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Improvements in Strength and Stress Corrosion

Cracking Properties in Aluminum Alloy 7075
via Low-Temperature Retrogression and Re-Aging
Heat Treatments

C.P. Ferrer,* M.G. Koul,* B.J. Connolly,* and A.L. Moran‡,*

ABSTRACT KEY WORDS: AA7075, aging aircraft, re-aging heat treat-

ments, retrogression, stress corrosion cracking
The susceptibility of aluminum alloy 7075 (AA7075 [UNS
A97075]) to intergranular stress corrosion cracking (SCC) in INTRODUCTION
the peak strength T6 temper is alleviated through the use of
the T73, or over-aged temper, which provides improved SCC AA7075-T6 (UNS A97075)(1), a precipitate-age hard-
resistance with a 10% to 15% strength loss compared to the ened Al-Zn-Mg-Cu alloy, is a high-strength alloy that
T6 temper. Previous research has indicated that retrogression
was first used in military aircraft components in the
and re-aging (RRA) heat treatments reduce the trade-off
1940s. As military platforms age, corrosion of
between T6 strength and T73 SCC resistance. The short-term
heat treatment they used, however, limited the applicability
AA7075-T6 components has become a major concern
of RRA to thin sections of material. The primary goals of this from both a cost and safety standpoint. A significant
research effort were to determine if lower retrogression tem- problem with AA7075-T6 and other Al-Mg-Zn-Cu
peratures could be used in the RRA process to extend the high-strength alloys is that they are highly suscep-
applicability of this heat treatment to thick section aircraft tible to stress corrosion cracking (SCC). AA7075 is
components and to quantify any observed improvements. also available in a T73 temper, which is an over-aged
Alternate immersion (AI) and double-cantilever beam (DCB) temper that involves solution heat treatment followed
tests were conducted in a 0.6-M sodium chloride (NaCl) solu- by a two-step aging treatment. The T73 temper re-
tion to evaluate the SCC resistance of various tempers. Im- sults in improved SCC resistance over the T6 condi-
provements in properties were demonstrated using RRA heat
tion; however, the strength is reduced by 10% to
treatments at lower temperatures and longer times than
15%. This difference in strength is significant to the
those previously investigated. In general, the various RRA
tempers <200°C produced strengths similar to that of T6
aerospace industry, where higher strengths allow for
with improved SCC properties. The RRA temper with retro- a smaller section size and significant weight savings.
gression at 160°C for 660 min produced the greatest im- Efforts have been made to alleviate the trade-off
provement in SCC resistance, with only a 4% reduction in between strength and SCC resistance in high-
strength below T6. strength aluminum alloys. Cina and Ranish1 reported
a heat treatment known as retrogression and re-
Submitted for publication May 2002; in revised form, January aging (RRA), which resulted in the corrosion resis-

Corresponding author.
tance of AA7075 in the T73 temper while maintaining
* United States Naval Academy, 121 Blake Rd., Annapolis, MD T6 strength levels. The RRA heat treatment was con-
21402. ducted on material already in the T6 condition and
UNS numbers are listed in Metals and Alloys in the Unified Num-
bering System, published by the Society of Automotive Engineers involves a short-term treatment at a temperature be-
(SAE) and cosponsored by ASTM. tween 200°C to 280°C, followed by re-aging for 24 h
520 © 2003, NACE International CORROSION—JUNE 2003

at 120°C. It was shown that during the retrogression

heat treatment step, strength falls rapidly from the
T6 level to a minimum, increases to a local maximum
(that is below the T6 strength level), and then falls off
with increasing retrogression time. After re-aging of
the retrogressed material, the strength is recovered
and the T6 level strength can be obtained up to a
limiting retrogression time. The trends indicate that
for a constant retrogression temperature, the Stage 2
stress corrosion crack growth rate decreases with
increasing retrogression times beyond the time re-
quired to achieve a local maximum in strength.
Previous research has attempted to identify the
optimal retrogression time for a given retrogression FIGURE 1. Schematic depicting specimen orientations with respect
temperature as defined by the maximum improve- to rolling direction of AA7075 plate.
ment in SCC resistance for a strength level compa-
rable to the T6 condition. Independent evaluations2-4
indicated that the optimal time for the retrogression where the RRA heat treatment was applied to mate-
portion of the RRA corresponded to the maximum rial received in the T6 condition.
regression time that retained the T6 strength after The plates received from the manufacturer were
re-aging. Regardless, the time of the retrogression processed such that the material developed charac-
heat treatment at the temperatures examined (200°C teristic grain orientations. Figure 1 shows the longi-
to 280°C) was typically <10 min. Initial applications tudinal or rolling direction (L), transverse (T), and
of these heat treatments were therefore limited to short-transverse (S) directions. The microstructure
thin section components since these short regression observed was an elongated structure typically found
times could not completely transform thick sections in aluminum plate alloys. Figure 1 also shows that
and yield the same properties. the test specimens were machined such that the
Due to the trends reported in the literature, it is S and SL orientations were evaluated. These orienta-
hypothesized that the optimal retrogression time at a tions were chosen because they generally result in
given temperature is the longest time that results in the highest SCC susceptibility for this material.
the T6 level strength after re-aging. Although Cina The RRA heat treatments were conducted using
and Ranish utilized temperatures >200°C for the ret- a muffle furnace. Five J-type, high-temperature ther-
rogression process, it has since been shown that the mocouples were spaced evenly around the furnace to
similar strength variations occur with the use of monitor the temperature of the furnace and the test
lower temperatures.5-6 The objectives of this study samples. To increase the consistency and accuracy
were to quantify the effect of RRA treatments with of the furnace, it was tuned at each of the different
retrogression temperatures ≤200°C on the strength temperatures that were utilized for heat-treating the
and SCC resistance of AA7075 and to assess the aluminum. The samples, which were initially in the
viability of using the RRA heat treatment on thick T6 condition, were retrogressed at 200, 180, and
section components that would require longer regres- 160°C for various times. These retrogression tem-
sion times. Recent studies have evaluated the appli- peratures were chosen based on the trends produced
cation of RRA to other alloys such as AA74757 (UNS in previous research, so as to continue investigating
A97475) and AA71508 (UNS A97150), which also ex- the favorable trends with the focus on lower retro-
hibited improvements in SCC resistance with appro- gression temperatures. Following the retrogression
priate RRA treatments. heat treatments, all of the blocks were re-aged for
24 h at 120°C. This re-aging treatment is the same
EXPERIMENTAL PROCEDURES artificial aging treatment that is applied to materials
to give the high-strength T6 condition. Variations in
Materials and Heat Treatment the re-aging treatment were not investigated in this
AA7075 was received in 3-in.-thick (7.62-cm- research and the re-aging heat treatment was kept
thick) plates in the T6 temper with a composition of constant for all of the RRA heat treatments.2
Al-5.93Zn-2.28Mg-1.57Cu-0.21Cr (wt%) and in the
T73 temper with a composition of Al-5.72Zn-2.48Mg- Selection of Candidate RRA Treatments
1.70Cu-0.20Cr (wt%). All of the specimens for testing An initial survey of the RRA heat treatment was
were machined from the “as-received’’ condition prior performed on 1-cubic-in. (2.54-cubic-cm) test blocks
to further heat treatment. RRA heat treatments were removed from the AA7075-T6 plate. The test blocks,
conducted on the machined specimens in the T6 which were initially in the T6 condition, were retro-
temper. This is consistent with previous research gressed (heat-treated) at 200, 180, and 160°C for

CORROSION—Vol. 59, No. 6 521


Electrical conductivity was used as a subsequent

means to select candidate RRA heat treatments.
Electrical conductivity measurements for selected
RRA conditions were performed on bars measuring
8.0 by 0.5 by 0.5-in. (20.32 by 1.27 by 1.27 cm)
using 1 A of current. Electrical conductivity was
measured and used as an indication of SCC suscep-
tibility. Previous studies have shown increasing
conductivity with over-aging from the T6 to the T73
condition as a result of the removal of copper from
solid solution, and correlates with improved SCC
Mechanical Testing
The tensile properties and fracture toughness
(Krc) values were measured for the T6, T73, and
selected RRA conditions according to ASTM E6 and
E399,(2) respectively. The 0.252-in. (0.64-cm) diam-
eter tensile specimens were removed from the plate
such that the load was applied in the S direction.
Plane strain fracture toughness (KIC) in laboratory air
was determined using pre-cracked compact tension
specimens (B = 1.0 in.) in the SL orientation.

(b) SCC Susceptibility via Alternate

Immersion Testing
The alternate immersion (AI) tests were per-
formed within the guidelines of ASTM G44. AI tensile
specimens were machined in the S direction (Figure
1). The specimens were loaded under displacement
control to 30%, 60%, and 90% of the yield strength.
The loading frames and specimens were coated to
expose only the gauge length to the corrosive envi-
ronment. The specimens were immersed for 10 min
out of every hour in a 0.6-M sodium chloride (NaCl)
solution and allowed to dry for the remaining 50 min
in laboratory air. Specimens were monitored daily
(c) and were pulled from testing upon complete
FIGURE 2. Rockwell B (HRB) hardness for: (a) retrogression at 160°C specimen fracture.
for various times and for retrogression (160°C for various times) +
re-aging (24 h at 120°C, RRA), (b) retrogression at 180°C for various Stress Corrosion Crack Growth
times and for retrogression (180°C for various times) + re-aging via Double-Cantilever Beam Testing
(24 h at 120°C, RRA), and (c) retrogression at 200°C for various Bolt-loaded double-cantilever beam (DCB) tests
times and for retrogression (200°C for various times) + re-aging
were used to complement the AI testing by quantify-
(24 h at 120°C, RRA).
ing the SCC resistance in pre-cracked specimens.
The SL DCB specimens used were approximately
6 in. (15.24 cm) long in the L direction with specimen
various times. Following the retrogression heat treat-
thickness (B) and height (2h) equal to 1.0 in. The
ments, the blocks were re-aged for 24 h at 120°C.
fatigue pre-cracked DCB specimens were bolt-loaded
Hardness was used as an initial means to select
and the initial applied stress intensity (K) was calcu-
candidate RRA heat treatments for further evalua-
lated from the load-line deflection (v) and crack
tion. Rockwell B (HRB) measurements were obtained
length (a). The bolt-loaded end of each specimen was
for each of the blocks following the retrogression heat
coated to eliminate any galvanic interaction between
treatment and after the full RRA heat treatment. RRA
the steel bolts and the test specimen. The DCB speci-
treatments were chosen based on the HRB vs retro-
mens were exposed to a corrosive environment by
gression time trends.
dripping 0.6 M NaCl solution into the crack mouth
ASTM International, 100 Barr Harbor Drive, West Conshohocken, several times daily. This particular exposure was
PA 19428. chosen for two reasons. The first is that DCB SCC



crack growth data in the literature has been obtained TABLE 1

using this particular exposure and a comparison of RRA Heat Treatments Selected for Corrosion Testing
results was desired. Secondly, previous research has
Retrogression Re-Aging
indicated that K vs da/dt behavior of AA7075-T6 Temperature Time Temperature Re-Aging
with dropwise 0.6-M NaCl is very similar to full im- (°C) (min) (°C) Time (h)
mersion in NaCl solutions of various pH levels.14
The crack length as a function of time was opti- Phase 1 160 250 120 24
cally measured for each specimen. The applied stress
intensity (K) as a function of crack length (a), load- 180 35 120 24
line displacement (ν), and specimen half-height (h) 50
was calculated based on Equation (1):14
200 8 120 24
νEh[3h(a + .6h )2 + h 3 ]1/2
K= (1) Phase 2 160 660 120 24
4[(a + .6h )3 + h 2a ]
180 120 120 24


Hardness Profiles
The profiles of Rockwell B hardness measure-
ments conducted on samples retrogressed at 160,
180, and 200°C are shown in Figures 2(a), (b), and
(c), respectively. These figures show that the hard-
ness of the material decreases during the initial
stages of retrogression heat treatment for all retro-
gression temperatures examined. After reaching a
minimum, the hardness value increases to a local
maximum. Following this peak in hardness, contin-
ued retrogression will cause the hardness to decrease
as the material over-ages. These results are similar
to results obtained in previous research performed FIGURE 3. Electrical conductivity vs regression time for two RRA
at higher temperatures.2,5,15 However, the time to heat treatments of AA7075.
reach the initial minimum on the retrogression curve
was much shorter for the higher retrogression tem-
peratures. Hardness measurements performed after RRA heat treatments selected for the first phase of
re-aging indicates that the hardness of the RRA con- experimentation.
dition increases to a maximum, then decreases as a
function of retrogression time. Electrical Conductivity Profile
The purpose of the survey experimentation with As a result of the marginal SCC resistance (i.e.,
test blocks was to find the maximum retrogression marginal SCC crack growth rates and marginal +
time that retained T6 strength upon re-aging for each failure rate in AI testing) of the RRA tempers selected
of the three retrogression temperatures. The selec- using the initial test metric (i.e., hardness profile), a
tion of the RRA heat treatments for more extensive second phase of testing was performed. Since electri-
mechanical and corrosion property evaluations was cal conductivity has been correlated to SCC resis-
based on the experimental results of the test blocks. tance,7 conductivity measurements were used to
Best-fit curves were generated for each set of data for select RRA times for the second phase of testing.
the different retrogression temperatures. Two heat Electrical conductivity specimens were retrogressed
treatments for each retrogression temperature were at 160°C and 180°C for various times, and the con-
chosen for continued experimentation. ductivity and hardness of each of the samples were
For each of the three retrogression temperatures, measured. As expected, Figure 3 shows that the elec-
the time that corresponded to a HRB of 88.0 was trical conductivity increases with increasing retro-
selected for further experimentation. This was done gression time. Figures 4(a) and (b) display the
to standardize the expected hardness after the RRA hardness vs electrical conductivity for each mea-
heat treatment for each different temperature. For sured temper of AA7075. Based on these measure-
each of the three retrogression temperatures, another ments, two more RRA treatments with electrical
RRA heat treatment was selected based on the point conductivities similar to that of the T73 temper were
where the best-fit curve crossed the average T6 hard- chosen for additional corrosion testing. These two
ness value for the test blocks. Table 1 shows the final heat treatments, also given in Table 1, maintain

CORROSION—Vol. 59, No. 6 523


are also shown in Table 2. The plain strain fracture

toughness (KIC) is based on an average of two tests
for each temper. The results indicate that the frac-
ture toughness of the RRA temper is lower than the
T73 and within 4% of the T6 value.

SCC Susceptibility via AI Testing

The AI test is an accelerated means of providing
comparative data of corrosion susceptibility of vari-
ous materials. Those materials with higher resistance
to SCC will generally have a larger number of days to
failure in AI. Results of the AI test are shown in Table
3. As expected, the T73 temper exhibited the longest
(a) lifetimes and remained unbroken for the total testing
time (Table 3). Results of the AI indicate that only
the low-temperature, long-term regression heat treat-
ments from Phase 2 (160°C/660 min and 180°C/
120 min) performed better than the T6 condition.

Stress Corrosion Crack Growth via DCB Testing

DCB testing was conducted to evaluate the SCC
behavior of a material in the presence of a flaw. This
constant displacement test is useful in determining
the Stage 2 crack growth rate of a material when it is
subjected to a corrosive environment. Data from a
double-cantilever experiment are typically shown as
(b) the crack growth rate (da/dt) vs stress intensity (K),
FIGURE 4. Plot of HRB vs conductivity for AA7075 in the T6, T73, and selected results (VK curves) are shown in Figure 5.
and various RRA tempers: (a) retrogression at 160° C and (b) Tests were not conducted for long enough time
retrogression at 180°C. periods to observe crack arrest and to measure KISCC.
All of the RRA tempers exhibited lower Stage 2 aver-
age crack growth rates than that of the T6 temper.
hardness (tensile strength) while maximizing electri- However, the crack growth rates of some of the RRA
cal conductivity values. tempers were still much higher than that of the T73
temper. A significant improvement in SCC resistance
Mechanical Testing was obtained for the low-temperature, long-term
Table 2 shows the 0.2% yield strength of AA7075 retrogression heat treatments (180°C/120 min and
in the T6, T73, and the RRA tempers. The results in- 160°C/660 min). Figure 5 shows that substantially
dicate the RRA tempers did not cause a reduction of lower crack growth rates (VK curves) compared to the
strength compared to the T6 temper, and in some T6 temper were obtained for these conditions. These
cases produced yield strengths higher than both the results are consistent with the results obtained from
T73 and T6 tempers. The fracture toughness results the AI testing.

Mechanical Properties of AA7075 for Various Temper Conditions
0.2% Yield Fracture
Strength Toughness
Temper (MPa) (MPa√m)

T6 432.3 23.1
T73 391.6 31.6
RRA (retrogressed at 160°C for 250 min/re-aged at 120°C for 24 h) 437.8 —
RRA (retrogressed at 160°C for 275 min/re-aged at 120°C for 24 h) 442.0 —
RRA (retrogressed at 180°C for 35 min/re-aged at 120°C for 24 h) 439.2 —
RRA (retrogressed at 180°C for 50 min/re-aged at 120°C for 24 h) 439.9 —
RRA (retrogressed at 200°C for 8 min/re-aged at 120°C for 24 h) 440.6 —
RRA (retrogressed at 200°C for 35 min/re-aged at 120°C for 24 h) 450.9 —
RRA (retrogressed at 160°C for 660 min/re-aged at 120°C for 24 h) 423.3 22.2
RRA (retrogressed at 180°C for 120 min/re-aged at 120°C for 24 h) 428.9 22.4



AI Test Results for AA7075-T6, -T73, and Various RRA Conditions
Applied Load Number Days Until Failure
Temper (% σys) Failed (Maximum Exposure Time = 135 days)(A)

T6 30 2 of 2 4,4
60 1 of 1 3
90 1 of 1 3

T73 30 0 of 2 —
60 0 of 2 —
90 0 of 2 —

RRA 30 2 of 2 3,5
Retrogressed 160°C/250 min 60 2 of 2 3,3
90 2 of 2 1,3

RRA 30 2 of 2 3,5
Retrogressed 160°C/275 min 60 2 of 2 3,4
90 2 of 2 1,3

RRA 30 2 of 2 3,4
Retrogressed 180°C/35 min 60 2 of 2 3,3
90 2 of 2 1,3

RRA 30 2 of 2 3,4
Retrogressed 180°C/50 min 60 2 of 2 1,4
90 2 of 2 1,1

RRA 30 2 of 2 3,3
Retrogressed 200°C/8 min 60 2 of 2 3,3
90 2 of 2 1,1

RRA 30 1 of 2 41
Retrogressed 200°C/35 min 60 1 of 2 2
90 2 of 2 2,2

RRA 30 0 of 2 —
Retrogressed 160°C/660 min 60 1 of 2 55
90 2 of 2 14,45

RRA 30 0 of 2 —
Retrogressed 180°C/120 min 60 1 of 2 89
90 2 of 2 87,87
The T73 temper was exposed for a maximum of 250 days. The RRA 160°C/660 min, RRA 180°C/120 min, and RRA 200°C/35 min were
exposed for a maximum of 101 days.

FIGURE 5. Crack growth rate vs stress intensity for AA7075 in the FIGURE 6. A 0.2% yield stress vs average Stage 2 crack growth
T6, T73, and two RRA tempers. rate for AA7075 in the T6, T73, and various RRA tempers.

CORROSION—Vol. 59, No. 6 525


(a) (b)
FIGURE 7. (a) SEM micrograph of AA7075 in the T6 temper broken in laboratory air. (b) Higher magnification of an area
on Figure 7(a).

(a) (b)
FIGURE 8. (a) SEM micrograph of AA7075 retrogressed at 160°C for 660 min and re-aged at 120°C for 24 h broken in
laboratory air. (b) Higher magnification of an area on Figure 8(a).

Figure 6 shows all of the tempers investigated in that the trade-off between the T6 and T73 tempers is
this research via a plot of yield strength vs the aver- reduced with the use of the RRA tempers. For a given
age Stage 2 crack growth rate. In general, the various yield strength, the crack growth rate is lower with the
RRA tempers produce strengths similar to that of T6 use of this temper. Most significantly, the RRA tem-
with lower crack growth rates. Figure 6 also indicates per with retrogression at 160°C for 660 min pro-



(a) (b)
FIGURE 9. (a) SEM micrograph of AA7075 in the T73 temper broken in laboratory air. (b) Higher magnification of an area
on Figure 9(a).

(a) (b)
FIGURE 10. (a) SEM micrograph of AA7075 in the T6 temper exposed to 3.5% NaCl by AI. (b) Higher magnification of
brittle area on Figure 10(a).

duced the greatest improvement, with only a 4% re- time: T6 → RRA → T73. Improvement as a function
duction in strength below T6. of temper is evident by the increase in number and
Figures 7 through 9 show scanning electron decrease in size of the ductile fracture sites as the
microscope (SEM) micrographs of the characteristic temper time increases. Figure 10 shows a SEM mi-
tensile fracture surfaces of AA7075-T6, AA7075 RRA, crograph of the fracture surface from an AA7075-T6
and AA7075-T73. In general, the fracture surfaces AI specimen. The transition from SCC and an inter-
in these micrographs indicate that the material granular fracture mode to ductile overload is evident
increases in ductility with increasing overall aging and indicated by the superimposed outlines.

CORROSION—Vol. 59, No. 6 527


CONCLUSIONS Center, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division,

Loyola Marymount University and R. Link, S.
❖ Results of this research indicate that the T6 tem- Crutchley, and T. Antenucci from the United States
per exhibits strengths that are 10% to 15% higher Naval Academy.
than the T73 temper, but has Stage 2 average crack
growth rates that are approximately ten times faster REFERENCES
than T73. Furthermore, the T6 temper fails more
1. B. Cina, B. Ranish, “New Technique for Reducing Susceptibility
quickly when subjected to 3.5% NaCl in the AI test. to Stress Corrosion Cracking of a High-Strength Aluminum
❖ RRA tempers with retrogression temperatures as Alloy,” presented at Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd., Lod Airport,
Israel (1973).
low as 160°C produced average Stage 2 crack growth 2. P. Fleck, J. Barba, H.M. Oh, J. Peraza, J. Foyos, E.W. Lee, O.S.
rates lower than that of the T6 temper during the Es-Said, “Aluminum Alloys—Their Physical and Mechanical
DCB experiments. Additionally, RRA tempers with Properties,” Proc. 7th Int. Conf. on Aluminum Alloys (ICAA),
held April 2000 (Charlottesville, VA: ICAA, 2000), p. 649.
retrogression temperatures as low as 160°C lasted 3. J.K. Park, Mater. Sci. Eng. A103 (1988): p. 223.
substantially longer than T6 in the AI test. 4. K. Ural, J. Mater. Sci. Lett. 13 (1994): p. 383.
5. W. Wallace, J. Beddoes, M. DeMalherbe, Can. Aeronaut. Space
❖ This research demonstrates that lower-tempera- J. 27 (1981): p. 225.
ture/longer-time RRA heat treatments may alleviate 6. N.J.H. Holroyd, “Environment-Induced Cracking of Metals,”
part of the strength-SCC resistance trade-off between Conf. Proc. Int. Conf. on Environment-Induced Cracking of
Metals, eds. R.P. Gangloff, M.B. Ives, held October 1988 (Hous-
the T6 and T73 tempers for AA7075. Therefore, the ton, TX: NACE International, 1988), p. 311.
results indicate that the RRA heat treatment may be 7. M.U. Islam, W. Wallace, Met. Technol. 11 (1984): p. 320.
8. M.B. Hall, J.W. Martin, Z. Metallkd. 85 (1994): p. 134.
a viable means for improving the SCC performance
9. T.C. Tsai, T.H. Chuang, Corrosion 52 (1996): p. 414.
of thick section. Prior to application, additional work 10. J.S. Robinson, S.D. Whelan, R.L. Cudd, Mater. Sci. Technol. 15
is required to optimize these heat treatments as a (1999): p. 717.
11. J.Y. Barghout, G.W. Lorimer, R. Pilkington, B. Prangnell, Mater.
function of compositional variations within specific Sci. Forum 217-222 (1996): p. 975.
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 14. M. Hyatt, “Use of Precracked Specimens in Stress Corrosion
Testing of High-Strength Aluminum Alloys,” Corrosion-NACE
26 (Houston, TX: NACE, 1970), p. 487.
The authors acknowledge the assistance and 15. N. Danh, K. Rajan, W. Wallace, Met. Trans. 14A (1983): p.
contributions of the Alcoa Technical Research 1,843.

International Conference on the Corrosion and Cracking of Welds

Issues Call for Papers

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