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Several stainless steel coils cracked during a routine unwinding procedure, prompting an investigation to determine the cause. The analysis included optical and scanning electron microscopy, energy-dispersive x-ray spectrometry, and tensile testing. An examination of the fracture surfaces revealed a brittle intercrystalline mode of fracture with typical manifestations of clear grain facets. Branched and discrete stepwise microcracks were also found along with unusually high levels of residual hydrogen. Mechanical tests revealed a marked loss of tensile ductility in the defective steel with elongations barely approaching 8%, compared to 50% at the time of delivery weeks earlier. Based on the timing interval and the fact that failure occurred at operating stresses well below the yield point of the material, the failure is being attributed to hydrogen-induced damage. Potential sources of hydrogen are considered as are remedial measures for controlling hydrogen content in steels.

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