Leak-before-break is a methodology to assess whether a leak through a defect in a pressurised component can be detected prior to the defect attaining a critical size. Developing leak-before-break arguments in non-stress relieved piping components can be challenging, in part due to the lack of solutions available, including in R6, to predict the crack opening area (required to evaluate leak rate) for combined primary and secondary stresses under elastic-plastic conditions. This is because the nature of the secondary stresses is to relax with plasticity, which can be captured in the calculation of the crack driving force (elastic-plastic stress intensity factor), but methods to account for the additional crack-tip strain this induces and its influence on crack opening are not available. Here primary stresses are those resulting from an applied force, such as pressure, and secondary stresses are those which result from an internal mismatch and do not contribute to plastic collapse, such as thermal or residual stresses. There is, of course, potential for a higher accuracy of crack opening area evaluations from finite element analysis modelling approaches, which include elastic-plastic material properties, in the presence of combined loading scenarios.

In this study, a series of finite element analyses have been conducted whereby crack opening area and stress intensity factor have been calculated from circumferential through-wall defects, under the influence of combined primary and secondary stresses, where the magnitude and order of the combined stress has also been varied. The crack opening areas have been compared to current elastic ‘handbook’ solutions, which are conservative for primary stresses, to better understand the effect of plasticity on crack opening area and to help inform assessments when accounting for the inclusion of plasticity with secondary stresses.

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