This consists of heating a metal to a high temperature, where recrystallisation and/or a phase transformation take place, and then cooling slowly, often in the heat treatment furnace. This is often carried out to soften the metal after it has been hardened, for example by cold working; a full anneal giving the very softest of microstructures. It also results in a reduction in both the yield and the tensile strength and, in the case of ferritic steels, usually a reduction in toughness.
This is a heat treatment that is carried out only on ferritic steels. It comprises heating the steel to some 30-50°C above the upper transformation temperature (for a 0.20% carbon steel this would be around 910°C) and cooling in still air. This results in a reduction in grain size and improvements in both strength and toughness.
This comprises a rapid cool from a high temperature. A ferritic steel would be heated to above the upper transformation temperature and quenched in water, oil or air blast to produce a very high strength, fine grained martensite. Steels are never used in the quenched condition, they are always tempered following the quenching operation.
A heat treatment carried out on ferritic steels at a relatively low temperature, below the lower transformation temperature; in a conventional structural carbon steel this would be in the region of 600-650°C. It reduces hardness, lowers the tensile strength and improves ductility and toughness. Most normalised steels are tempered before welding, all quenched steels are used in the quenched and tempered condition.
Ageing or Precipitation hardening (HT)
A low temperature heat treatment designed to produce the correct size and distribution of precipitates, thereby increasing the yield and tensile strength. It is generally preceded by a solution heat treatment. For steel, the temperature may be somewhere between 450-740 degree C, an aluminium alloy would be aged at between 100-200°C. Longer times and/or higher temperatures result in an increase in size of the precipitate and a reduction in both hardness and strength.
Post heat (PWHT)
A low temperature heat treatment carried out immediately on completion of welding by increasing the preheat by some 100°C and maintaining this temperature for 3 or 4 hours. This assists the diffusion of any hydrogen in the weld or heat affected zones out of the joint and reduces the risk of hydrogen induced cold cracking. It is used only on ferritic steels, where hydrogen cold cracking is a major concern i.e. very crack sensitive steels, very thick joints etc.
Stress relief (PWHT)
As the name suggests, this is a heat treatment designed to reduce the residual stresses produced by weld shrinkage. It relies upon the fact that, as the temperature of the metal is raised, the yield strength decreases, allowing the residual stresses to be redistributed by creep of the weld and parent metal. Uniformly heating a structure to a sufficiently high temperature, but below the lower transformation temperature range, and then uniformly cooling it, can relax these residual stresses. Carbon steels are typically held at 1,100 to 1,250°F (600 to 675°C) for 1 hour per inch (25 mm) of thickness. Cooling from the stress relief temperature is controlled in order that no harmful thermal gradients can occur.