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The drive shaft in a marine propulsion system broke, stranding a large vessel along the Canadian seacoast. The shaft was made from quenched and tempered low-alloy steel. Fractographic investigation revealed that the shaft failed under low rotating-bending variable stress. Fatigue propagation occurred on about 95% of the total cross section of the shaft, under both low-cycle and high-cycle fatigue mechanisms. It was found that the fillet radius at the fracture’s origin was smaller than the one provisioned by design. As a result, the stresses at this location exceeded the values used in the design calculations, thus causing the initiation of the cracking. Moreover, although the shaft had been quenched and tempered, its actual hardness did not have the optimal value for long-term fatigue strength.

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