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for use at the UIAA Safety Commission Meeting

at Golden Colorado, USA, May 2009


We have investigated the small deformation of a Fixe bolt that has been sheared [from the
cliff] and compared it with a facsimile bolt from a different manufacturer.

Scanning electron imaging of the fracture surface of the Fixe bolt shows the typical
honeycomb pattern associated with ductile fracture (Figures 1-3). Over the entire surface,
there is no indication of mixed or brittle fracture; the only exception is voids that can result
from inclusions (Figure 3).

Figure 4 shows the microstructure of the facsimile bolt. The structure is typical for an
annealed, corrosion resistant, austenitic steel with homogenous polyhedra and annealing
pairs. In contrast, the cross section of the Fixe bolt exhibits austenitic grain and also
martensitic deformation and a greater degree of globular phase. Martensitic deformation in
this type of steel indicates chemical characteristics that destabilize the austenite.

In the un-etched, lengthwise cut of the Fixe bolt exhibits a large number of filament shaped
precipitates (Figures 6-8). These filament formations are typical of the globular structure
shown in Figure 5. The easily recognizable features in the polarized, un-etched surface are a
good indicator of manganese sulfide.

Table 1 provides the results of two chemical analyses of the steel composition of the Fixe bolt.
Table 2 lists the composition of a corrosion resistant austenitic steel. It seems like the steel
ought to be DIN 1.4303 [305] steel, though the analysis suggests it is more like DIN 1.4310
[301] or DIN 1.4541 [321]. In this case, the permitted sulfur content is exceeded 30 fold. It
seems to me the most likely steel is DIN 1.4305 [grade 303], a machining stainless steel
[increased machinability, reduced corrosion resistance]. The chemical analysis and the
micrographs support this conclusion.


Sulfur in steel is a contaminant that is introduced during the smelting process by coke or oil.
During solidification, it precipitates out as a sulfide. To counter the reduction of the
mechanical properties due to sulfur, the steel is annealed, but still some portion of the sulfur
remains. This proportion of sulfur must be kept low and indeed the maximum value is exactly
proscribed for each type of steel.

In contrast with other non-metallic steel additives, sulfur addition results in a very workable
steel and thus it is added for the production of wire or sheets. Sulfur also reduces other
desirable properties, especially in the cross-grain direction. The fracture toughness is
dramatically reduced.
For machining steels, the effects of sulfides are to some degree desirable. They act to prevent
the sudden fracture of the cutting blade during machining and increase the service life of the
tool. And sulfides give the machined piece a smooth, clean surface. Many fabricators are
pleased to work with machining steel even though the mechanical properties in certain
circumstances (according to the loading situation) are poor.


Fixe has either gotten stuck with a batch of highly impure, low quality steel or knowingly used
a machining steel.

How the anchor we analyzed could be loaded to failure with minimal deformation is clear.
An impact loading perpendicular to the grain direction in the presence of a notch (screw
thread) corresponds exactly to the conditions employed in fracture toughness testing. And
fracture toughness is exactly the property that is most significantly impaired by high sulfur
content. That the fracture type is ductile fracture is not a contradiction. The reduced
performance only occurs during plastic deformation on account of the low adhesion between
the boundary surface and the matrix, an effect that only occurs during deformation.

What next?

It is difficult to use theory to decide whether this material is sufficient for use in bolts. The
loading during fall arrest is perpendicular to the grain direction, but somewhere between
typical, abrupt test loading conditions and quasi-static. Certainty could only be provided by
requisite mechanical testing (instrumented fall testing that simulates unfavorable
conditions). Such tests are expensive and complex. Interesting is also the question concerning
the fatigue strength (corresponding to the fall arrest loading) that could affect the
longitudinal sulfides in the internal grooves and nucleate cracks.

Perhaps Fixe ought to be informed and asked to provide a response. Can they guarantee that
this material is warranted?
scanning electron microscope images of the fracture surface

Fig 1

Fig 2

Fig 3
microstructure images (etched) in crosscut

Fig 4

Fig 5
microstructure images (un-etched) in longitudinal cut

Fig 6

Fig 7

Fig 8