Post weld heat treatment (PWHT), defined as any heat treatment after welding, is often used to improve the properties of a weldment. In concept, PWHT can encompass many different potential treatments; however, in steel fabrication, the two most common procedures used are post heating and stress relieving.
Post heating is used to minimize the potential for hydrogen induced cracking (HIC). For HIC to occur, the following variables must be present a sensitive microstructure, a sufficient level of hydrogen, or a high level of stress (e.g., as a result of highly constrained connections). In ferritic steels, hydrogen embrittlement only occurs at temperatures close to the ambient temperature. Therefore, it is possible to avoid cracking in a susceptible microstructure by diffusing hydrogen from the welded area before it cools.
Stress relief heat treatment is used to reduce the stresses that remain locked in a structure as a consequence of manufacturing processes. There are many sources of residual stresses, and those due to welding are of a magnitude roughly equal to the yield strength of the base material. Uniformly heating a structure to a sufficiently high temperature, but below the lower transformation temperature range, and then uniformly cooling it.