Analysis of the failure of a metal structure or part usually requires identification of the type of failure. Failure can occur by one or more of several mechanisms, including surface damage (such as corrosion or wear), elastic or plastic distortion, and fracture. This leads to a wide range of failures, including fatigue failure, distortion failure, wear failure, corrosion failure, stress-corrosion cracking, liquid-metal embrittlement, hydrogen-damage failure, corrosion-fatigue failure, and elevated-temperature failure. This article describes the classification of fractures on a macroscopic scale as ductile fractures, brittle fractures, fatigue fractures, and fractures resulting from the combined effects of stress and environment.
Fractography is the systematic study of fractures and fracture surfaces. It is a useful tool in failure analysis and provides a means for correlating the influence of microstructure on the fracture mode of a given material. This article discusses the preservation, preparation, and photography of fractured parts and surfaces, and describes some of the more common fractographic features revealed by light microscopy, including tensile-fracture surface marks in unnotched specimens, fatigue marks, and structural discontinuities within the metal. The article also explains how to interpret fracture information contained in optical and scanning-electron microscope fractographs.