Ductile Overload Fracture of an Extension Ladder Made From 6061-T6 Aluminum Alloy Extrusions
A two-section extension ladder, made from 6061-T6 aluminum alloy extrusions and stampings that were riveted together at each rung location and at the ends of side rails, broke in service after having been used at the sites of several fires by the fire department of a large city. The fracture surfaces were examined visually and by optical (light) stereomicroscopy. Material testing showed a sample to be within the specified material limits for aluminum alloy 6061. Microscopic examination showed no significant differences in microstructure or grain size among the four T-sections, and thickness measurements at various locations indicated that thicknesses were well within standard industry tolerances for aluminum extrusions in this size range. However, hardness testing of the four T-sections showed that in two, hardness was considerably lower than the acceptable hardness for the T6 temper and were within the range for 6061-T4 (acceptable hardness, 19 to 45 HRB). This indicated they had been naturally aged at room temperature after solution heat treatment instead of artificially aged as per specs. Edge cracking in two of the T-sections was the result of improper conditions during extrusion of the T-sections; however, this condition was not a primary cause of failure.