Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350

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Investigation of the failure of the L-0 blades
Z. Mazur *, A. Herna´ndez-Rossette, R. Garcı´a-Illescas
Instituto de Investigaciones Ele´ctricas, Av. Reforma 113, Col. Palmira, 62490 Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico
Received 5 September 2005; accepted 24 October 2005
Available online 14 February 2006

Abstract
A last stage (L-0) turbine blades failure was experienced at the 110 MW geothermal unit after 1 year of operation period. This unit has two tandem-compound intermediate/low-pressure turbines (turbine A and turbine B) with 23 in./
3600 rpm last-stage blades. There were flexible blades continuously coupled 360 degrees around the row by loose cover
segment at the tip and loose sleeve and lug at the mid-span (pre-twist design). The failed blades were in the L-0 row of
the LP turbine B connected to the generator. The visual examination indicated that the group of 12 L-0 blades of rotor
B on the generator side was bent and another group of 5 blades at 140 degrees from the first damaged group was also bent.
The cover segments were spread out from the damaged blades and had cracks. Laboratory evaluation of the cracking in
the cover segments indicates the failure mechanism to be high cycle fatigue (HCF), initiating at the cover segment holes
outer fillet radius. The L-0 blades failure investigation was carried out. The investigation included a metallographic analysis of the cracked cover segments and bent blades, Finite Element Method (FEM) stress and natural frequency analysis
(of blades/cover segments), fracture mechanics and crack propagation analysis. This paper provides an overview of the L-0
blades failure investigation, which led to the identification of the blades vibrations within the range 250–588 Hz induced
due to unstable flow excitation (stall flutter) as the primary contribution to the observed failure.
Ó 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Failure analysis; High cycle fatigue; Steam turbine failures; L-0 blade failure; Metallurgical examination

1. Introduction
The last stage blade (L-0 blade) is one of the most important contributors to the performance and reliability
of the steam turbine. With the last stage blades typically producing 10% of the total unit output, and up to
15% in some combined-cycle applications, improvements in last stage efficiency can significantly impact the
output of the total unit. Retrofitting an older last stage design with a modern diaphragm and last stage blade
can typically improve heat rate and.output by up to 1% [1].
Life extension against erosion and reduction of vibration stress are important for improving the reliability
and maintainability of steam turbines last stage blades. The use of a continuously-coupled connection structure instead of the grouped blades has proved to significantly reduce the vibration stresses and is currently
*

Corresponding author. Tel.: +52 777 3623811; fax: +52 777 3623834.
E-mail address: mazur@iie.org.mx (Z. Mazur).

1350-6307/$ - see front matter Ó 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.engfailanal.2005.10.018

After the next 26 s the unit was tripped due to a condenser low vacuum condition. as was reported herein. prediction of the forced response of shrouded disc assemblies is still a challenging engineering task because of unknown excitation loads and friction damping effects [11]. which cannot be used for the combined bending and torsion system mode analysis. connected to the generator. 1 and 2. It is known that the flow-induced blades oscillations are pronounced mainly at the zone of the 90–100% of the blade length. The trend for improved large steam turbine design towards higher aerodynamic blade loading and smaller physical size attracts much attention to the aeroelastic behavior of blades in turbines. Modern turbomachines operate under very complex regimes where a mixture of subsonic. the L-0 blade vibration stresses are increasing abruptly.2]. During turbine operation at a low load/low vacuum. From this standpoint neighbouring blade rows. Operation at a low load like initial load-hold and other conditions shall be determined by considering such phenomena. Background The blade under evaluation was the 23 in. most existing analyses deal with uncoupled simple mode shape models. The blades are continuously coupled 360 degrees around the row by an integral or loose cover segment at the tip and loose sleeve and lug at the mid-span. Fig. This paper provides an overview such a case of the L-0 blades failure investigation due to flow excitation (flutter) as the primary contribution to the observed failure. During unit normal operation period the water feeding pump was tripped due to a mechanical problem and as a result the unit vacuum was dropped from 648 to 570 mm Hg and the load from nominal to 72 MW (65% of load) at an interval of 42 s from the last stable point. loss of material and cracks./3600 rpm last stage blade (L-0) of a 110 MW geothermal turbine which consists of two tandem-compound intermediate/low-pressure turbines with steam condition 1. e.1 MPag/ 182 °C/84 kg/s.Z. and judgment based on past experience and experiments must be used to determine the acceptability of a shrouded rotor blade design [7–10]. This increase (peak) of the blade vibration is induced by unstable flow with oscillation of a shock wave near the throat of the blade tip passage [1. This provides excellent damping and reduces the dynamic response levels of the blades [1]. Also aeroelasticity phenomena can occur while turbine is operating at low load/low vacuum. 3 shows a general view of the blade cover segments spread from the damaged blades. However. rubbing. Unfortunately. was bent in the direction opposite to the rotor rotation and that another group of 4 blades of the same row at 140 degrees from the first damaged group was also bent. During the unit last overhaul (January 2004). the original grouped rigid L-0 blades were replaced by flexible blades continuously coupled 360 degrees around the row by loose cover segment at the tip and loose sleeve and lug at the mid-span. some cases of steam turbine low pressure blades failures with a continuously-coupled connection structure have been recorded. In many cases by using either tip or mid-span shroud (cover) design. safety. as is shown in Figs. the shrouded rotor blade design will cause the blade mode shapes to be complex.g. Mazur et al. and in some cases both bending and torsion mode components can be present at the same time in a single mode [6]. On the other hand. Aeroelasticity phenomena are characterized by the interaction of fluid and structural domains. The evaluation of these failed new installed blades was carried out after 1 year of blade operation period in base load mode. The turbine visual examination revealed that the group of 12 L-0 blades from the generator side of rotor B. / Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 1339 implemented in many retrofits of steam turbines [1–5]. transonic and supersonic regions coexists. respectively. The cascade flutter is characterized by aerodynamic interaction among oscillating blades in the blade row. Recently. After the turbine was restarted there were measured high vibrations. a neighbouring rotor or stator will have a considerable influence on the unsteady aerodynamic force because blade rows are closely placed in actual turbomachines. Its importance can be understood from the fact that the unsteady aerodynamic force on blades is heavily dependent on the interblade phase angle. Nevertheless. The damaged loose lashing sleeves which . and operating cost. the blade structural damping can be increased enough to prevent blade flutter. 2. The blade is made of AISI 410 stainless steel. Flow-induced blade oscillations (flutter) of the turbine can lead to fatigue failures of a construction and so they represent an important problem of reliability. a remarkable progress in transient flow calculations allowed the prediction of more realistic excitation forces acting on the rotating blades [12–17]. They present damage in the form of bending. which forced the unit to be shut down-to carry out an inspection and related maintenance. due to some current uncertainties in transient flow calculation and forced response of shrouded disc assemblies.

1. Mazur et al. L-0 row from the generator side bended at the tip. L-0 row from the generator side bended at the tip. 2. The group of 4 blades. Fig.1340 Z. . Fig. 3. / Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 Fig. Damaged loose cover segments. The group of 12 blades.

heavy deformation. rubbing. fracture and separation of the pieces of material is apparent. Damaged loose lashing sleeves. Detail of the damage of the cover segment No. Mazur et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 1341 couple the blades in the mid-span are shown in Fig. 4. 4. Fig. Fig. 5. 5 shows the detail of the damage of cover segment No. There were more cover segments with similar cracks.Z. .19. 19. crushed and fractured in separate parts. 6 is shown the crack initiation on cover segment No. The sleeves were separated from the damaged blades. The crack is localized on the outer filet radius of the wall of the cover segment hole. 12. In Fig. Fig.

/ Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 Fig. a lot of small transgranular micro cracks can be seen as indicated by the arrows in Fig. The microstructure represents bimodal distribution of volumetric phase ‘‘a prime’’ (60% Vol. 6) using scanning electronic microscopy (SEM) to determine the origin of the fracture. 9 shows the different .) within a laminar matrix of phase ‘‘a + b’’ (40% Vol. free of failures. Fig. Crack initiation on the cover segment No. 3.1342 Z. Mazur et al. 12 (see Fig. Fig.). 12. typical for forged stainless steel according to specification AISI 410. Fractography evaluation was carried out on the exposed crack surface of cover segment No. SEM (scanning electronic microscopy) fractography and chemical analysis. Also. It is a typical microstructure of Titanium alloy Ti–6Al–4V after solution treatment and aging. 7. and included metallography. The grain size is very small (fine grains) and measure 20 lm approximately. The microstructure of the blade airfoil (bended tip zone) is shown in Fig. 8b. 8 shows the microstructure corresponding to cover segment number 12 made of Titanium Ti–6Al–4V. The transgranular crack propagation is typical of a fatigue failure mechanism. Metallurgical investigation of the L-0 blade The metallurgical investigation of the failed L-0 blade was carried out. 6. The microstructure consists of tempered homogenous martenzite.

Fig. Fig. 7. / Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 Fig.Z. The microstructure of the L-0 blade airfoil made of AISI 410 stainless steel (bended tip). 8. Microstructure corresponding to cover segment number 12 made of Titanium Ti–6Al–4V. 12. 1343 . Fracture initiation and propagation zones on cover segment No. Mazur et al. 9.

Further.73 lm in the fracture propagation zone and 1.7 MPa occurred at the mid-span of the airfoil. 11.97 lm in the fracture initiation zone. 12. whereas the third and fourth frequencies are smaller. The chemical analysis of the deposits present on the fracture surface of cover segment No.17 Hz and the fourth is 358. . On the fracture surface no beach marks were found. are noticeable. The existence of significant clearances between the cover segment hole and the blade tenon facilitate accumulation of the deposits (oxides) which come from other sections of the turbine and can promote corrosion. Centrifugal stress distribution at the individual blade at 3600 rpm is shown in Fig. The first four modal forms of vibration of the individual L-0 blade are shown in Fig. 13.52 Hz. Vibration modes of the individual blade at 3600 rpm. the second is 195. The calculation also included the determination of stresses at the cover segment. Blade stress analysis Using the Finite Element Method (FEM). Fig. The results were evaluated considering the maximum stresses developed at the blade and cover segment. Each striation represents one cycle of fatigue and by measuring the distance between striations it is possible to determine the velocity of crack (fatigue) propagation. Average inter-striation distance was 3.7 mm and occured at the tip of the blade. 19 revealed some quantity of Ni. 12. / Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 zones of the fracture propagation surface of cover segment No. Co and S. deformation and natural frequency of the individual blade and coupled blades at 3600 rpm were calculated. Cu. respectively. 10. The absence of beach marks on the fracture surface of cover segment means that only one event participated in fatigue propagation. The natural frequency of coupled blades is represented in Fig. close to the lashing sleeves at the blade pressure surface.1344 Z.29 Hz. The presence of striations (fracture sliding planes) which are characteristic for fatigue mechanism of fracture propagation. maximum deformation and possible resonances. as is shown in Fig. The presence of beach marks on the fracture surface commonly indicates that more events participated in fatigue propagation. which correspond to different events of fatigue. It can be seen that the third and fourth blade natural frequencies are very similar. centrifugal stresses. 10. 451. The maximum stress. Mazur et al.28 Hz. that the first and second frequencies are larger than those of the individual blade. 4. The first natural frequency is 115. the third is 357. The maximum deformation of the individual blade was 6. The beach marks divide the fracture surface in zones of different roughness.70–1.

Individual blade maximum deformation due to centrifugal force. 1345 . 13. 12. The natural frequency of continuously coupled blades. 11. First mode Second mode Third mode Fourth mode Fig. / Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 Fig.Z. Fig. Centrifugal stress distribution at the individual blade at 3600 rpm. Mazur et al.

7 MPa).27. 13). were registered at the airfoil mid-span below the lashing sleeves and were much smaller than in the case of free individual blade (451. a yield stress of 925 MPa for the cover segment material (Titanium Ti–6Al–4V). 15.5 MPa. / Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 The reported natural frequencies of the blades (individual and coupled blades) confirm that no mechanical resonances of the blades structure exist. 510 MPa.81. Considering a yield stress of 574 MPa for a blade made of AISI 410 stainless steel. The stresses at the lashing sleeves were very low and for this reason they are not shown here. Fig. the maximum stress level. . The centrifugal stress distribution at the blade airfoil pressure surface is shown in Fig. As was mentioned before a maximum deformation of 6.1346 Z. The stress level at the hole of the cover segment in the contact zone between the blade tenon and the cover segment (fracture zone) was lower. The maximum stresses. for coupled blades it is 1. In this view (Fig. the security factor for individual free standing blade is 1. was encountered at the surface of the cover segment in the contact zone between the blade airfoil and the cover segment. 14. 15a.7 mm was registered for the free individual blade. and the maximum calculated stresses presented previously. Centrifugal stress distribution at continuously coupled blades. The maximum deformation of the continuously coupled blades was 2 mm and corresponds to the third mode of vibration (Fig. 15b. 250 MPa. of 391. Stress distribution at the cover segment. 14) cover segments and lashing sleeves were eliminated to see the whole blades. Mazur et al.47 and for the cover segment it is 1. as is indicated by arrow in Fig. Fig. As may be evaluated from Fig. 14.

the possible blade excitation frequency that could lead to the cover segment fatigue failure was calculated from f ¼ Da=Dt da=dN ½HZ. Also. the length of fracture was calculated using da Da ¼  f  t ½mm. Stable fatigue fracture propagation is governed by Paris Law [18] according to da m ¼ CðDKÞ ðmm=cycleÞ dN ð1Þ da where dN is the velocity of fracture propagation. C and m the Empiric constants. da. it can be concluded that probably the third torsional mode X. which is very close to the real cover hole depth (Da = 7 mm) considered in this analysis.86 MPa m and f = 250 Hz. . Further. ð3Þ dN C where C = 2. For three options of striations distance. which is typically related to the turbine operation with low load low vacuum.3 Hz. To successfully separate the cover segment completely from the blade.57 MPa m and f = 588.3 Hz and striations distance da = 3 lm the fracture length was Da = 7. which correspond to unit low load.96 MPa m and p f = 333. low vacuum operation (72 MW.29 Hz. DK = 28. may be responsible for the cover segment fatigue failure and its separation from the blades. da = 1. 6. ð2Þ where f is the blade excitation frequency. Mazur et al.7. Because the striations distance 3 lm was found predominantly on the cover segment fracture surface. 3 and 4 lm. 570 mm Hg). was determined from rffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi p m da 1 DK ¼ ½MPa m. Discussion of the results The results of the metallographic examination of the failed L-0 blade and cover segment indicate that the crack initiation and propagation on the cover segment was driven by a high cycle fatigue mechanism. Considering. DK the fatigue stress intensity.23 Hz. DK = 26. da = 1. da the crack size increment during one cycle of fatigue. whole fracture surface presented small transgranular cracks.5 mm. This frequency (333. dN the number of fatigue cycles. This time includes the periods of fracture initiation and propagation. respectively.Z. the time required for the deformation and spread off of the cover segment. Fracture propagation analysis of the cover segment A fracture propagation analysis of the cover segment was carried out. arbitrarily that the time for fracture propagation was a fraction of the total fatigue event time of 7 s. the corresponding stress intensity factors p and associated excitation frequencies were DK = 23. the maximum crack size should be more or less the same as a depth of the cover segment hole in which the blade tenon is installed (Da = 7 mm). Dt = 7 s the time of the fracture propagation. Using a rearranged form of the Paris Low the stress intensity factor.7. The fatigue striations distances on the cover segment fracture surface correspond to the crack size increment. These distances were measured and its values fall within the range 1. Striations characteristic to high cycle fatigue were found throughout the whole fracture surface of the cover segment. based on the metallographic investigation findings and rules of fracture mechanics. The total time of the fatigue event was 26 s. typically related to fatigue fracture mechanisms. during one cycle of fatigue.2 and 358. DK. Da = 7 mm the depth of the cover segment hole.23 determined using nCode [18]. respectively). It was observed that the predominant inter-striation distance was between 3 and 4 lm. and also the time required for the blade airfoils to deform. considering these frequencies and the same options of striation distance. ð4Þ dN It was found that for frequency f = 333.66e-12 and m = 4.3 Hz) is very close to the natural frequencies of the third and fourth modes of vibration of the coupled blades (357. / Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 1347 5.7 lm at the fracture initiation zone to 4 lm at the fatigue fracture end zone. 3 andp 4 lm.

Analyzing the unit’s operation history since the date in which the L-0 blades were installed (retrofit). which can lead to blade failures. this is congruent with metallographic findings on the cover segment fracture surface (lack of beach marks). was detected. The presence and number of beach marks commonly indicate how many fatigue events participate in fatigue propagation. the blade failure would occur practically immediately (after a few hours of operation). the forces developed by the steam flow and the vibratory stresses finally caused the deformation of the blades. If the fatigue initiation and propagation were during continuous operation under resonance vibratory stresses. 16 shows steam flow stream lines distribution at the L-0 stage during low load/low vacuum operation [19]. Steam flow stream lines distribution at the L-0 stage during low load/low vacuum operation [19]. Considering the L-0 blades real operation period (1 year). the beach marks divide the fracture surface in zones of different roughness that correspond to different fatigue events.1348 Z. only one period of unit operation with low load/low vacuum lasting 26 s approximately. Due to reduced mass flow. but during transition events. This results in changes of the blade entry flow incidence angle (change of stage velocity triangle). According to [2. In turn. flow recirculation and counterflows. the steam conditions are variable along the steam path. This conclusion also indicates that fatigue failure of the blades/cover segments was not originated during continuous operation under vibration stresses. The deformation of the free-standing blades was facilitated by the moderate stress safety factor used to design the blades. in conjunction with the negative incidence angle flow striking on the blades. the blades operate as it they were free-standing. 16. the flow is entering into the L-0 blades with negative incidence angle (in this case it was 33–36° approximately) striking the suction surface of the blade airfoil and exciting the blades (stall flutter).19]. there are zones of different pressure. Furthermore. Fig. flow recirculation (flow instabilities). / Engineering Failure Analysis 13 (2006) 1338–1350 Beach marks were not encountered on the cover segment fracture surface. These operation conditions generate blade excitation forces (torsional vibrations X mode). radial flows. . the steam turbine operation with low load/low vacuum is inducing L-0 blade excitation (vibration) by unstable flow developing high vibratory stresses. Unit operation with reduced mass flow is also causing a reduction of the flow velocity in the same degree. counter flows. developed excessive vibratory stresses causing fatigue fracture and spread out of cover segments. it may be concluded that the mechanical resonance of the blades does not contribute to blade failure. Mazur et al. it caused blade structural loosening and drastically changed the blade vibration damping characteristics. Fig. The pressure fluctuation. The lack of beach marks on the fracture surface means that only one fatigue event participated in fracture propagation. The fatigue striations distance corresponds to the velocity of stable fracture propagation da/dN.

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