Fracture: Torsional Fatigue Fracture
A 4340 steel shaft, the driving member of a large rotor subject to cyclic loading and frequent overloads, broke after three weeks of operation. The driving shaft contained a shear groove at which the shaft should break if a sudden high overload occurred, thus preventing damage to an expensive gear mechanism. The rotor was subjected to severe chatter, which was an abnormal condition resulting from a series of continuous small overloads occurring at a frequency of around three per second. Investigation (visual inspection, hardness testing, and hot acid etch images) supported the conclusion that the basic failure mechanism was fracture by torsional fatigue, which started at numerous surface shear cracks, both longitudinal and transverse, that developed in the periphery of the root of the shear groove. These shear cracks resulted from high peak loads caused by chatter. The shear groove in the shaft had performed its function, but at a lower overload level than intended. Recommendations included increasing the fatigue strength of the shaft by shot peening the shear groove to minimize chatter.