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Introduction to Case
Case Study 1: Crane Bolt
Case Study 2: Rider
Roller Shaft Failure
Case Study 3: Crane Pin
Case Study 4: Shaft
Bearing Failure
Case Study 5: Bronze
Bull Gear Failure
Case Study 6: Analysis of
316L Reducer Failure
TMS Outstanding Student
Paper Contest Winner--
1999 Undergraduate Division
An Introduction to Failure Analysis for Metallurgical Engineers
Thomas Davidson
The objective of this paper is to introduce the reader to the
procedures generally followed when conducting a metallurgical
failure analysis. Due to the large number, of possible causes of
failures, this report will not delve deeply into theory. Instead, six
failure case reports are provided to allow the reader to learn by
example. For this reason, the reader is expected to have some
background knowledge of failure mechanisms. However, the
paper includes a detailed bibliography containing several
sources that were used during my summer employment to help
carry out these cases. The six cases presented are cases I worked
on over the summer of 98 for Noranda Technology Centre in the
Materials Technology for Failure Prevention group.
To increase the odds of completing a conclusive failure analysis
while at the same time saving time and money, investigations
should be carried out using a systemic approach similar to that
outlined in Figure P.1. It is important to note however, that it is
often impossible to foresee results that might require the
investigator to go back and repeat a test. A simple way reduce
the occurrence of this is to go into a case well informed on how
similar systems have failed. An excellent source of for this type
of information is the ASM handbooks, particularly volume 10 on
"Failure analysis and prevention". This book is an invaluable
reference to the beginner and the expert and should be consulted
regularly. Another important source of information are the
standards by which the part was manufactured. These standards
give the investigator a measuring stick by which to compare, as
well as indicating areas of importance. There are many
organisations that produce standards for different applications
and several organisations standards can overlap. It would be a
good idea for the investigators to spend some time familiarising themselves with these organisations and
how the standards are used. Table P.1 gives a brief list of the more common organisations that write
standards and their general area of coverage.
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The first step in conducting any failure analysis is to gain a good understanding of the conditions under
which the part was operating. The investigator must ask questions from those who work with, as well as
those who maintain the equipment and visit the site whenever possible. Contacting the manufacturer may
also be necessary. A simple questionnaire, presented in Appendix 1, is a good place to start and will lead
the investigator to more detailed questions. Unfortunately, in many instances the investigator will receive
a failed part with little information about its history and operating conditions. In cases such as these the
physical evidence will have to be more heavily relied on.
Figure P.1. Chart outlining the major steps that are usually taken when conducting a failure
Table P.1--Common standard organisations and their general area of coverage.
Acronym Coverage
AISI Steel composition standards
ASTM Standards for materials and their manufacture
API Petroleum industry standards which are used by many other industries
ASME Responsible for Boiler Pressure vessel codes
NACE Codes for materials exposed to corrosive environments
SAE Automotive industry standards used by many other industries
UNS Classification for metals and metal alloys
The second step is to conduct a visual examination, cataloguing and recording the physical evidence at the
same time. This serves the functions of:
Familiarising the investigators with the evidence.
Creating a permanent record that can be referred to in light of new information.
Samples should be examined, photographed and sketched taking particular care to identify and record any
area of particular importance, such as fracture surfaces and surface defects. Visual examination can be
aided by the use of a stereomicroscope with lights that can be easily directed. Shadows can give depth to a
surface making it easier to analysis and photograph. Pieces should always be examined and recorded
before any surface cleaning is undertaken. In some cases substances such as dirt, paint and Oil on the
surface can themselves be important clues, indicating such things as how old the fracture surface is and in
what kind of environment the piece was operating. A good general rule is to be conservative when
destroying evidence of any kind. The visual examination is a good time for the investigator to examine the
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fracture surfaces in detail and try to identify the mode of fracture (brittle , ductile, fatigue, etc.), points of
initiation, and direction of propagation. Each mode of fracture has distinct characteristics that can be
easily seen with the naked eye or the use of a stereomicroscope, however, sometimes a scanning electron
microscope (SEM) will have to be used. There are several good books, some listed in the bibliography, on
fracture mechanism and compilations of fracture surface photographs that can be used by the investigator
to identify the mechanism of fracture under investigation. As a reminder, some common fracture surface
characteristics arc listed in Table P.2 with their corresponding mechanism.
Table P.2--Fracture mechanisms and their fracture surface characteristics.
Mode of Fracture Typical fracture surface Characteristics
Ductile Cup and Cone
Dull Surface
Inclusion at the bottom of the dimple
Brittle Intergranular Shiny
Grain Boundary cracking
Brittle Transgranular Shiny
Cleavage fractures
Fatigue Beachmarks
Striations (SEM)
Initiation sites
Propagation area
Zone of final fracture
The third step is to decide on a course of action. Based on the visual examinations and the background
information the investigator must outline a plan of action, which is the series of steps that will be needed
to successfully complete the case. There are several resources that an investigator can draw on to
determine the cause of failure, which can classified into one of the following categories:
Macroscopic examination
Non-destructive testing (NDT)
Chemical analysis
Metallographic examination
Mechanical Testing
Many of these categories will require steps that use the same equipment and therefore much time can be
saved with a little forethought. The macroscopic examination is best performed when cataloguing the
samples, however the investigator will often want to return to examine the part in more detail once other
evidence is gathered. Use of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) is often useful at this stage because of
its large range of magnifications and its large depth of field. Since undamaged fracture surfaces are not
always available, it is often a good idea to open other cracks that may be present in the piece. This often
reveals good quality fracture surfaces similar to those that caused failure. Procedures for doing this can
also be found in the ASM handbook volume 10.
Nondestructive tests (NDT) are a good way to examine parts without causing permanent damage. Often
times, results obtained from examining failed parts in the lab using NDT's can be used to examine parts in
the field and remove them from service before failure occurs. There are several NDT's that are available
to the investigator and it would be a good idea to read up on each ones abilities. Table P.3 gives an outline
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of NDT's available and what they are able to detect.
Table P.3--Commonly used nondestructive tests and there capabilities in detecting defects.
NDT Method Capabilities
Radiography Measures differences in radiation absorption.
Inclusions, Porosity, Cracks
Ultrasonic Uses high frequency sonar to find surface and subsurface defects.
Inclusions, porosity, thickness of material, position of defects.
Dye Penetrate Uses a die to penetrate open defects.
Surface cracks and porosity
Magnetic Particle Uses a magnetic field and iron powder to locate surface and near
surface defects.
Surface cracks and defects
Eddy Current Based on magnetic induction.
Measures conductivity, magnetic permeability, physical
dimensions, cracks, porosity, and inclusions.
Chemical analysis is done on the bulk of the material to confirm the material composition. Depending on
the investigation, chemical analysis should also be done on any overlay materials or surface residues.
There arc several techniques that can be used to check composition, and the choice of which to use often
depends on accessibility and sample type. In many cases, the SEM can be a powerful tool for fast
identification of surface materials. Care should be taken not to contaminate samples taken for chemical
analysis by surface residue or cutting instruments.
Metallographic examination involves the sectioning of samples to examine the microstructure. The
sections that are selected for examination are dependent on the type of piece and the mode of fracture.
Sections from the sample should be taken in different planes so that any differences in the microstructure
can be seen. Sometimes it is useful to take a cross section through the fracture surface so that the
microstructure below the fracture and the surface profile can be examined. A section running parallel to
the fracture surface is also often taken for examination. Samples should be mounted, ground, and polished
using metallographic techniques. They should be examined before etching for porosity, inclusions, and
other defects. Microstructures should be identified and their properties researched. There are several
referenced that the investigator can refer to for identification of uncertain structures.
Mechanical testing is done to verify that the mechanical properties of the material conform to the
standards. There are many types of mechanical testing that can be performed and their procedures can be
found in the ASTM mechanical testing standards. The most common method used is hardness testing
because of its relative simplicity, low cost, and the fact that for many materials tables exist to relate
hardness with yield strength. A macrohardness is usually sufficient to determine material properties,
however microhardnesss measurements are helpful in determining property variations within the material.
Use the microhardness measurement to compare the surface hardness to that of the body or to verify the
microstructure. Other mechanical testing such as tensile tests and impact tests can be used, however their
use is usually limited by insufficient material and high costs .
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Once all the data is gathered, the investigator must come to a conclusion based on the evidence present.
This requires that the investigator draw heavily on background experience and research performed. This
step can be difficult because when conducting the investigation clues will lead the investigator down
paths that seem to be the cause but which are merely consequences.
The final and most difficult step in any investigation is coming up with recommendations. Some cases
will be simple, however many cases are not obvious even though the cause and theory are known.
Recommendations are not to be taken lightly. Serious failures can occur if recommendations are in error.
The system may have to be redesigned or a new material put in place. Sometimes all you will be able to
recommend is that inspections be carried out more often.
Introduction to Case Studies
These case studies are actual reports submitted in response to industrial failures. The purpose of these
reports is to demonstrate by example. Most of the cases mention the techniques that where used when
stating the results. They where written at a basic level due to the uncertainty of background of the reader
and further reading is be recommended to better understand the failure mechanism. Most of the cases that
are presented here have comparable cases in the ASM failure analysis handbook.
Case Study 1: Crane Bolt Failure
One of two bolts supporting a load of 16 200 lbs failed while in service causing eight hours of downtime
on an essential machine to production. The bolts were in operation on a crane used to transfer anodes into
the machine. Figure 1.1 shows a drawing of the set-up and the location of fraction Just above the nut. The
crane cycled 600 time a day 7 days a week.
The broken bolt (Figure 1.2) and a new unused bolt, recommended by the supplier for the application,
were supplied to conduct the investigation. The original designers of the crane specified a bolt that
conforms to SAE standards grade 5. The supplier of the new bolt confirmed that it was made to conform
with ASTM standard A 193 grade B7.
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Figure 1.1. Drawing of the bolt and
crane set-up.
Figure 1.2. Photograph of broken
Figure 1.3. Photograph of fracture
Examination of the fracture surface revealed characteristics such as a beachmarks associated with fatigue
(Figure 1.3). The zone of final fracture was located between two areas of fatigue propagation suggesting
the presence of bending forces. The surface area of final fracture was approximately 12% of the total
fracture surface suggesting that the bolt was not overloaded. Cracks where also found between threads
near the fracture surface indicating that the bolt was highly susceptible to fatigue initiation.
Results from chemical analyses (Table 1.1) show that the original broken bolt had a carbon content
slightly below those required by the SAE standards for a grade 5 bolt. This lower carbon content would
have acted to decrease the material properties. The chemical composition of the new sample bolt
conformed to the ASTM standard A193/A grade B7 that requires an AISI-SAE 4140 composition.
Table 1.1--Chemical analysis results on both bolts.
Element Original broken bolt (%)
SAE Standard
Grade 5 (%)
New Sample
Bolt (%)
ASTM Standard B7
AISI 4140 (%)
Carbon 0.20 0.28-0.55 0.42 0.37-0.49
Manganese 0.65 -- 0.85 0.65-1.10
Silicon 0.22 -- 0.22 0.15-0.35
Phosphor 0.013 0.048 max. 0.015 0.035
Sulphur 0.011 0.058 max. 0.030 0.040
Chrome 0.08 -- 0.79 0.75-1.20
Nickel 0.06 -- 0.07 --
Molybdenum 0.01 -- 0.15 0.15-0.25
Microscopic examination of the bolts where done using longitudinal and latitudinal mounts for each. The
sections taken from the fractured bolt were taken close to the fracture surface. Examination before etching
of the two bolts showed no cracking or unusually large inclusions. The original broken bolt did show
some flaking at the base of the threads (Figure 1.4) but this is expected for a bolt that has been in service.
Etching the sections revealed a microstructure of coarse pearlite in a matrix of ferrite (Figure 1.5). The
SAE grade 5 standard requires that the bolt be quenched and tempered to conform and therefore should
have a tempered martensite structure. Martensite has higher material properties such as yield strength and
hardness, which increases its resistance to fatigue initiation. The ferrite matrix of the original bolt has low
yield strength, which in turn reduces its resistance to fatigue initiation. The new bolt was found to be
quenched and tempered as required by the ASTM standard (Figure 1.6). However rolling seems where
found at the tips of the treads (Figure 1.7). This is not a serious defect because of the defects location in a
low stress area however, if the bolt was placed in a corrosive atmosphere these seams would corrode and
then act as fatigue initiation sites.
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Figure 1.4. Micrograph of
flaking found at the base
of a thread in the
fractured bolt. 2% nital
Figure 1.5. Micrograph of
fractured bolt. Ferrite
matrix with pearlite. 2%
nital 200X
Figure 1.6. Micrograph of
new bolt. Tempered
martensite. 2% nital 500X
Figure 1.7. Micrograph of
the new bolt thread
showing a rolling seam.
2% nital 200X
Tensile tests were done on the bolts to test their material properties in comparison with the standards. The
results (Table 1.2) show that the yield strength and ultimate tensile strength of the original bolt are only
two thirds that required by the standards. This conforms to the microstructural observations. The
properties of the new bolt conformed to the standard even though they were slightly elevated.
Table 1.2--Results and standard requirements of tensile tests.
Original Broken Bolt New Sample Bolt
Standard Grade
Standard Grade
Sample # 1 2 1 2
Ultimate Tensile Strength (KSI) 69.5 69.5 148 146 100 125
Yield Strength (KSI) 42.7 44.4 134 133 80 105
Elongation (%) 26 24 20 20 16 min. 16 min.
Surface Reduction (%) 67 67 59 59 50 min. 50 min.
Conclusions and Recommendations:
Examination revealed that the bolt failed as a result of high cycle low load fatigue. Chemical analysis and
tensile tests confirmed that the bolt did not meet the SAE grade 5 standards required by the original
design of the crane. The major cause for this lack of conformity is because the bolt was not quenched and
tempered. Since the resistance of steel to fatigue initiation in proportional to its yield strength, the low
properties of the steel in this case left it open to fatigue initiation.
Examination of the new bolt revealed that it conformed with the ASTM standards A 193 for a grade B7
bolt, as the supplier specified. However, rolling seams were found in the thread tips. Due to the relatively
low loads this area is subjected to this is not a major problem but if the bolt is subjected to a corrosive
environments these seams could grow and become fatigue initiation sites.
The SAE grade 5 bolt specified by the original designers should continue to be used in future and the
upgrade to the ASTM B7 is unnecessary.
Case Study 2: Rider Roller Shaft Failure
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A section of a failed "rider roller" shaft was sent for failure analysis (Figure 2. 1). This shaft is designed to
ride on top of cardboard as it is being rolled. It was first installed in December 97 replacing a shaft in
which cracks were observed near the ends. In March 98 a crack was observed in the centre of the roll.
Since no replacements were available at the time, welding was used to repair the crack. This caused the
shaft to become out of round by 0. 140". To repair this a hydraulic Jack was used at the centre of the roll
to bend it back leaving a 0.040" deflection that was corrected by machining. Nine days later, on April 11th
98 at 21: 00, the shaft broke on the key-way side while the machine was being set up at low speed. The
roll usually operates at 550 meters per minute, approximately 630 RPM.
The low carbon steel shaft was suppose to have a stainless steel weld overlay applied before installation to
protect against corrosion in the mill environment. 17-4PH steel was used for this application before and
failed to endure the high cycle low stress conditions.
Figure 2.1. Photograph of "rider
roller" indicating approximate
point of fracture.
Figure 2.2. Photograph of fracture
surface showing initiation site,
beachmarks from fracture
propagation, and small area of final
Figure 2.3. Photograph of shaft
surface indicating weld overlay
The fracture surface is characteristic of a high cycle fatigue failure caused by low torsion stresses (Figure
2.2). The area of final fracture is small, approximately 35% of total area, indicating that the material was
adequate for the low applied stresses. The beachmarks (Figure 2.2), characteristics of fatigue that radiate
from the initiation site, and the location of final fracture, being off centre, indicated that initiation did not
occur evenly around the circumference of the shaft. Around the circumference of the fracture surface, a
layer was observed which fractured at a 45' angle to the plane of fracture. This is characteristic of the
weld overlay. As well, there were many grooves running around the outside of the shaft that are weld
overlay features (Figure 2.3).
Materials characterisation and evaluation:
Chemical analysis of the material revealed it to be low carbon steel. Compositions correspond to the AISI
1019 specifications (Table 2.1). Using the alloy analyser, the weld overlay was found to be a low alloy
steel, probably type EFe, and not stainless steel as was thought.
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Table 2.1--Result of shaft chemical analysis.
Element Analysed Composition of Shaft (%)
Standard Composition Ranges (%)
Carbon 0.19 0.15-0.20
Manganese 0.70 0.70-1.00
Silicon 0.26 --
Phosphorus 0.020 0.040 max.
Sulphur 0.020 0.040 max.
Chromium 0.10 --
Nickel 0.17 --
Molybdenum 0.02 --
Microscopic examination revealed the core to have a ferrite and a coarse pearlite structure characteristics
of low carbon steel (Figure 2.4). The weld overlay had pearlite matrix with some acicular ferrite (Figure
2.5). A microhardness test revealed a hard surface that gets progressively softer towards the core (Table
2.2). This concurs with the microstructure. The inclusions present in the core of the shaft where
acceptable (Figure 2.6).
Table 2.2--Results of microhardness measurements.
Distance from Surface (mm) Hardness HVN-200g
35 257
42 271
107 255
140 247
214 187
252 187
Core 156
Core 167
Examination of a longitudinal mount taken from near the point of major crack initiation sites showed
large inclusions between weld passes (Figure 2.7). Examination of the fracture surface initiation sites
(Figure 2.8), on the same sample, showed an initiation site on the fracture surface that is similar in shape
and size to the inclusions. This suggests that these inclusions acted as stress raisers and thus as fatigue
initiation sites. The bending of the shaft would have caused decohesion of the inclusions and increased the
chances of fatigue initiation. Decohesion of the weld overlay between welding passes can also be seen
around the circumference of the shaft (Figure 2.3). This indicates poor bonding between the weld overlay
and the base material.
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Figure 2.4.
Micrograph of core
composed of ferrite
and pearlite. 2%
nital 100X
Figure 2.5.
Micrograph of weld
composed of a
pearlite matrix with
the presence of
acicular ferrite. 2%
nital 500X
Figure 2.6.
representing average
inclusion content of
the low carbon steel
core. 2% nital 100X
Figure 2.7.
Micrograph showing
two inclusions found
in the weld overlay
2% nital 15X
Figure 2.8.
Micrograph showing
the fracture surface
initiation site. 2%
nital 15X
Conclusions and Recommendations:
The failure was caused by high cycle low stress fatigue, which was initiated at inclusions in the weld
overlay. For this kind of failure, when there is an absence of other defects, the surface conditions become
an important factor in the prevention of crack initiation. Bending the shaft to correct its alignment
probably caused decohesion of the weld inclusions encouraging microcracks to form. This would have
increased local stress concentrations and the possibility of crack initiation. These inclusions probably
originated from the weld being applied too quickly.
The use of a weld overlay to reconstruct existing rolls is an acceptable procedure provided the weld is
applied property. This would harden the surface and thereby make the shaft more resistant to fatigue
initiation at surface defects. A welding procedure should be developed that would involve the making of
block samples in which the welding conditions, such as current and speed, are varied and optimised.
Noranda Technology Centre can help in developing a procedure. A liquid penetrant inspection should be
performed to inspect the weld overlay for any cracks or porosity.
Future shafts should be made out of low alloy steel AISI-SAE 4340, heat-treated to a hardness of 35
HRC. The properties of this material fall between those of 1019 and 174PH. It will resist crack initiation
better than the former, due to its higher endurance limit, and will resist crack propagation better than the
latter, due to its higher fracture toughness (Table 2.3).
Table 2.3--Fatigue related properties of selected materials.
Material Endurance limit (MPa)
Fracture Toughness
1018 275 260
4340 450 110
17-4PH -- 53
Other recommendations are:
Avoid bending of shafts that have been surface hardened or had weld overlay applied due to the
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Figure 3.2. Industrial drawing of pin chain and block
high possibility of inducing surface cracks.
Avoid mechanical damage to the surface, such as scratches and dents, because they can act as crack
initiation sites.
Corrosion can be prevented in both cases by applying a coat of paint.
Case Study 3: Crane Pin Failure
After several failures, a pin connecting a chain to a load transfer bloc was sent for failure investigation
(Figures 3.1a and 3.1b). The conditions of operation are similar to those under which the bolt in case
study I was operating.
Figure 3.1a. Pin industrial drawing. Figure 3.1b. Photograph of
broken pin.
Observations :
The pin was broken in two locations
approximately 2.4 and 5.2 centimetres from one
edge. These locations are shown in relation to the
mechanism in Figure 3.2. Examination of the
surface revealed that where the bolt came in
contact with the chain, sever plastic deformation
was present. Examination of the 2.4 cm. fracture
surface (Figure 3.3), which was located in an area
of chain contact plastic deformation, revealed
characteristics of fatigue. The fracture surface had
little to no zone of final fracture indicating that the
loads perpendicular to the fracture plane where
low. Fatigue characteristics showed that fracture
initiated on the opposite side to the deformation.
This indicate that bending forces were present in
the pin. Bending would have caused one side of
the pin to be in tension and the other in
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compression. The fatigue started on the tension side. Examination of the 5.4 cm fracture surface located in
the middle of the load transfer block revealed the same characteristics of fatigue failure (Figure 3.4).
However, a comparison of the two fracture surfaces on the adjoining Piece of the Pin revealed that the
initiation sites were on opposite sides of the pin (Figure 3.5). This indicates that bending forces at the two
fractures were opposite.
Figure 3.3. Photograph of fracture
surface of 2.4 cm fracture.
Figure 3.4. Photograph of fracture
surface of 5.4 cm fracture.
Figure 3.5. Photograph of pin
indicating locations of fracture
A chemical analysis performed on the body of the pin revealed it to conform to the SAE AISI standard
1095. The original drawings for this application specify a SAE-AlSl 4140 (Table 3.1) Metallurgical
examination of the mounted sample revealed plastic deformation at the edges as well as no significant
inclusions. Examination of the microstructure revealed a ferrite matrix with spherodised carbides (Figure
3.6). The soft ferrite matrix increases the odds of fatigue initiation but will slow down fatigue
Table 3.1. Results of pin chemical analysis.
Element Pin SAE-AISI 1095
Carbon 1.06 0.90-1.03
Manganese 0.31 0.30-0.50
Silicon 0.25 --
Phosphor 0.011 0.040
Sulphur 0.008 0.050
Chrome 0.03 --
Nickel 0.03 --
Molybdenum 0.01 --
Figure 3.6.
Microphotograph of pin
microstructure. Ferrite
matrix with spherodised
carbides. 2% nital 1000X
Microhardness measurements show that the pin was slightly harder in the centre than on the surface
(Table 3.2). The softer surface would have increased the possibility of fatigue initiation at the surface.
Table 3.2. Microhardness results.
Hardness VHN (200g)
Location Longitudinal Section Transversal Section
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Side 235 229
232 248
241 261
275 268
Centre 294 294
Conclusions and Recommendations:
As the crane charges and unloads, the pin is subjected to bending forces. These forces create tensile forces
on the surface at which point the probability of fatigue initiation is high.
Since the pin undergoes cyclic stresses, a steel for this application must have a high resistance to
fatigue initiation. For these reasons, the original design material, SAE AISI 4140 hardened to a
range of 45 - 50 HRC, was a good choice.
The block and chain should be examined for wear. If worn they would allow for larger bending then
was originally allowed for in the design. If they are worn, they should be replaced.
If these measures do not correct the problem and the pin continues to break in future, the forces in
the original design should be revised.
Case Study 4: Shaft Bearing Failure
A bearing that had been in service for a year and a half was sent to undergo failure analysis (Figure 4.1).
This bearing had been installed in the drive of a #P-40 centrifugal pump in the R-8 plant. It was located
on a long shaft to separate the pump from the drive due to the presence of concentrated sulphuric acid.
The shaft was belt driven at about 800 RPM. No special events were noticed in the pump operation.
Figure 4.1. Photograph of
bearing setup
Figure 4.2. Photograph of
inner ring showing
spalling in groove.
Figure 4.3. SEM
photograph of spalling,
flaking and cracking, in
the groove. 200X
Figure 4.4. SEM
photograph showing
presence of 45 sheer
planes. 500X
The inner raceway showed severe plastic deformation around its circumference in the form of a groove,
which is located above the area designed to be the ball raceway (Figure 4.2). Spalling, a flaking and
cracking of the surface, was observed in the groove but was not evenly distributed around its
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circumference. Examination of the spalling using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) exposed flaking
and the presence of surface cracks (Figure 4.3). Increased magnification of this area revealed fracture
surfaces at forty-five degree angles indicating shear loads were present (Figure 4.4).
The inner raceway fracture surface is perpendicular to the groove and is located where the spalling is most
severe. Beachmarks and river lines, which are characteristic of fatigue failures, revealed several initiation
sites situated in the base of the groove (Figure 4.5). Closer examination with the SEM confirms that
fatigue initiated from the spalling damage (Figure 4.6). Spalling was also seen to a lesser degree on the
balls surfaces. The outer raceway revealed no major defects.
Figure 4.5. Photograph of the inner ring
fracture surface.
Figure 4.6. SEM photograph
of the inner ring fracture
surface showing fatigue
initiating at spall in the
groove. 200X
Material characterisation and evaluation:
Both the compositions of the ball bearing and the inner raceway were found to fall within the norms for
52100 steel, AISI-SAE standards (Table 4.1). The microhardness measurements of both pieces are typical
for this type of steel (Table 4.2). Surface hardness measurements for both ball and inner ring are similar,
which is required by this type of application.
Table 4.1--Result of chemical analysis.
Element Analysed Composition of Ball (%)
Analysed Composition
of Inner Ring (%)
AISI-SAE 52100
Standard Composition
Ranges (%)
Carbon 0.97 1.02 0.98-1.10
Manganese 0.40 0.37 0.25-0.45
Silicon 0.24 0.23 0.15-0.30
Phosphorus 0.013 0.013 0.025
Sulphur 0.007 0.006 0.025
Chromium 1.21 1.36 0.025
Nickel 0.11 0.12 --
Molybdenum 0.02 0.05 --
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Table 4.2--Results of microhardness tests.
Ball Bearing Inner Ring
Hardness # Centre Surface
Surface Centre
1 650 890 890 775 890
2 574 890 890 792 787
3 618 927 890 804 890
Microscopic examination of a cross section of the inner raceway revealed surface cracks consistent with
the spalling observed (Figure 4-7). Etching the sample revealed a homogeneous macrostructure of a
tempered martensite matrix with undissolved carbides present (Figure 4.8). This microstructure agrees
with the chemical analysis and microhardness measurements.
Figure 4.7.
Micrograph of
cracks on the inner
ring surface. 200X
Figure 4.8.
Microphotograph of
the inner ring
composed of
martensite and
undissolved carbides.
2% nital 200X
Figure 4.9.
Micrograph of
cracks on the ball
surface. 100X
Figure 4.10.
Microphotographs of
crack in a ball. 15X
Figure 4.11.
Microphotograph of
figure 4.10 etched
with 2% nital
martensite structure
with undissolved
carbides. 15X
Microscopic examination of a quartered ball bearing also revealed surface cracks (Figure 4.9). A large
crack extending towards the centre of the bearing was also found (Figure 4.10). The microstructure is
heterogeneous, unevenly distributed; tempered martinsite with undissolved carbides. The large surface
crack ties along a border of the heterogeneity (Figure 4.11). Some decarburization was observed on the
surface near spalling cracks.
The failure was a result of vibrational fatigue initiated at spalling on the surface of the inner raceway. The
spalling, which is a characteristic of contact fatigue, originated from the bearing being Installed
Incorrectly or from it undergoing abnormal equiaxial radial loads in service, which caused a displacement
of the inner ring. This displacement increased the axial loads causing the plastic deformation and spalling.
Decarburization and uneven tempering of the balls as well as the extent of plastic deformation indicate a
temperature rise.
Case Study 5: Bronze Bull Gear Failure
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A bronze bull gear was sent for failure investigation (Figure 5.1). It was used to rotate bleach washer
number 65B at a rate between 4 and 5 RPM. The contacting gear was a hardened steel worm gear, which
was powered by a 50 horsepower 1800 RPM electric motor. The gear is a cast copper alloy with cut teeth
and machined surface and was only in service for one month.
Figure 5.1. Photograph showing the
bronze bull gear.
Figure 5.2. Photograph of the bull gear profile showing
debris and severe materials loss.
Examination of the gear tooth revealed that there was a large amount of material loss. A measurement
taken near the base of the tooth where the material loss was most obvious revealed that tooth had gone
from a thickness of 31 mm to 20 mm, a loss of I I mm. The contact surface had grooves running along the
path the worm gear would have taken. Debris was also found along what was probably the exiting edge of
the gear teeth (Figure 5.2). Along the front of the teeth, plastic deformation was seen near the edges where
decreasing thickness could no longer support the load. Some cracking was observed in these areas. When
opened, they revealed that the mode of crack propagation was interdendritic.
Table 5.1--Chemical composition of bull gear.
Composition %
Element Bull Gear Standard C90700
Copper 88.51 88.0-90.0
Aluminium <0.01 0.005 max.
Manganese 0.03 --
Iron 0.03 0.15 max.
Tin 9.83 10.0-12.0
Lead 0.42 0.30* max.
Nickel 0.29 --*
Silicon <0.005 --
Zinc 0.73 0.50* max.
Phosphorous -- 0.1-0.3
* Lead + Nickel + Zinc < 1.0 max.
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Table 5.2. Vickers Macrohardness
Sample VHN (5Kg)
1 74.4
2 77.0
3 78.2
4 71.6
5 81.6
Chemical analysis of the bronze gear revealed that it conformed most closely with the UNS standard for
copper alloy C90700 (Table 5.1). The lead and zinc content however were slightly above those allowed by
the standard. Several samples where taken from the gear and examined microscopically. They revealed
large amounts of interdentritic shrinkage porosity (Figure 5.3) and interdentritic segregation (Figure 5.4).
The porosity reduces the amount of area supporting the load and therefore raises stresses in the material.
The heterogeneity of the structure is caused by rejection of tin into solution as the dendrites grow while
cooling. This segregation also reduces the mechanical properties of the material. Etching the
microstructure with 20 nil NH40H, 20 ml H20, 20 nil H202 (3%) revealed a coarse dendrite
microstructure (Figure 5.5). No plastic deformation of the working surface was observed which indicates
abrasive wear.
Figure 5.3.
Microphotograph showing
the large amounts of
porosity. 15X
Figure 5.4.
Microphotograph showing
interdendritic segregation.
Figure 5.5.
Microphotograph showing
the large dendritic
structure. 15X
Hardnesses were taken on the cross section of a tooth which gave an
average Vickers hardness number of 76.6 VHN (5Kg) (Table 5.2). This is
below the Brinell-500 Kg hardness number of 95 (100VHN) required by
the ASTM standard, B427-93a "Standard Specification for Gear Bronze
Alloy Castings". A lower hardness number also suggests that the
mechanical properties of the material would be below standards. This
agrees with our metallographic examination.
The bronze bull gear failed as a result of sever abrasive wear. The gear did
not meet ASTM materials specifications for this application and this probably had a great influence on the
final failure. However, there are several possible causes of abrasive wear for which the system should be
If the surface of the matching worm gear were damaged in any way, the difference in hardness
would have led to severe wear.
If the lubricant was contaminated with an abrasive material wear will occur.
If there was a misalignment between the two gears, the contact surface may be reduced increasing
contact loads above those that the material can withstand.
If the system was overloaded, the rate of wear increases.
If one or a combination of these factors is present, it is then likely others failures would follow.
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In this case, a large amount of porosity, a coarse dendrite structure, and interdentritic segregation
combined to reduce the properties of the bronze bull gear below those required by ASTM B427-93a
standards. A possibility is that that when the gear is subjected to loads or overloading, these low
properties would allowed the gear teeth to deflect. The gear surfaces would no longer meet as they were
designed, decreasing the contact surface, which would have increased the loads and therefore wear.
Contamination of the lubricant would have followed, causing the wear to continue.
In future this bronze bull gear should be ordered specifying that it conform to ASTM standard B427-93a
for the copper alloy UNS C 90700. As well the lubricant should be checked regularly for contamination
and both gear surfaces should be examined for damage.
Case Study 6: Analysis of 316L Reducer Failure
An 8" x 6", 316L stainless steel reducer was sent for failure analysis (Figure 6. 1). It had been in service
for 13 months when a leak was noticed. The reducer was installed on #1 acid storage tank, equipment
number 50-200. The anodically protected carbon steel tank, contained off specification concentrated 93%
sulphuric acid. The flow rate through the reducer was 400 gal/min.
Figure 6.1. Photograph of
Figure 6.2. (a-left) Old tank installation. (b-right) Tank installation at the time of
reducer failure.
The tank was originally designed with a 4" diameter carbon steel nozzle, at floor level, that connected
directly to a valve (Figure 6.2a). This lasted seven to eight years without incident. The design was
changed to accommodate renovations so that an 8" carbon steel nozzle was installed 6" above the tank
floor. This nozzle lead into the failed reducer, which then connected to a valve composed of alloy 1-0
steel (Figure 6.2b). This valve was said to be badly corroded. The valve then led to a 6" pipe made of
316L stainless steel in which no problems were found. After the reducer failure, the piping arrangements
were changed so that the reducer is now after the valve.
Visual examination of the reducer revealed an area at the top where little damage was observed (Figure
6.3). This area, which was probably an air pocket, extended from the top of the 87' diameter flange into
the reducing pipe where is stopped just before the 6" diameter flange. Damage in this area consisted of
minor pitting (Figure 6.4). Damage, resembling a honeycomb structure in places, was most severe just
below the air pocket in the reducing pipe near the 6" diameter end (Figures 6.5a and 6.5b). This is where
the leak was found (Figure 6.6). The damage becomes less severe in the pipe section towards the bottom.
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Only pitting was found in both the 8" and 6" flanges.
Figure 6.3. Photograph of
the top insider of the
reducer showing the area
at the top where little
damage occurred.
Figure 6.4.
Microphotograph of
pitting in air pocket. 15X
Figure 6.5. Photographs showing areas to the (a-left)
right and (bright) left of the top relatively undamaged
surface. The red arrow in (a) indicated where the leak
Chemical analysis of the flange and the pipe revealed that they both conform to AISI-SAE standards for
316L stainless steel (Table 6.1)
Table 6.1--Result of chemical analysis.
Analysed Composition of
Flange (%)
Analysed Composition
of Pipe (%)
AISI-SAE 316L Standard
Composition Ranges (%)
Carbon 0.031 0.034 0.03 max.
Manganese 1.85 1.28 2.00 max.
Silicon 0.57 0.35 1.00 max.
Phosphorus 0.014 0.011 0.045 max.
Sulphur 0.023
0.03 max.
Chromium 16.53 17.47 16.0-18.0
Nickel 10.85 11.46 10.0-14.0
Molybdenum 2.16 2.08 2.0-3.0
Closer examination of the inside surface of the reducer with a SEM revealed dimples (Figure 6.7). These
features are typical of a ductile deformation, which indicates abrasion. The orientation of the features also
follows the direction of liquid flow. Pitting and uniform corrosion was also found in the region (Figure
Figure 6.6. Photograph taken
on the outside of the reducer
showing the hole where the
Figure 6.7. SEM
photograph of the inside
surface of the reducer in
Figure 6.8. SEM
photograph of the inside
surface of the reducer in
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reducer leaked. the damaged area. 200X the damaged area. 500X
Conclusions and Recommendations:
A combination of two mechanisms caused the failure. Severe turbulence in the reducer caused a
degradation of the passive layer that protects the stainless steel from corrosion. This would have left the
system open to severe corrosion, which in turn would have lead to failure. The top of the reducer was
probably protected by the presence of an air pocket.
The second mechanism was erosion, originating when air bubbles near the surface imploded causing
mechanical damage, cavitation. Turbulence in the system may have formed bubbles from the air pocket at
the top of the reducer. These bubbles would then have been carried into the reducer where increasing
pressures would have caused them to implode. The highly corrosive environment would have increased
the rate of degradation dramatically.
The new setup, placing the valve before the reducer, changed the dynamics of the system and may have
solved the problem, however existing reducers and valves should have their thickness monitored at
regular intervals using an ultrasonic thickness gauge. If problems reoccur, the system should be evaluated
for excessive turbulence and air pockets. A possible solution would be to use a PTFE liner in the reducer.
This would provide a barrier that protects against turbulence but not cavitation.
D.A. Ryder et al., "General Practice in Failure Analysis," in ASM Metals Handbook Volume 11 "Failure
Analysis and Prevention", Ed. Kathleen Mill (Ohio: ASM International, 1986)
B.E. Wilde, "Stress-Corrosion Cracking," in ASM Metals Handbook Volume 11 "Failure Analysis and
Prevention", Ed. Kathleen Mill (Ohio: ASM International, 1986)
K. H. Kamdar, "Liquid-Metal Embrittlement," in ASM Metals Handbook Volume 11 "Failure Analysis
and Prevention", Ed. Kathleen Mill (Ohio: ASM International, 1986)
Alan G. Glover et al., "Failures of Weldments," in ASM Metals Handbook Volume 11 "Failure Analysis
and Prevention", Ed. Kathleen Mill (Ohio: ASM International, 1986)
L. Windner, "Failures of Rolling-Element Bearings," in ASM Metals Handbook Volume 11 "Failure
Analysis and Prevention", Ed. Kathleen Mill (Ohio: ASM International, 1986)
"Threaded Steel Fasteners," in ASM Metals Handbook Volume 11 "Failure Analysis and Prevention", Ed.
Kathleen Mill (Ohio: ASM International, 1986)
Walter J. Jensen, "Failures of Mechanical Fasteners," in ASM Metals Handbook Volume 11 "Failure
Analysis and Prevention", Ed. Kathleen Mill (Ohio: ASM International, 1986)
E. Alban, "Failures of Gears," in ASM Metals Handbook Volume 11 "Failure Analysis and Prevention",
Ed. Kathleen Mill (Ohio: ASM International, 1986)
Michael Bauccio ed. Et al., ASM Metals Reference Book, Third Edition, Ed. Kathleen Mill (Ohio: ASM
International, 1993)
Geaorge E. Dieter, Mechanical Metallurgy (Toronto: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1986)
Douglas A. Skoog and James J. Leary, Principles of Instrumental Analysis, Fourth Edition (Toronto:
Sauders College Publishing, 1992)
William D. Callister, Jr., Materials Science and Engineering: An Introduction, Third Edition (Toronto:
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994)
Kathleen Mill ed. et al. ASM Metals Handbook: Metallography and Microstructures, (Ohio: ASM
International, 1993)
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