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The main sections of the museum are listed below;

Metal Fatigue
Manufacturing Faults
Bicycle Components
Composite Materials

Tools of the trade, some ways to investigate problems;
Dye penetrant testing

of materials engineering terms


Metal Fatigue

A phenomenon which results in the sudden fracture of a component after a period of cyclic loading in the elastic regime. Failure is the end result of a process involving the initiation and growth of a crack, usually at the site of a stress concentration on the surface. Occasionally, a crack may initiate at a fault just below the surface. Eventually the cross sectional area is so reduced that the component ruptures under a normal service load, but one at a level which has been satisfactorily withstood on many previous occasions before the crack propagated. The final fracture may occur in a ductile or brittle mode depending on the characteristics of the material. Fatigue fractures have a characteristic appearance which reflects the initiation site and the progressive development of the crack front, culminating in an area of final overload fracture. Fig. la illustrates fatigue failure in a circular shaft. The initiation site is shown and the shell-like markings, often referred to as beach markings because of their resemblance to the ridges left in the sand by retreating waves, are caused by arrests in the crack front as it propagates through the section. The hatched region on the opposite side to the initiation site is the final region of ductile fracture. Sometimes there may be more than one initiation point and two or more cracks propagate. This produces features as in Fig. 1b with the the final area of ductile fracture being a band across the middle. This type of fracture is typical of double bending where a component is cyclically strained in one plane or where a second fatigue crack initiates at the opposite side to a developing crack in a component subject to reverse bending. Some stress-induced fatigue failures may show multiple initiation sites from which separate cracks spread towards a common meeting point within the section.

Fig. 1

Fatigue strength is determined by applying different levels of cyclic stress to individual test specimens and measuring the number of cycles to failure. Standard laboratory test use various methods for applying the cyclic load, e.g. rotating bend, cantilever bend, axial push-pull and torsion. The data are plotted in the form of a stress-number of cycles to failure (S-N) curve, fig 2. Owing to the statistical nature of the failure, several specimens have to be tested at each stress level. Some materials, notably low-carbon steels, exhibit a flattening off at a particular stress level as at (a) in Fig.2 which is referred to as the fatigue limit. As a rough guide, the fatigue limit is usually about 40% of the tensile strength. In principle, components designed so that the applied stresses do not exceed this level should not fail in service. The difficulty is a localised stress concentration may be present or introduced during service which leads to initiation, despite the design stress being normally below the 'safe' limit. Most materials, however, exhibit a continually falling curve as at (b) and the usual indicator of fatigue strength is to quote the stress below which failure will not be expected in less than a given number of cycles which is referred to as the endurance limit.


Although fatigue data may be determined for different materials it is the shape of a component and the level of applied stress which dictate whether a fatigue failure is to be expected under particular service conditions. Surface condition is also important. Often complete components or assemblies, e.g. railway bogie frames or aircraft fuselage, will be tested by subjecting them to an accelerated loading spectrum reproducing what they are likely to experience over their entire service lifetime.

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ed: KR 17/12/01

© 2005 Materials Engineering - Page last modified 18-Dec-2007