Cracking of a Polyethylene Chemical Storage Vessel
A chemical storage vessel failed while in service. The failure occurred as cracking through the vessel wall, resulting in leakage of the fluid. The tank had been molded from a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) resin. The material held within the vessel was an aromatic hydrocarbon-based solvent. Investigation (visual inspection, stereomicroscopic examination, 20x/100x SEM images, micro-FTIR in the ATR mode, and analysis using DSC and TGA) supported the conclusion that the chemical storage vessel failed via a creep mechanism associated with the exertion of relatively low stresses. The source of the stress was thought to be molded-in residual stresses associated with uneven shrinkage. This was suggested by obvious distortion evident on cutting the vessel. Relatively high specific gravity and the elevated heat of fusion indicated that the material had a high level of crystallinity. In general, increased levels of crystallinity result in higher levels of molded-in stress and the corresponding warpage. The significant reduction in the modulus of the HDPE material, which accompanied the saturation of the resin with the aromatic hydrocarbon-based solvent, substantially decreased the creep resistance of the material and accelerated the failure.