How to avoid stainless steel leaks and failures

Stainless steel is useful, but it requires a lot of attention and there are many aspects that engineers need to watch out for.

By Peter Kentish June 17, 2017

Stainless steel is an excellent material, but it requires a great deal of attention, something that is often missing when engineers simply specify stainless steel for corrosion resistance, thinking the problems is solved.

Stainless steels are just that, they tend to corrode less than most steels but liquid containing equipment can perforate very quickly. Only one attack site is needed to cause a failure. These groups of materials rely on a complex passive layer that requires a suitable oxidizing environment; too little and the protective passive layer does not adequately form or reform, too much and pitting will accelerate as the passivity is locally destroyed.

What can cause these issues? There are several reasons including:

  • Aggressive environments, and in near-neutral pH conditions, it is often the salt content, most notably chloride concentrations. There is a limit to chlorides and dissolved chlorine that the various grades of stainless steel can tolerate.
  • Grades of stainless steel with increasing chromium, molybdenum, and nitrogen provide increased resistance albeit at a cost penalty. This can be quite significant, but so can repairs and complete replacement plus lost production.
  • Design detail to avoid crevices, dead spots with poor or no fluid flow and the collection of debris.
  • Fabrication of components entails many processes, some dictated in part by design detail.  Welds are commonly used in fabrication and they can be a concern for several reasons.   Their contours are excellent points for collection of debris and they can be associated with weld imperfections such as lack of full weld penetration that act as crevices. 
  • The presence of weld scale and heat tinting has a detrimental effect on the ability of the stainless steel to form and maintain the protective passive layer.
  • Contamination of stainless steel surface by foreign material such as carbon steel working debris from nearby structures or from the use of contaminated tooling during dressing of welds.
  • Inadequate maintenance to remove build-up of deposits.  Stainless steels require an oxidizing environment at the steel surface to maintain the protective layer and this generally requires a clean surface.

Peter Kentish, metallurgist, Intertek. This article originally appeared on Intertek’s blog. Intertek is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Hannah Cox, content specialist, CFE Media,

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