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Engineering Failure Analysis 15 (2008) 931937


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Overheat induced failure of a steel tube in an electric arc


furnace (EAF) cooling system
A. Vazdirvanidis, G. Pantazopoulos *, A. Louvaris
ELKEME Hellenic Research Centre for Metals S.A., 252 Pireaus Street, 17778 Athens, Greece
Received 18 June 2007; received in revised form 9 October 2007; accepted 12 October 2007
Available online 23 October 2007

Abstract
A fractured steel tube component from the cooling system of an electric-arc-furnace (EAF) of a steelmaking plant was
received with a request of a failure analysis investigation. The specic damage caused steam leakage and led to the furnace
shut-down for maintenance resulting in signicant steel production delays. Visual inspection, optical microscopy and
microhardness testing were used as the principal investigation techniques in the present study. Prolonged overheating at
high temperatures has led to decarburization and weakening of the surface of the tube. This resulted further in subsequent
cracking due to the operating tensile stresses developed from steep thermal gradient and thermal cycling suggesting that the
most probable failure mechanism is thermal fatigue.
2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Hot oxidation; Decarburization; Ferriticpearlitic steel; Thermal fatigue

1. Introduction and background information


High temperature operation for a prolonged duration leads to serious damage in structural components,
due to the occurrence of surface degradation processes (e.g. oxidation, decarburization) and temperature sensitive plastic deformation. Creep mechanism can be considered as a signicant failure mode in such cases, e.g.
tube boilers, reheaters and superheaters [1,2]. In addition, the operation of severe surface degradation processes (such as intergranular stress corrosion cracking, hot oxidation, decarburization), thermal shock and
thermal fatigue may have signicant contribution to the nal failure as reported in relevant cases [26].
In the present study a cracked tube sample from the furnace panel of the EAF (steel grade St35.8, outer
diameter of 80 mm, inner diameter of 56 mm and wall thickness 12 mm) was received from a steelmaking plant
along with the request to pursue a failure analysis investigation (Fig. 1). This sample was part of a steel tube of
the cooling system of the furnace that exhibited steam leakage during operation. Cooling is achieved by water
circulation (3236 C) as the tube is built-in above the magnesia refractories on the side wall of the EAF
(temperature over 1640 C).
*

Corresponding author. Tel.: +30 2104898263; fax: +30 2104898268.


E-mail address: gpantaz@halcor.vionet.gr (G. Pantazopoulos).

1350-6307/$ - see front matter 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.engfailanal.2007.10.010

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A. Vazdirvanidis et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 15 (2008) 931937

Fig. 1. Stereomicrograph showing details of the cracked area. The arrow indicates the tube axis direction.

2. Experimental procedure
The typical chemical composition ranges for this type of plain carbon steel grade used is: 0.100.20% C,
0.300.90% Mn, max. 0.04% P, max. 0.05% S. Low-magnication inspection of surface morphology was performed using a Nikon SMZ 1500 stereomicroscope. Microstructural and morphological characterization was
conducted in mounted cross-sections parallel to the tube axis. Grinding was performed using successive abrasive SiC papers, followed by ne polishing using diamond and silica suspensions respectively. Rinsing in alcohol and drying in hot air stream were used as nishing procedures. To reveal the microstructure, immersion
etching was performed using Nital 4% (solution of 4% v/v HNO3 in ethanol). Metallographic studies were

Fig. 2. (a) Optical micrograph showing surface and subsurface cracks (b) detail of (a) and (c) detail of the decarburized zone.

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performed using a Nikon Epiphot 300 inverted optical microscope. Microhardness testing was performed
using an Instron-Wolpert NT1100 Vickers microindentation device under 200 gf (1.962 N) applied load
according to BS EN ISO 6507-1 standard [7].
3. Investigation
Several surface cracks were observed on the outer area of the tube (Fig. 2a and b). A 14 lm decarburized
zone was found in the outer surface of the tube (Fig. 2c). Decarburization can occur at high temperatures and
in an oxidizing atmosphere. The result in this case is a surface layer with lower carbon content than that of the
core. The decarburized layer demonstrates signicantly lower tensile strength, conrmed also by microhardness testing. Optical metallography revealed burnt ferrite grain boundaries and presence of spheroidal oxides in the decarburized zone. In addition extensive oxidation occurred in crack surfaces and a thick oxide layer
is formed on the outer tube surface.

Fig. 3. Optical micrograph of cross-section AA 0 (Fig. 1). Note, that the depth of the crack is 6.7 mm.

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The maximum depth of the crack observed was up to 6.7 mm (approximately 1/2 of the wall thickness), see
Fig. 3. Four distinct zones were detected moving from the inner to the outer tube diameter (Figs. 4 and 5). A
simplied schema of the structural changes occurred during operation is outlined in Table 1:
[(a)] A banded ferriticpearlitic structure, typical of steel tube of this grade (base metal zone). The average
ferrite grain size is 37 lm, while the microhardness varied from 190 to 199 HV0.2 (Fig. 4a and b). The presence of hardness scale deposits on the inner tube surface may have resulted in poor heat transfer into the
cooling water and led to increased tube temperatures for long-term period (prolonged overheating).
[(b)] A transition zone (or tempered zone) located approximately in the center of the sample, consisting of
similar size equiaxed ferrite and ne pearlite grains (microhardness: 186199 HV0.2), see Fig. 4c. In this case

Fig. 4. Optical micrographs outlining the microstructural changes occurred from the inner to the outer tube surface, (a) base-metal
microstructure located close to the inner tube surface (note also the presence of scale deposits), (b) base metal-banded coarse grained
structure (ferrite-pearlite), (c) spheroidized pearlite (tempered zone), (d) ne grained zone (ferriticpearlitic) microstructure, (e) detail of
the outer surface of the tube (Widmanstatten ferrite and decarburized layer).

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Fig. 5. Optical micrograph showing a detail of the outer tube surface depicting the presence of Widmanstatten ferrite.

Table 1
Simplied schema of the structural transformations occurred during steel tube operation

OUTER TUBE SURFACE


Zone No.

Wall Thickness

Morphology/characterization

Microstructural constituents

Decarburized zone (localized

Decarburized ferrite, local Widmansttten

Prolonged heating above Ac3 (in oxidizing atmosphere).

formation of Widmansttten

ferrite (limited to the leakage area).

Reasonably

structure)
2

Fine-grained zone

Thermal Conditions

rapid

cooling

for

the

formation

of

Widmansttten ferrite.
Fine grained equiaxed ferrite lamellar

Heating above Ac3; approx. up to Ac3 + (55-100oC), similar

pearlite.

to normalizing annealing.

Tempered zone

Equiaxed ferrite spheroidized pearlite.

Heating close to Ac1 (practically +/- 50oC).

Banded zone

Ferrite-lamellar pearlite.

Production conditions (hot-rolled conditions).

INNER TUBE SURFACE

pearlite is hardly visible, due to the transformation of carbide plates (in the pearlite) to ne spheroids.
Spheroidization reaction took place during heat treating usually at temperatures close to Ac1 (practically
50 C). Similar observations are reported in Ref. [2].
[(c)] This zone is followed by a very ne grained zone consisting of equiaxed ferriticpearlitic structure (grain
size 9 lm) which extends to the outer tube surface (microhardness: 157168 HV0.2), see Fig. 4d. This
microstructure resulted most probably from the normalizing annealing processes undergone in this area
of steel tube (heating around 55100 C above Ac3). Fine grained ferritepearlite could be considered as
a normalizing structure; this microstructure could be resulted after appropriate heating above Ac3 followed
by relatively fast cooling (as in agitated air). This leads to the transformation of ne grained austenite
(formed on heating above Ac3) to ferrite and then pearlite (at the eutectoid temperature, Ac1). Normalizing
may lead to strengthening or softening of steel depending mainly on its thermomechanical history. Normalizing leads to grain renement and reduction of hot-rolled banded structure [8]. Another possibility might
be that this structure is formed around Ac1 (within approx. 600700 C), leading to the recrystallization of
the banded base metal microstructure. The new strain-free structure caused by annealing is expected to
have lower hardness than the base metal.
[(d)] The near-surface microstructure consists mainly of an oxidized and decarburized layer (140150 HV).
Moreover, the presence of acicular (Widmanstatten) ferrite is located underneath and close to the main
crack lips, see Figs. 4e and 5, This zone has a microhardness that reaches locally up to 228 HV0.2. The
excessive decarburization and the formation of Widmanstatten ferrite indicates tube overheating for a long
time period. The presence of such acicular ferrite microstructure is probably an evidence of long time steel

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Microhardness (HV0.2)

220

Decarburized-ferrite zone

200
180
160
Tempered
zone

Fine grained zone

140

Base metal zone

120
100
0

10 11 12 13

Distance from the surface (mm)


Fig. 6. Schematic representation of microhardness variation as a function of the distance from the outer surface of the tube. There is a
localized hardness rise close to the leakage area (up to 228 HV) which corresponds to the Widmanstatten ferrite found in this area.

overheating above Ac3 followed by reasonably rapid cooling (due to steam leakage) to produce Widmanstatten ferrite by transformation from austenite.
Inhomogeneous microstructure depicted in Fig. 4e, showing the Widmanstatten structure close to the crack
lip, is produced due probably to the non-uniform cooling that the tube has been subjected due to the postcracking leakage.
This outer surface area possesses a localized hardness rise at the area where the Widmanstatten ferrite has
been formed (value up to 228 HV0.2) close to the leakage area at the crack lip. The microhardness distribution
of the rest of the material is depicted in Fig. 6.
The zones distinction is expected by the heat transfer conditions through the tube thickness that resulted in
the formation of annealed microstructures (recrystallized and normalized structures).
4. Conclusions
From the above results, it may be concluded that:
1. Decarburization layer is formed due to high temperature and oxidizing conditions.
2. The synergy of decarburization/oxidation with the operating of cyclic stresses (due to thermal cycling and
steep temperature gradient) led to crack initiation at the outer surface of the tube where the weak decarburized layer has been formed and crack propagation (thermal fatigue).
3. Water scale deposits on the inner tube surface have to be examined and controlled due to their signicant
contribution to weak heat transfer to the cooling water and subsequently to prolonged overheating.
4. Crack propagation may have been assisted by the wedging eect from corrosion products at the crack
tip.
5. A heat resistant alloy may be a better solution for this application in such a hostile environment.
6. Lowering of the graphite electrodes in the slag leading to more eective heat transfer in the metal bath and
not in the side-walls of the furnace, leading to reduction of the induced thermal stresses, may be another
solution for this problem.

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