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A rocket-motor case made of consumable-electrode vacuum arc remelted D-6ac alloy steel failed during hydrostatic proof-pressure testing. Close visual examination, magnetic-particle inspection, and hardness tests showed cracks that appeared to have occurred after austenitizing but before tempering. Microscopic examinations of ethereal picral etched sections indicated that the cracks appeared before or during the final tempering phase of the heat treatment and that cracking had occurred while the steel was in the as-quenched condition, before its 315 deg C (600 deg F) snap temper. Chemical analysis of the cracked metal showed a slightly higher level of carbon than in the component that did not crack. X-ray diffraction studies of material from the fractured dome showed a very low level of retained austenite, and chemical analysis showed a slightly higher content of carbon in the metal of the three cracked components. Bend tests verified the conclusion that the most likely mechanism of delayed quench cracking was isothermal transformation of retained austenite to martensite under the influence of residual quenching stresses. Recommendations included modifying the quenching portion of the heat-treating cycle and tempering in the salt pot used for quenching, immediately after quenching.

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Brittle Fracture of Rocket-Motor Case That Originated at Delayed Quench Cracks, ASM Failure Analysis Case Histories: Processing Errors and Defects, ASM International, 2019,

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