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DOI 10.1007/s12666-016-1031-4


Failure Assessment of the First Stage Blade of a Gas Turbine

B. Salehnasab1 E. Hajjari2 S. A. Mortazavi3

Received: 2 March 2016 / Accepted: 20 December 2016

The Indian Institute of Metals - IIM 2017

Abstract The gas turbine engine under investigation in 1 Introduction

this paper was in service after major overhaul for about 2 h
at 9:47 A.M. on 18 October, 2014. The 60 MW gas turbine Gas turbine blades work mostly at high temperature, high
engine experienced a forced break down because of vibration and high rotational velocity. High speed and
extremely high vibrations and subsequent output power simultaneous high temperature increases the blades
reduction. The blade was made of Inconel 738LC nickel- material degradation. Gas turbine blades are mainly made
based super-alloy. Evaluation of the microstructures of the of cobalt and nickel-based super-alloys, because these
root and tip of the damaged blade, showed no significant materials are able to withstand high temperature due to gas
change in the microstructure. In closer observation of the combustion [1]. Nickel-based super-alloys commonly used
fractured blade, some points affected by impact of the as turbine blade material are strengthened by precipitation
remaining airfoil were observed. Metallurgical investiga- of c0 -Ni3 (Al, Ti) phase [1]. This c0 intermetallic phase,
tions of the damaged zones of the fractured blade showed drastically increases the strength of these alloys due to its
many iron rich zones near the fractured surface. The ordered nature and high coherency with the gamma matrix
morphology of the fractured surface showed a semi-brittle [2]. Carbides are other phases, which have very important
fracture due to the impact. Finally, it was concluded that effect on mechanical properties of the nickel based super-
the main reason for the gas turbine failure was domestic alloys. These particles are present in these alloys because,
object damage due to the impact of the liberated compo- it is very difficult to remove carbon during refining and
nents of the turbine engine on the blades. because carbon is added to form carbides, which improve
creep properties [3].
Keywords Failure analysis  Gas turbine blade  The type of damage which occurs in gas turbine blades
Inconel 738LC  Domestic object damage are: thermal mechanical fatigue (TMF), crack formation,
corrosion, foreign object damage, domestic object damage,
erosion, oxidation, c0 phases over aging, creep, void for-
mation in grain boundaries, carbides precipitation and
brittle phase formation [412]. Also, casting defects such
& B. Salehnasab as porosity, diverging axis grain, shrinkage, freckles, major; alloying element segregation and inclusions, which results from the manufacturing process, can reduce the lifetime of
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Dezful Branch, IAU,
the blades [4, 13]. Turbines blade failure is always a
Dezfoul 64616-45169, Iran serious problem encountered in these machines. Due to the
2 blades failure, the gas turbine will trip, which can lead to
Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Faculty of
Engineering, Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz, Ahvaz, prolonged outages and economic loss.
Iran In this study, a failure analysis of the first stage rotating
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ahvaz Branch, IAU, blades of a gas turbine engine was investigated. The failed
Ahvaz, Iran blade under investigation was the first stage rotor blade of a

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60 MW gas turbine. This turbine engine tripped due to

sudden increase in vibration over the critical value after 2 h
from first start of major overhaul at 9:47 A.M. on 18
October, 2014. Disassembly inspection showed that frac-
ture occurred at the root platform of one first stage gas
turbine blade and the other first, some second and third
stages blades, and also some nozzles were severely dam-
aged. To identify the cause of the blade failure, a complete
metallurgical investigation was carried out. The analysis
was carried out by visual examination, scanning electron
microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive spectroscopy
(EDS). The whole gas turbine consisted of four stages of
blades and the first stage cascade contained 107 blades.
The blades were cooled by compressor discharge air, which
entered the channel from the root sidewall and flowed out
of the other side. The gas turbine was installed in a seaside
petrochemical in the South-West of Iran. The location has a
hot and humid climate. It has humid weather and maximum
summer temperature which is as high as 50 C, the average
annual temperature is about 25 C, average humidity is
65% at 06:30 A.M. and 40% at 06:30 P.M., and average
annual precipitation in this region is about 196 mm.

2 Experimental Procedure

The failed blade was examined. In this procedure, some Fig. 1 The first stage rotating failed blade
specimens were segmented from the fractured blade. Ini-
tially, each sample from the damaged zones and fractured In the suction side of the remaining airfoil near the leading and
surface of the blade were cut by a wire-cutting EDM the trailing edges, some signs of object damage were observed
machine and were prepared for microstructure evaluation. (as indicated by red circles in Fig. 2). Also, there were some
The fractured surface of the blade was examined by SEM cracks near the damaged zones (Fig. 2). The cracks started in
after the surface was cleaned ultrasonically. The SEM was the impact zones and propagated into the material near the
equipped with an EDS probe that was used to perform fractured surface. Also, in the suction side of the airfoil on the
point element analysis, mapping and line scan analysis. An root platform, some wear and scratch marks were observed.
optical microscope was also used for microstructure Figure 3 shows the macroscopic view of the fractured surface.
observation from different positions of the fractured blade. The fractured surface was located at the top of the root and the
The experimental procedure consisted of: fracture orientation was normal to the blade longitudinal axis.
The fractured surface was very rough and plastic deformation
1. Visual inspection
near the fracture surface was not visible. Therefore, failure
2. Chemical analysis of the blade
could be considered as a brittle fracture [9]. Also, some abra-
3. Examination of the damaged blade
sion marks were observed on the fractured surface (Fig. 3).
4. Analysis of the fractured surface
5. Metallographic investigation.
2.2 Chemical Analysis of the Blade and Conditions
of Turbine Blade Operation
2.1 Visual Inspection
A piece of sample from the failed blade root was prepared
The macroscopic features of the failed blade were examined by and its chemical composition was determined experimen-
visual inspection and photographic documentation. The frac- tally. The result of the chemical composition presented in
tured blade studied is shown in Fig. 1. The airfoil got fractured Table 1 shows that the material utilized in the first stage of
at 10 mm height from the root platform. The dimension of the the rotor blades was Inconel 738LC. The main parameters
fractured blade was 154.41 9 78 9 51 mm3, and the dimen- while determining the operating conditions of turbine blade
sion of the original first stage blade was 279 9 78 9 51 mm3. surfaces of gas-turbine engines were the gas temperature at

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Fig. 2 The damaged zones of

the suction side of the blade:
a the leading edge; b the trailing

to-cycle ratio depends on the petrochemical operation. At

long-haul, petrochemical operation typically runs between
3 and 5 h/cycle. These values play an important part in the
overhaul process. It is expected that for the shorter cycle
engines, there will be more deterioration of the hot-sec-
tion parts on the gas turbine engine that have a shorter
time cycle, implying that the deterioration is cycle
dependent rather than time dependent. The design life of
the failed blade was 72,000 h and the first stage turbine
Fig. 3 The fractured surface of the failed blade (in mm) blades that were running at 900 C for as long as
40006000 h.
the turbine inlet; the pressure, speed and composition of
the gas flow; the stresses due to the effect of the cen- 2.3 Examination of the Damaged Blade
trifugal and gas dynamic forces; and the irregularity of the
temperature field [14]. According to the data on the gas Figure 4 shows the damaged regions on the remaining
turbine, as received by the control room at failure time, blade airfoil. Some hit and scratch marks were observed on
the combustion chamber temperature was 940 C, exhaust the remaining airfoil of the fractured blade on the root
temperature was 890 C, the rotor speed was 3000 rpm platform. For failure assessment of the first stage rotor
and the gas pressure was 1 MPa. Typically, in the petro- blade, damaged points were investigated. For this purpose,
chemical plant, the gas turbine is overhauled after about after cutting and preparation, samples were ultrasonically
10,000 h of operation. As the petrochemical gain expe- cleaned to remove any contamination. Three damaged
rience and assurance with an engine type, the time for zones (points 1, 2 and 3 in Fig. 4) with objects damage and
refurbishment is increased for the first-run gas turbine wear signs were examined by SEM equipped with an EDS
engine, at 23,000 h. After refurbishment, second-run gas probe. The EDS analysis of points 1 and 2 showed that the
turbine engine probably get about 15,000 h on the wing. Fe element concentration in this point was unexpectedly
The hot section is typically overhauled when the gas too high (Fig. 5). In accordance with the chemical analysis
turbine engine is removed from service. The typical hour- of the Inconel 738LC (Table 1), the Fe element in the

Table 1 Chemical composition of the first stage blade of the gas turbine (wt%)
Ni S Fe P Cr Mo W C

Ball 0.004 0.5 0.002 14.9 2.22 3.0 0.09

Co Al Si Nb Ti Mg Zr Ta

8.1 4.9 0.03 0.88 4.2 0.03 0.03 1.3

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Fig. 4 The damaged points of

the blade: a near the trailing
edge; b near the leading edge;
and c On the trailing edge

Fig. 5 Chemical compositions analyzed by EDS: a the point 1; b the point 2

damaged regions was extremely increased. Figures 6 and 7 are shown in Fig. 7. The presence of an abrasion mark in
show the line scan and mapping form of point 3, respec- the damaged region of the blade could be seen in Fig. 7a.
tively. The line scan shows that the amount of the Fe in the As shown in this figure, the zone had a red tone (red tone
damaged point 3 was so high and approximately equal to resulted from Fe) and was mainly covered by Fe, especially
chrome and cobalt in the blades material (Fig. 6). Map in the indicated rectangular area which had more hit effect
analysis of Fe, Co, Ni and Cr in the damaged point 3 region (Fig. 7b).

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Fig. 6 Line scan analysis of the point 3

2.4 Analysis of the Fractured Surface also, the presence of abrasion marks in the damaged region of
the blade could be seen on the fracture surface (Fig. 9a).
The macroscopic fracture surface of the failed blade under Some micro cracks and river pattern sign due to the brittle
examination is shown in Fig. 3. SEM micrograph of the fracture are also shown in Fig. 9b. The pattern was charac-
fracture surface is also shown in Fig. 8. It was observed terized by the joining together of microscopic ridges, much
that the fractured surface was similar to typical cleavage like the joining of tributaries of a river sign to form the main
fracture features. Morphologically, in brittle fracture, some stream of the river. This pattern revealed the direction that
cleavage and river are observed in the fractured surface the fracture ran; the fracture propagated in the same direction
[15]. Brittle fractures have certain characteristics that make as the water in a river flows (downstream). Based on these
them easily identifiable [16]: First, there is no gross per- SEM fractography observations, it could be inferred that the
manent or plastic deformation of the material in the region semi-brittle fracture was the dominant mechanism in the
of brittle fracture, although there may be permanent impact of the object on the blade.
deformation in other locations where relatively ductile
fracture has occurred. Second, the surface of a brittle 2.5 Metallographic Investigation
fracture is perpendicular to the principal tensile stress.
Thus, the direction of the tensile stress that made the The microstructure of the blade was examined in two zones:
fracture to occur can be obviously identified and third, at the damaged blade root and tip. The microstructures of the
characteristic markings on the fractured surface frequently, two zones were compared to evaluate the degree of material
but not always, point back to the location from which the deterioration. Initially, the metallographic specimens were
fracture originated. cut from the mentioned zones (root and tip) of the failed
The remaining fracture surface shows a semi-brittle blade and were prepared by standard grit and polish proce-
fracture morphology as presented in Fig. 8. The magnified dure (until they became a mirror-like surface) and etched by
image of the fractured surface near the trailing edge is shown Marbel [17] reagent. The comparative evaluation included
in Fig. 9. Characteristic features of overload fracture and the morphological change of c0 particles and carbide

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Fig. 7 Map of chemical analysis of various elements on the point 3

observed that the carbides were dis-continuous type car-

bides. Therefore, the brittle phase due to the continuous
carbides in the grain boundaries was not formed. Fig-
ure 12 shows SEM micrograph of the gamma prime (c0 )
morphology at the blade root and the tip regions. The
microstructure consisted of the gamma prime dispersed in
the matrix. The c0 precipitates in c matrix were fine and
cuboidal. For evaluation of the morphology changes of
the c0 particles, a computerized image analysis software
(MIP 4.1) was used. The original c0 cubical shape changed
into elongated platelets oriented perpendicularly to the
principal stress direction [18]. The results of the c0 mor-
phology evaluation of the failed blade are presented in
Table 2. According to these results, mean size of c0 phase
in the reference zone (blade root) was 0.43 lm and in the
Fig. 8 SEM fractograph of the fractured surface of the blade hot section zone (blade tip), it was 0.52 lm which were
not so different. Also, other obtained quantitative
precipitation. The optical microscopy and SEM images of microstructure parameters of the mentioned regions were
the microstructures from the root and tip of the failed blade almost the same and therefore morphology of gamma
are shown in Figs. 10, 11 and 12. The microstructures con- prime (c0 ) particles in the blade root region, which had
sisted of c0 particles and dispersed carbide particles in the lowest temperature and not exposed to the hot gases, was
grain boundary and matrix. Figure 10 shows almost a uni- almost the same as that of the blade tip region which had
form distribution of c0 particles in the alloy matrix in both tip high temperature conditions. According to these results, it
and root of the damaged blade. could be concluded that material degradation due to
Figure 11 shows the M23C6 and MC type carbides overheating of the material did not occur in the present
precipitated in the grain boundaries and matrix. It was case study.

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Fig. 9 Magnified SEM

fractograph of the fractured
surface: a dimple features and
microcracks; b river pattern

Fig. 10 Optical microscopy

images of the microstructure of
the failed blade: a the root zone;
b the tip zone

3 Conclusions

In this study, failure analysis was carried out to investigate

the mechanisms that led to failure of a 60 MW gas turbine
engine blade made of Inconel 738LC nickel-based super-
alloy. Based on the results obtained, the following con-
clusions were drawn:
1. Some abrasion marks and object damaged on the
suction side of the blade due to the object damage were
2. Fractured surface evaluation showed semi-brittle frac-
ture had occurred.
3. Damaged zone of the failed blade was covered with Fe
which was the main element of many components of
the turbine casing.
Fig. 11 Dis-continuous band of grain boundary carbides

Fig. 12 Gamma prime (c0 )

morphology of the blade: a the
root zone; b the tip zone

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