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A high-speed pinion gear shaft, part of a system that compresses natural gas, was analyzed to determine why it failed. An abnormal wear pattern was observed on the shaft surface beneath the inner race of the support bearings. Material from the shaft had transferred to the bearing races, creating an imbalance (enough to cause noise and fumes) that operators noted two days before the failure. Macrofeatures of the fracture surface resembled those of fatigue, but electron microscopy revealed brittle, mostly intergranular fracture. Classic fatigue features such as striations were not found. To resolve the discrepancy, investigators created and tested uniaxial fatigue samples, and the microfeatures were nearly identical to those found on the failed shaft. The root cause of failure was determined to be fatigue, and it was concluded that cracks on the pinion shaft beneath the bearings led to the transfer of material.

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