [8]:
hoop = ( r , ) =

cos K cos 2 K sin + ( Non singular terms)

2 2
2 r



singular terms

where r and are the conventional polar coordinates. KI and KII are the stress
intensity factors (SIF). By ignoring the effects of higher order terms near the crack tip,
the direction of crack growth can be determined from:

= 0




sin 0 + K

(3 cos

< 0

0 1 )] = 0

By solving Eq. (2) for any combinations of mode I and mode II, the angle o can be
found from the following equation:

0 = arccos

3 tan 2 + 1 + 8 tan 2

1 + 9 tan 2

= arctan



Direction of crack growth initiation , 0 (degrees)

Fig. 5 shows Eq. (3) as o versus 2/.


(pure mode II)



( 2/ ) tan (K I / K II )


(pure mode I)

Fig. 5: Fracture initiation angle for any combinations of mixed mode I/II based on the
MHS criterion.
For pure mode I fracture (i.e. when KI = KIc, KII = 0 and 0 = 0), Eq. (3) is reduced to:
c =

2 r


c 2 r = K c


where KIc is the pure mode I fracture toughness and c is the critical value of hoop
stress. Both KIc and c are assumed to be the material properties. Once the angle of
fracture initiation o is determined from Eq. (3) by replacing Eq. (4) into Eq. (1) the
load bearing capacity of cracked body subjected to mixed mode loading is evaluated
based on the hypothesis of MHS criterion:
K c = cos

K cos


K sin 0


According to the MHS criterion when the right hand side of Eq. (5) which is affected
by KI, KII and 0 reaches a constant value of KIc, mixed mode brittle fracture takes
The procedure for evaluating the initiation of fracture in the spiral weld pipes using
the maximum hoop stress (MHS) criterion is summarized here. Once a crack is found
in the pipe using the nondestructive testing methods and its size and shape are
determined, the stress intensity factors of the crack KI and KII should be calculated.
The stress intensity factors (SIF) can be found in handbooks but only for structures

with simple geometry and loading configurations. For more complicated crack
problems, numerical techniques like the finite element method are the best tools for
computing the stress intensity factors. The use of finite element method is advisable
for cracks that are detected in spiral weld pipes. This is because of helical shape of
welding line in the pipe, which introduces extra shear loads due to different material
properties in the welding material and the parent material. The other reason is that the
cracks in spiral weld pipes are rarely in either longitudinal or tangential directions.
The stress intensity factor for an angled part-through crack such as a semi-elliptical
crack is not normally available analytically. To achieve a more realistic fracture
assessment, it is also important to take into account the effects of factors like the
change in material properties as well as the residual stresses in the welding zone.
Then the stress intensity factors KI and KII should be replaced in Eq. (3), to calculate
the angle of initiation of brittle fracture o. For cracks having a curved crack front, the
stress intensity factors vary along the crack front. Thus the angle o should be
calculated for different points along the crack front. In the next step, for each of these
points the function hoop ( K I , K II , 0 ) is computed from Eq. (5). If at any of the points,
this function becomes more than the critical factor KIc of the related material, brittle
fracture is expected to initiate in the pipe.




KI / KIc
Fig. 6: Failure design curve for mixed mode condition based on the MHS criterion.
For practical use of the MHS criterion in the engineering applications such as
integrity evaluation of cracked spiral weld pipes, an engineering design curve shown
in Fig. 6 can be used for predicting the onset of brittle fracture. After calculation of
stress intensity factors (KI and KII) and normalizing them by the fracture toughness of
weldment material (KIc), the corresponding points of (KI/KIc , KII/KIc) should be
determined in the design curve shown in Fig. 6. If the obtained point (like point A in
Fig. 6) lays inside the safe region (below the MHS design curve) the crack will not
propagate. Conversely, if the stress intensity factors correspond to the point B (which
locates outside the safe region), the fracture of cracked spiral weld will occur.

The procedure described above has been already validated experimentally by

Williams and Ewing [9] for general mixed mode loading. The experimental results
used by Williams and Ewing were related to fracture tests on centrally cracked plates
of different crack angles. Although flat plates were used in the tests, the related
experimental results can also be used for large-diameter pipes containing cracks of
various angles. This is because the curvature in such pipes is negligible.
It is important to be noted that Eq. (1) take into account only the singular terms of
stresses and strains near the crack tip. More recent studies by Ayatollahi et al [10]
have shown that the higher order stress terms sometimes influence significantly the
material behavior near the crack tip. This effect has been explored both on the size of
the plastic zone around the crack tip [10] and on the plastic constraint in cracked
specimens [11]. However, considering the effects of higher order terms involves more
complicated mathematical techniques. Therefore, the simple procedure outlined in the
present paper can be more appropriate for practical evaluation of cracks in spirally
welded pipes or other similar engineering purposes.

Summary and conclusion

The spiral weld pipes are used extensively in the petroleum industry. Several benefits
can be considered for using the spiral weld pipes instead of the conventional
longitudinal weld pipes. However, because of longer welding line, the existence of
cracks in the spiral weld pipes is more likely. Therefore, it is important to monitor the
pipelines periodically for detecting possible cracks during the nominal service life of
the pipe. The cracks in the spiral weld pipes are generally subjected to mixed mode
(tension-shear) loading. Failure design curve was described in this paper for
investigating the safe operation of spiral weld pipes against brittle fracture when the
pipe contains a crack.

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