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Ball joints made from carburized En 353 (BS970:815A16) steel failed after several hours of being fitted into vehicles. The parts were forged, machined, and thread rolled. The threads were copper plated to prevent carburization. The heat treatment consisted of carburizing in a cyanide bath for 12 hours at 930 deg C. After tempering for 2 h at 170 to 175 deg C, the copper plate was removed by immersing in an acid bath for 45 min. The investigations found the microstructure, hardness, and chemistry all met the specification. The case depth was approximately 0.75 mm to 1.0 mm. The SEM studies showed that it was a brittle fracture and completely intergranular to a depth of about 2.5 mm. It was concluded that the failure was due to hydrogen embrittlement for the following reasons: (i) failure did not occur immediately after loading, (ii) the fracture was intergranular to a depth of two to three times the case depth, (iii) secondary cracks were observed at the surface. The hydrogen was introduced during copper plate removal by acid dipping. If the tempering operation was performed after the acid dip operation, the hydrogen would have been driven out.

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