Brazed joints are commonly used in the manufacture and repair of aerospace components including high temperature gas turbine components made of Ni-base superalloys. For such critical applications, it is becoming increasingly important to account for the mechanical strength and reliability of the brazed joint. However, material properties of brazed joints are not readily available and methods for evaluating joint strength such as those listed in AWS C3.2 have inherent challenges compared with testing bulk materials. In addition, joint strength can be strongly influenced by the degree of interaction between the filler metal (FM) and the base metal (BM), the joint design, and presence of flaws or defects. As a result, there is interest in the development of a multi-scale computational model to predict the overall mechanical behavior and fitness-for-service of brazed joints. Therefore, the aim of this investigation was to generate data and methodology to support such a model for Ni-base superalloy brazed joints with conventional Ni-Cr-B based FMs.
Based on a review of the technical literature a multi-scale modeling approach was proposed to predict the overall performance of brazed joints by relating mechanical properties to the brazed joint microstructure. This approach incorporates metallurgical characterization, thermodynamic/kinetic simulations, mechanical testing, fracture mechanics and finite element analysis (FEA) modeling to estimate joint properties based on the initial BM/FM composition and brazing process parameters. Experimental work was carried out in each of these areas to validate the multi-scale approach and develop improved techniques for quantifying brazed joint properties.
Two Ni-base superalloys often used in gas turbine applications, Inconel 718 and CMSX-4, were selected for study and vacuum furnace brazed using two common FMs, BNi-2 and BNi-9. Metallurgical characterization of these brazed joints showed two primary microstructural regions; a soft, ductile a-Ni phase that formed at the joint interface and a hard, brittle multi-phase centerline eutectic. CrB and Ni3B type borides were identified in the eutectic region via electron probe micro-analysis, and a boron diffusion gradient was observed in the BM adjacent to the joint. The volume fraction of centerline eutectic was found to be highly dependent on the extent of the boron diffusion that occurred during brazing and therefore a function of the primary process parameters; hold time, temperature, FM/BM composition, and joint gap.
Thermo-CalcTM and DICTRATM simulations were used to model the BM dissolution, isothermal solidification and phase transformations that occurred during brazing to predict the final joint microstructure based on these process parameters. Good agreement was found between experimental and simulated joint microstructures at various joint gaps demonstrating the application of these simulations for brazed joints. However, thermodynamic/kinetic databases available for brazing FMs were limited.
A variety of mechanical testing was performed to determine the mechanical properties of CMSX-4/BNi-2 and IN718/BNi-2 brazed joints including small-scale tensile tests, standard-size butt joints and lap shear tests. Small-scale tensile testing provided a novel method for studying microstructure-property relationships in brazed joints and indicated that both joint strength and ductility decrease significantly with an increase in the volume fraction of centerline eutectic. In-situ observations during small-scale testing also showed strain localization and crack initiation occurs around the hard, eutectic phases in the joint microstructure during loading. The average tensile strength for standard-size IN718/BNi-2 butt joints containing a low volume fraction of centerline eutectic was found to be 152.8 ksi approximately 90% of the BM yield strength (~170 ksi). The average lap shear FM stress was found to decrease from 70 to 20 ksi for IN718/BNi-2 joints and from 50 to 15 ksi for CMSX-4/BNi-2 as the overlap was increased from 1T to 5T due to non-uniform stress/strain distribution across the joint. Digital image correlation techniques and FEA models of the lap shear brazed joints were developed to assess the strain distributions across the overlap. Results were used to validate the use of damage zone models for predicting the load carrying capacity of lap shear brazed joints and suggest that the damage zone is independent of the overlap length.
To account for the presence of flaws and defects in fitness-for-service assessments of brazed joints determination of the average fracture toughness (KIC) is necessary. Currently no standard exists to measure the KIC for brazed joints, so three test methods were evaluated in this investigation on IN718/BNi-2 brazed joints. The compact tension and double cantilever beam test methods were found to give the most conservative KIC values of 16.42 and 14.42 ksivin respectively. Linear-elastic FEA models of the test specimens were used to validate the calculated KIC values. Similar to joint strength the fracture toughness appeared to be strongly influenced by the volume fraction of centerline eutectic phases.
The data and methodology generated in this initial study provides validation for the proposed multi-scale computational model by demonstrating microstructure-property relationships in brazed joints and the ability to predict joint microstructure using simulation tools. Furthermore, an experimental framework and new techniques including small-scale tensile testing, digital image correlation and fracture mechanics were established to assist in future modeling efforts. Ultimately, successful development and implementation of multi-scale computational models for brazed joints will allow for the optimization of BM/FM compositions, brazing process optimization, improved reliability of brazed joints, and more efficient design and analysis of brazed components by accounting for the properties of the joint. In addition, the overall multi-scale modeling approach demonstrated in this investigation may also be applied for dissimilar joints in general, for example dissimilar metal welds used in oil and gas, petrochemical, nuclear and power generation industries.