Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
It has been estimated that 90% of all service failures of metal parts are caused by fatigue. A fatigue failure is one that occurs under a cyclic or alternating stress of an amplitude that would not cause failure if applied only once. Aircraft are particularly sensitive to fatigue. Automobile parts such as axles, transmission parts, and suspension systems may fail by fatigue. Turbine blades, bridges, and ships are other examples. Fatigue requires cyclic loading, tensile stresses, and plastic strain on each cycle. If any of these are missing, there will be no failure. The fact that a material fails after a number of cycles indicates that some permanent change must occur on every cycle. Each cycle must produce some plastic deformation, even though it may be very small. Metals and polymers fail by fatigue. Fatigue failures of ceramics are rare because there seldom is plastic deformation.
There are three stages of fatigue. The first is nucleation of a crack by small amounts of inhomogeneous plastic deformation at a microscopic level. The second is the slow growth of these cracks by cyclic stressing. Finally, sudden fracture occurs when the cracks reach a critical size.
Often visual examination of a fatigue fracture surface will reveal clamshell or beach markings, as shown in Figure 11.1. These marks indicate the position of the crack front at some stage during the fatigue life. The initiation site of the crack can easily be located by examining these marks.