Overload Failure of a Bronze Worm Gear
A very large diameter worm gear that had been in service in a dam for more than 60 years exhibited cracks and was removed. It was reported that the high-strength, low-ductility cast bronze gear was only rarely stressed during service, associated with infrequent opening and closing of gates. Due to the age of the gear and the time frame of its manufacture, no original material specifications or strength requirements could be located. Likewise, no maintenance records of possible repairs to the gear were available. Investigation (visual inspection, chemical analysis, tension and hardness testing, 119x SEM images, and potassium dichromate etched 297x metallographic images) supported the conclusion that the bronze gear cracked via mixed-mode overload, rather than by a progressive mechanism such as fatigue or stress-corrosion cracking. The cracking was not associated with regions that would be highly stressed and did not appear to be consistently correlated to casting imperfections, repair welds, or associated heat-affected zones. Cracking across the gear face suggested that bending forces from misalignment were likely responsible for the cracking. Recommendations included further review of the potential root cause.