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Prediction of the Fatigue Crack Propagation in Large-Scale Tubular J oint Specimens

Xudong Qian
and Chien Thang Nguyen
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Department of Civil Engineering, Duy Tan University, Danang, Vietnam


This article presents a numerical investigation on the fatigue crack
propagation observed at the weld toe of large-scale circular hollow
section (CHS) X-joints subjected to constant-amplitude brace in-plane
bending. The finite element (FE) approach utilizes detailed crack-front
meshes and examines the effect of the crack propagation angle and the
crack-front profile on the fatigue driving force measured by the stress-
intensity factors. The numerical procedure then estimates the crack
propagation life based on Paris law, which agrees closely with the
experimental results. This investigation demonstrates that the fatigue
crack orientates in a direction where mode I fatigue driving force
remains predominant.

KEY WORDS: Fatigue crack propagation; tubular joints; Paris law;
stress-intensity factor; constant-amplitude load.


Typical tubular connections in steel offshore platforms experience
cyclic actions in their service life, which nucleate fatigue cracks near
the hot-spot locations. These fatigue-induced cracks often lead to
catastrophic failures in a subsequent overloading event, as revealed by
the recent post-hurricane survey (Energo Engineering Inc., 2007). The
current fatigue life estimation approach relies on the classical S-N
approach, which integrates the crack initiation life and the crack
propagation life into a total fatigue life corresponding to a through-
thickness propagation of the fatigue crack. The Paris type fatigue crack
propagation rule, in contrast, provides a validated approach to quantify
the fatigue crack propagation life in realistic, large-scale tubular joint

The Paris law, which dictates the relationship between the crack
propagation rate and the fatigue driving force measured in stress-
intensity factor (SIF) ranges, follows,

( )
da dN C K = A (1)

where C and mrefer to the material parameters determined fromthe
material fatigue tests, as outlined in ASTM E-647 (2011). The range of
effective stress-intensity factors in Eq. (1) includes the contribution
frommixed-mode loadings,

( )
2 2 2
/ 1
eff I II III
K K K K u ( = + +


Previous researchers have developed various approaches to determine
the linear-elastic stress-intensity factors along the front of a fatigue-
induced crack in tubular joints. The line-spring approach determines the
mixed-mode SIF values in tubular connections, as presented by many
researchers (Huang and Hancock, 1988; Skallerud, 1996). Bowness and
Lee (1995) developed an indirect method to determine the stress-
intensity factors in tubular joints from the SIF solutions for T-butt
connections. The interaction-integral algorithm provides a direct
calculation of the mixed-mode stress-intensity factors for surface
fatigue cracks in tubular joints (Lie et al., 2005; Qian et al. 2005,
2006), based on the energy integral approach for linear-elastic
applications. Nussbaumer and Borges (2008) presented an experimental
method to determine SIF values in large-scale tubular trusses, via
measuring the crack propagation rate.

A few important assumptions underlie the Paris law denoted in Eq. (1)
when applied to the fatigue life estimation of tubular joints. In
integrating Eq. (1) to obtain the fatigue crack propagation life, the
initial fatigue size should remain reasonably large to eliminate the
dependence of the fatigue crack propagation rate on the microscopic
material properties, but sufficiently large to represent a crack initiation
condition. In addition, the direction of the crack propagation often
assumes the shortest propagation path across the thickness, which
aligns along the radial direction, perpendicular to the outer surface of
the circular hollow section. Such an assumption leads usually to mixed-
mode loadings along the crack-front of the fatigue-induced defects
(Qian et al., 2006). Previous research evidence (Bowness and Lee,
1998) indicated that the fatigue crack propagation may deviate from the
radial direction of the circular hollow section and exhibits a doubly
curved crack surface. In assessing the crack propagation life for a
tubular joint, the shape of a fatigue crack often assumes a semi-
elliptical shape near the hot-spot location of the tubular joint.
Experimental evidences (Chiew et al., 2004; Qian et al., 2011a)
demonstrated that fatigue cracks in tubular joints may not follow a
semi-elliptical shape. Chahardehi et al. (2010) have proposed a root-
Proceedings of the Twenty-second (2012) I nternational Offshore and Polar Engineering Conference
Rhodes, Greece, June 1722, 2012
Copyright 2012 by the I nternational Society of Offshore and Polar Engineers (I SOPE)
ISBN 978-1-880653-944 (Set); ISSN 1098-6189 (Set)