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Experiment 6: Fatigue Testing

Henry Tan's picture

A perusal of the broken parts in almost any scrap yard will reveal that the majority of failures occur at stresses below the yield strength. This is a result of the phenomenon called fatigue which has been estimated to be responsible for up to 90% of the in-service part failures which occur in industry. If a bar of steel is repeatedly loaded and unloaded at say 85% of its’ yield strength, it will ultimately fail in fatigue if it is loaded through enough cycles. Also, even though steel ordinarily elongates approximately 30% in a typical tensile test, almost no elongation is evident in the appearance of fatigue fractures.

Basic fatigue testing involves the preparation of carefully polished test specimens (surface flaws are stress concentrators) which are cycled to failure at various values of constant amplitude alternating stress levels. The data are condensed into an alternating Stress, S, verses Number of cycles to failure, N, curve which is generally referred to as a material’s S-N curve. As one would expect, the curves clearly show that a low number of cycles are needed to cause fatigue failures at high stress levels while low stress levels can result in sudden, unexpected failures after a large number of cycles.

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