Brittle Fracture of Galvanized Steel Heater Shells Because of Embrittlement by Intermetallic Compounds
After only a short time in service, oil-fired orchard heaters made of galvanized low-carbon steel pipe, 0.5 mm (0.020 in.) in thickness, became sensitive to impact, particularly during handling and storage. Most failures occurred in an area of the heater shell that normally reached the highest temperature in service. A 400x etched micrograph showed a brittle and somewhat porous metallic layer about 0.025 mm (0.001 in.) thick on both surfaces of the sheet. Next to this was an apparently single-phase region nearly 0.05 mm (0.002 in.) in thickness. The examination supported the conclusion that prolonged heating of the galvanized steel heater shells caused the zinc-rich surface to become alloyed with iron and reduce the number of layers. Also, heating caused zinc to diffuse along grain boundaries toward the center of the sheet. Zinc in the grain boundaries reacted with iron to form the brittle intergranular phase, resulting in failure by brittle fracture at low impact loads during handling and storage. Recommendation included manufacture of the pipe with aluminized instead of galvanized steel sheet for the combustion chamber.