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JFAPBC (2004) 5:16-18 DOI: 10.

1361/15477020420783 Premature Failure of Steel

Gantry Crane Wheels


ASM International 1547-7029 / $19.00

Premature Failure of Steel Gantry Crane Wheels

E.E. Vernon, M.E. Stevenson, and J.L. McDougall
(Submitted August 5, 2004; in revised form August 31, 2004)

A metallurgical failure analysis was performed on a set of carbon steel gantry crane wheels following observation of excessive damage to the central tread surfaces. Rolling contact fatigue was considered as a possible failure mechanism due to the presence of what appeared to be spalling. Metallographic evaluation and hardness testing revealed that portions of the wheel tread surface had not reached the specified case hardness during heat treatment, leaving the tread surface edges in a near normalized condition. Continual contact with the rail during service allowed for plastic flow of the softer materials across the surface, resulting in the observed damage. Keywords: flame hardening, heat treatment failure, rolling contact, spalling, wear

Introduction/ Scope of Analysis

This paper outlines the failure analysis conducted on a set of carbon steel gantry crane wheels that exhibited signs of severe wear after a relatively short service period. Within six months of the original installation, wear was noted on the tread surfaces of all four wheels (Fig. 1). Prior to the metallurgical failure analysis, rolling contact fatigue (RCF) caused by misalignment of the runway I-beams had been suspected as the most likely cause of wear. In an effort to alleviate this mechanical condition, a complete realignment of the wheel/rail system was completed; however, the wear Fig. 1 Photograph illustrating the observed wear on the tread surface of one of the gantry crane wheels persisted, prompting the subsequent metallurgical failure analysis. similar, with a clear delineation at the location of The wheels were manufactured from normalized apparent wear on the tread surfaces (Fig. 2-4). Roll1045 carbon steel. Manufacturing specifications reing contact fatigue was considered as a possible quired that the tread surface of each wheel be case mechanism of failure, because light microscopy of hardened, via flame hardening, within the range of the worn surface revealed what appeared to be 212 to 240 Brinell hardness (HB). No specifications spalling. Note that RCF is a type of wear but is were provided for the wheel flanges, which were asreferred to as fatigue, because cyclic mechanical sumed to remain in the normalized condition. stresses are induced by the wear processes, and these stresses are required to generate the spalled condition. Metallographic Evaluation Two of the four affected wheels were submitted for investigation. Both wheels appeared visually Metallographic evaluation of three samples from a sectioned wheel yielded similar results. Macro-

E.E. Vernon, M.E. Stevenson, and J.L. McDougall, Metals and Materials Engineers LLC, 1039 Industrial Court, Suwanee, GA 30024. Contact e-mail:

16 Volume 4(5) October 2004

Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention

Fig. 2

The two gantry crane wheels submitted for investigation

Fig. 4

A close-up view representative of the delineation on the tread surface of the submitted gantry crane wheels

Fig. 3

Photograph outlining the three main areas of interest on the submitted wheels

etching of metallographic cross sections revealed a clear distinction between the macrostructure of the case hardened tread surface and the remainder of the wheel section (Fig. 5). Microscopic inspection revealed that the microstructure of the wheel flanges was a matrix of equiaxed ferrite grains with colonies of pearlite distributed throughout, as anticipated for normalized steel. The microstructure of the steel at the center of the tread surface was predominantly tempered martensite, as anticipated for flame hardened 1045 steel. At the wear interface, however, it was apparent that the surface condition originally believed to be caused by spalling was, in fact, due to plastic deformation of normalized and/or partially hardened material from the tread surface edges. This phenomenon was evidenced by the visible plastic flow patterns toward the center of the tread surface. Additionally, it was observed that the microstructure in the deformed region was comprised of highly elongated grains of ferrite and pearlite (Fig. 6). Had wear occurred on the tread

Fig. 5

A removed section of one of the wheels, following macroetching

surface, the observed flow patterns would be aligned at 90 to the observed flow. Furthermore, the deformed microstructure would contain a significant amount of tempered martensite.

Hardness Testing
Hardness measurements taken at multiple locations along the tread surface and flange of one of the wheels corroborated the metallographic evaluation. The specified case hardness range, 212 to

Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention

Volume 4(5) October 2004


Premature Failure of Steel Gantry Crane Wheels


measurements suggest that the root cause of failure was improper heat treatment of the crane wheels. Few details are known regarding the flame hardening process used for the wheels; however, it likely involved Fig. 6 Composite micrograph image illustrating the plastic flow of elongated grains of ferrite and the wheel being suppearlite on the tread surface of one of the wheels ported and mechanically 240 HB, converts into a Rockwell C scale range rotated while a stationary flame was applied to the of 18 to 23 HRC. The average measured hardness tread surface. Microstructural evidence suggests that value at the center of the tread surface was approxa uniform heat treatment of the tread surface was imately 22 HRC, within the specified case hardnot accomplished. The full case hardness was ness range. Toward the outer edges of the tread achieved only at the center of the tread surface, surface, however, the average hardness value dropped while the outer edges of the tread surface remained to approximately 85 on the Rockwell B scale in a near-normalized state (Fig. 7). Continual cyclic (HRB)well below the specified range. The contact with the rail while in service resulted in average hardness of the wheel flanges was approxiplastic deformation of the softer edges, as exemmately 78 HRB. It should be noted that the edges plified by the elongation of grain structure toward of the tread surface retained a hardness value the center of the tread surface. The localized deforslightly higher than that of the flanges, indicating mation and the cyclic nature of the applied stresses that they were at least partially hardened by either resulted in surface spallation in the region of microcold work or by the flame hardening process. structural/hardness transition. Both the localized plastic deformation and spallation of the inner surConclusions/Recommendations faces of the flanges (which were observed to be in the normalized condition) contributed to the deposition Although the observed gantry crane wheel failof material debris on the central tread surface. ures had originally been attributed to improper rail alignment, the metallographic analysis and hardness In order to avoid reoccurrence of this type of failure, it was recommended that the flame hardening process be reviewed and/or revised in order to guarantee a consistent case hardening across the total tread surface. In addition, it was recommended that any surface that may potentially contact the rail during service, such as the inner flange surfaces, should likewise be case hardened.

1. P.J. Blau: Rolling Contact Wear, Friction, Lubrication, and Wear, vol. 18, ASM Handbook, ASM International, 1992. 2. G.F. Vander Voort: Metallography: Principles and Practice, ASM International, 1999. 3. Standard Hardness Conversion Tables for Metals, Designation E 140-84, Annual Book of ASTM Standards, vol. 03.01, MetalsMechanical Testing; Elevated and LowTemperature Tests, ASTM, W. Conshohocken, PA, 1986.

Fig. 7

Schematic drawing illustrating the condition of the wheels subsequent to heat treatment via flame hardening

18 Volume 4(5) October 2004

Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention