Technical Tips

Sharing knowledge gained from investigating the fundamental causes of failure.

Failure Theories


The successful application of materials in engineering structures and mechanical systems depends on good design and the efficient use of materials properties in relation to their strength and yield properties. The common approach is to use results from a standard tensile test, and design to values of measured yield stress and yield strain, but this effectively assumes that there is a single principal stress and does not accurately account for complex stress fields or shear stresses.

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Fracture dependence on modes of loading - Modes I, II and III


In some engineering failures, the detail of collapse frequently is related to cracking, through overload, stress corrosion cracking (SCC) or fatigue, for example. The mode of fracture can reveal a great deal about the stress state at the time of loading and fracture, and there are characteristic features that can be recognised which assist in the determination of how the cracking developed and failure took place. This Technical Tip discusses these and their characteristics, and how useful this can be to the failure analysis investigator.

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Fatigue Threshold Re-Visited

JULY 2018

Fatigue is one of the most common contributors to engineering and plant failures, particularly in engineering systems that experience some form of repetitive or cyclic loading. This fatigue phenomenon has been known for over a hundred years, and now, with the discipline of Fracture Mechanics, it is generally fairly well understood. However fatigue still accounts for over 80% of unexpected engineering failures, and despite efforts to understand fatigue and mitigate against it, its occurrence is frequent and ubiquitous. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the general misunderstanding of fatigue threshold and its effect on fatigue life. To an extent, this was discussed in our August 2017 Tech Tip (available on our website), but this present article extends this and addresses a different issue referring to threshold dependence itself.

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Complementary shear stress failures

JUNE 2018

So often in engineering we express concerns about whether a component is ‘strong enough’ to do the task for which it has been designed. But ‘strength’ is not always the critical parameter that needs to be considered, as our recent Tech Tips have highlighted failures are exacerbated by, for example, corrosion, cyclic loading (fatigue), temperature and/or material microstructure. There is also the question of whether ‘strength’ is the appropriate parameter to consider when toughness or resistance to fatigue crack initiation may be more appropriate, or when loading direction should specifically be taken into account. Frequently our perception of strength in materials refers to tensile strength, and indeed this is vital, but may not always be the limiting factor in a failure and in some cases both compressive strength and resistance to shear should be assessed. Although often discounted, components can and indeed do fail in shear.

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Hole Drilling Techniques for Measuring Residual Stress

MAY 2018

As referred to in a recent Technical Tip on ‘perceptions’ and easy observation of features which assist in Failure Analysis, one of the phenomena encountered is that related to Residual Stress. For current purposes, residual stress may be regarded as that stress that remains in a component or structure when it is in the unloaded condition. It may also be regarded as that stress that is intrinsic in the component, due to its fabrication or loading history, and is essentially in self-equilibrium. Familiar examples in everyday life include distortion of components after welding, toughened glass (as used in vehicle windscreens and windows), pre-stressed concrete/reinforcing bars in civil structures, and carburised and nitrided gear surfaces, which have an induced compressive stress surface layer to resist fatigue crack initiation. Although residual stress induced by carburising and shot peening are typically beneficial, generally residual stresses arising from fabrication are deleterious to component performance, mostly through premature fatigue initiation or stress corrosion cracking (SCC).

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Perception and Simple Indicators

APRIL 2018

Quite frequently our Technical Tips detail complex techniques for determining the origins of failure, as such techniques are often essential to obtain the correct information and interpretation. However, there is also a place for greater perception and the use of simple indicators at the early stages of a failure analysis, to glean as much as possible from seemingly straight forward observations, before moving on to more complex analysis, and some of these are addressed here. These include simple methods of composition discrimination such as magnetic response of a part in stainless steels (to distinguish between austenitic and martensitic microstructures). Similarly in a steel component that has come into contact with/abraded against another component or foreign body, there will often be not only abrasion damage, but also local heating of the surface. The severity of this wear induced abrasion can be inferred from the temper colours that characterise steels heated to different temperatures. Such colours are clear demarcations of temperature exposure and are indicative of temperature gradients, the degree of damage and severity of the loading and give clues to potential material changes below the surface.

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Basics of Heat Treatment

MARCH 2018

The purpose of heat treatment is to cause desired changes in the structure of a metallic material, thereby affecting its properties. Heat treatment can be employed to change the properties of most metals and alloys, with ferrous alloys typically undergoing the most dramatic changes.

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An unusual example of Cavitation Damage


An interesting and frequently encountered aspect of damage in pumps and impellers is that of damage caused by cavitation. Cavitation refers to damage caused in a fluid due to flow and pressure changes that result in substantial local pressure changes and the formation, and subsequent collapse, of ‘bubbles’ or voids.

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Disregard the insidious effects of pitting corrosion at your peril


Pitting corrosion is an extremely localised form of material attack, during which a material surface is perforated by a series of holes (or pits) in the presence of an aqueous solution. Corrosion of this nature is highly destructive, as these pits can rapidly perforate material causing severe damage, while the surrounding material regions remain unaffected. Pitting generally takes months or years to initiate, but once initiated the pits penetrate the material at exponential rates

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Ambient temperature creep


This Tech Tip concerns failures that can arise from creep, but at ‘normal’ (ambient) temperature conditions. The well-known condition for any manifestation of creep deformation leading to premature cracking, or ultimate failure, is that temperatures need to exceed about 40% of the material yield strength, for a sustained length of time. These conditions are seldom encountered in normal applications. However, when the material is polymeric, there is a very definite and common case of seemingly low temperature creep.

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Beware of the insidious effects of localised corrosion damage in crevices and below gaskets


Crevice corrosion can have highly detrimental consequences due to the localised nature of attack that often goes undetected in-service until final failure, associated with leakage or localised stress concentrations, occurs.

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Orientation effects in creep


Creep in materials refers to the gradual strain extension of that material under sustained load over extended time periods. In metals, creep is of particular concern because it typically only manifests over long time periods, for example ten to twenty years, and at temperatures which are in excess of approximately 40% of the melting point. However at higher temperatures or high stress levels the period in which damage manifests can reduce significantly.

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