Failure Analysis of a Vehicle Engine Crankshaft
An investigation of a damaged crankshaft from a horizontal, six-cylinder, in-line diesel engine of a public bus was conducted after several failure cases were reported by the bus company. All crankshafts were made from forged and nitrided steel. Each crankshaft was sent for grinding, after a life of approximately 300,000 km of service, as requested by the engine manufacturer. After grinding and assembling in the engine, some crankshafts lasted barely 15,000 km before serious fractures took place. Few other crankshafts demonstrated higher lives. Several vital components were damaged as a result of crankshaft failures. It was then decided to send the crankshafts for laboratory investigation to determine the cause of failure. The depth of the nitrided layer near fracture locations in the crankshaft, particularly at the fillet region where cracks were initiated, was determined by scanning electron microscope (SEM) equipped with electron-dispersive X-ray analysis (EDAX). Microhardness gradient through the nitrided layer close to fracture, surface hardness, and macrohardness at the journals were all measured. Fractographic analysis indicated that fatigue was the dominant mechanism of failure of the crankshaft. The partial absence of the nitrided layer in the fillet region, due to over-grinding, caused a decrease in the fatigue strength which, in turn, led to crack initiation and propagation, and eventually premature fracture. Signs of crankshaft misalignment during installation were also suspected as a possible cause of failure. In order to prevent fillet fatigue failure, final grinding should be done carefully and the grinding amount must be controlled to avoid substantial removal of the nitrided layer. Crankshaft alignment during assembly and proper bearing selection should be done carefully.
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