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Proceedings of the ASME 2011 Pressure Vessels & Piping Division Conference

July 17-21, 2011, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Proceedings of the ASME 2011 Pressure Vessels & Piping Division Conference
July 17-21, 2011, Baltimore, Maryland, USA



Jeroen Van Wittenberghe

Ghent University
Laboratory Soete
St.-Pietersnieuwstraat 41
9000 Gent, Belgium

Patrick De Baets Wim De Waele

Ghent University Ghent University
Laboratory Soete Laboratory Soete
Patrick.DeBaets@UGent.be Wim.DeWaele@UGent.be

ABSTRACT Since the appearing long shallow crack is difficult to detect

at an early stage the importance is demonstrated of accurate
Threaded couplings are used in various applications to knowledge of the fatigue behavior of threaded connections in
connect steel pipes. To maintain a secure connection, such order to define acceptable flaw sizes and inspection intervals.
couplings are preloaded and during service additional dynamic
loads can act on the connections. The coupling’s threads act as INTRODUCTION
stress raisers, initiating fatigue cracks, which can cause the
connection to fail in time. Accurate knowledge of the fatigue Threaded pipe couplings are used to connect tubular
behavior, taking into account crack initiation and propagation is products. They can be found in small diameter pipe fittings, in
necessary to understand the fatigue mechanisms involved. drill pipe connections and large diameter pipeline connections
In this study, the fatigue behavior of tapered couplings with for risers or oil well casing strings.
NPT threads is studied. This is done by analyzing the results of Such pipe couplings consist of a male pin member that is
an experimental four-point bending test. The fatigue crack made up into a female box part. In order to maintain a sealed
propagation is monitored using an optical dynamic 3D connection under external static and dynamic loads, these
displacement measurement device and LVDTs to measure the couplings are generally preloaded. For this reason, the
crack opening. At certain times during the test, the load ratio is couplings commonly have tapered threads and they are
changed to apply a number of beach marking cycles. This way a assembled by applying a certain make-up torque. The
fine line is marked in the fracture surface. These marked crack combination of the make-up torque with external loads results
shapes are used as input for a finite element model. The in a multiaxial stress distribution over the coupling, where the
measured deflection and crack opening are compared to the coupling’s threads act as stress raisers. When subjected to
results of the numerical simulations. dynamic loads, fatigue cracks tend to initiate at the root of the
Using this methodology a distinction is made between threads.
fatigue crack initiation and propagation. By analyzing the Several thread shapes and coupling types are described in
fracture surface it was observed that once the crack is initiated, standards, e.g. by the ASME [1] and the API [2, 3]. Besides
it propagates over a wide segment of the pipe’s circumference these, several so-called premium connections exist, which claim
and subsequently rapidly penetrates the wall of the pipe. The to provide better than standard fatigue performance. In a
observed crack growth rates are confirmed by a fracture previous study by the authors it was shown, using finite element
mechanics analysis. analyses, that the load distribution over the threads is one of the

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defining factors of the fatigue life of a connection [4]. Typically, In Figure 1 two examples are given of appearing fatigue
the last engaged thread (LET) of the pin carries a high cracks. The fatigue crack shown in Figure 1.a initiated at the
percentage of the total load transferred by the coupling, which root of the LET and propagated over a wide segment of the
makes this location the most susceptible to fatigue crack circumference with only a limited crack depth. It is clear that
initiation. Nevertheless the load distribution can be optimized this crack shape can not accurately be represented by a semi-
by changing the coupling geometry. Experimental validation for elliptical approximation. The crack in Figure 1.b was obtained
these numerical results was provided by means of fatigue tests by stopping the experiment as soon as a leak was detected.
on 1 inch diameter threaded connections [5]. S-N curves were Hence a through-thickness crack is present. Nevertheless this
obtained for different coupling geometries based on the number crack shows a similar shape, it initiated at the LET’s root and
of cycles at which a through-wall crack appeared. This was propagated rather in the circumferential direction than in depth.
detected during the tests by pressurizing the tubular specimens In this study the appearing fatigue mechanisms in threaded
and detecting a leak. However, the exact contribution of the pipe couplings are studied more in detail. To monitor fatigue
fatigue crack initiation and propagation stages remained crack growth a novel dynamic 3D optical measurement device
unknown. is used to measure the global deformation shape of the pipe in
To study the crack propagation behavior in detail, combination with a crack opening measurement. The goal is to
appearing fatigue cracks should be sized. Common crack sizing make a distinction between fatigue crack initiation and
techniques for threads are alternating current field propagation and to gain more insight into the crack growth
measurements (ACFM) [6] or magnetic flux leakage [7]. Both behavior. This is necessary to evaluate the severity of an
techniques are performed offline and the threaded connection appearing crack, determine acceptable flaw sizes and define
must be uncoupled for the measurement. Online monitoring of minimum inspection intervals.
flaws in threads is challenging because there is no direct access
to the crack location. EXPERIMENTAL SETUP
Besides the crack sizing, a second difficulty in the analysis
of fatigue crack growth in threaded connection is dealing with For further investigation of the fatigue behavior of threaded
the common semi-elliptical representation for modeling surface couplings an experimental test is carried out on a 4.5” National
cracks [8], where this geometry does not correspond with the Pipe Thread Taper NPT (114.3 mm pipe outer diameter) or so-
appearing crack shapes during the experimental tests performed called API Line-Pipe threaded connection. The test specimen’s
by the authors in [5]. material is API 5L Grade B steel with yield strength of 356 MPa
and ultimate tensile strength of 500 MPa determined by tensile
a) testing.
thread flank The fatigue test is carried out on the four-point bending test
fatigue crack rig as used in [4]. This test rig is schematically shown in Figure
2. The test specimen consists of two pipes (1b) with threaded
ends, connected by the threaded coupling (1a). The test
specimen is carried by two supports positioned 3 m apart on a
central rigid frame. A vertical force is applied by the hydraulic
cylinder (2) and its magnitude measured by the loadcell (3). The
ball joint (4) connects the loadcell to a transverse beam that
transmits the load to two points spaced 1 m apart on the test
For a given applied cylinder force, the bending moment M
b) between the two inner points is constant. As a result, the test
thread flank specimen is subjected to a bending stress that is tensile below
fatigue crack the neutral axis of the pipe and compressive above. The bending
stress σb is given by Eq.(1), where y is the vertical distance
between the considered material fiber and the neutral axis and I
is the area moment of inertia of the cross section of the pipe.
The x-axis coincides with the centerline of the test specimen.

σb = (1)
THREADED CONNECTION The test is performed with a force amplitude of 7.4 kN at
an applied load ratio of R = 0.1 and at a frequency of 2 Hz.

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Since fatigue cracks generally initiate at the last engaged
thread of the pin the LVDTs (5) are mounted at either side of
the coupling. These measure the axial distance between the
edge of the coupling and a point on the pin’s pipe body close to
the coupling, so that the crack opening displacement can be
2 4 monitored when a fatigue crack is propagating. The used
LVDTs have a resolution of 1 µm.
1a During crack propagation, the bending stiffness of the pipe
3 is reduced and consequently the pipe deflection increases. To
1b 1b measure this deflection, reflective optical markers (6) are
attached over the length of the test specimen. The displacement
of these points is measured by an optical dynamic 3D
displacement measuring device as illustrated in Figure 3.
5 6
This system consists of two high speed digital cameras that are
1m fixed under a certain viewing angle α on a rigid bar with length
L. Around the cameras two integrated flash LED systems
illuminate the measuring area synchronously to the recording of
the images. Due to the flash LED system the markers show up
as clear dots in the captured pictures. Afterwards, the data is
post-processed to generate the marker displacements (in x, y
and z-direction) which are represented by the vector arrows as
shown in Figure 3. Additional markers are attached to the
framework as a fixed reference. In this application the
resolution of the system is about 50 µm.



During the fatigue test an optical displacement

measurement is performed every 500 cycles and crack opening
is logged continuously. The test is stopped after 30125 cycles,
as a consequence of the pipe deflection increase becoming too

17 2.0
Max. Bending Deflection
Max. Bending Deflection [mm]

Crack Opening
15 1.5
Crack Opening [mm]

13 1.0



This force amplitude introduces a fluctuating compressive force

between 1.65 kN and 16.5 kN and a bending stress at the 9 0.0
bottom fiber of the pipe body between 15.5 MPa and 155 MPa. 0 10000 20000 30000
The pull-out strength of this connection corresponds to a pipe Cycles
body stress of 246 MPa according to [9]. Hence, the maximum
applied stress during the test is equal to 63 % of the FIGURE 4: MEASURED BENDING DEFLECTION
connection’s joint strength. CRACK OPENING

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In Figure 4 the obtained maximum bending deflection and
crack opening are shown over the entire test. Only the signal a) thread flank

from the LVDT located at the left-hand side of the coupling

where the crack appears is plotted.
Both signals show a similar behavior. Three distinct phases
fracture surface
in the crack growth behavior can be observed as indicated in
Figure 4 by the dashed vertical lines at 21 000 and 28 000
cycles, In the first phase from the start of the test until about
21 000 cycles, no increase in the crack opening nor in the
maximum bending deflection is detected, which may indicate b) 0 to 24 000 cycles
24 000 to
that the crack is initiating during this phase. During the second 26 000 cycles
phase from 21 000 to about 28 000 cycles, the crack opening
26 000 to
and bending deflection increase gradually. From about 28 000 28 000 cycles
cycles, in the third phase, the crack opening and bending
deflection begin to rise much faster so that both signals increase 28 000 to
28 500 cycles
almost asymptotically when the test is stopped.
Fracture surface
The second phase during which the increase of crack
In order to explain the three phases of crack growth opening and pipe deflection is only limited, is actually the most
behavior a ‘beach marking’ technique was used during the test. important phase since here the crack starts propagating without
This technique allows visualization of the appearing crack creating a leak. It is noted that crack depth at 24 000 cycles is
shape at certain moments during the test by changing the crack only limited, which may confirm the assumption that the first
growth rate and marking a fine line in the fracture surface [10– phase until 21 000 cycles, where no crack opening is measured
12], which is done by increasing the applied load ratio to is the crack initiation phase.
R = 0.85 while keeping the same maximum applied force, and
increasing the minimum force. The applied stress range and ANALYSIS OF THE BENDING DEFLECTION
number of cycles is chosen in order to drastically reduce the
crack growth rate. The beach marking cycles have a negligible To further verify that the observed beach marks correspond
effect on the global fatigue crack growth and can be excluded to the specified number of fatigue cycles, the deflection
from the number of load cycles at the range of R = 0.1, but a measurements are compared with a simplified finite element
fine beach marking line appears in the fracture surface. model of a threaded connection containing a crack (see Figure
During the test beach marking cycles were applied four 6) as developed previously by the authors for a preliminary
times: after 24 000, 26 000, 28 000 and 28 500 load cycles, test [13]. Four different crack shapes are inserted at the LET
giving the fracture surface shown in Figure 5.a. Note that the with a geometry based on the beach mark lines in Figure 5. The
thread flank of the LET is also visible. In Figure 5.b the beach cracks are modelled using the seam-feature in Abaqus®.
mark lines are highlighted. It can be seen that at 24 000 cycles Additionally, the model contains the same measurement points
the crack has a limited depth of 1.2 mm, but has extended over where the left-hand LVDT is attached to measure the crack
a length of approximately 50 mm. Due to this extension in the opening on the test specimen.
circumferential direction, the crack shape can not be considered The exact shape of the coupling thread is not incorporated
semi-elliptical. After 26 000 cycles, the crack has propagated into the model in order to reduce its complexity and calculation
through half the wall thickness of the pipe. After 28 000 cycles, time. Additionally, linear elastic material behavior is used,
the remaining wall thickness is only 0.4 mm and the crack has which gives a local stress around the crack tip that exceeds the
extended to over a quarter of the entire circumference. Over the material’s tensile stress. However, this has a limited effect on
next 500 cycles, the crack penetrates through the wall thickness the global pipe deflection.
of the pipe and at 28 500 cycles, two separate crack fronts are In Figure 7 the modelled pipe displacement is compared
formed extending the crack at both ends. with the optical measurements. Data points are plotted for the
By comparing the fracture surface with the measurements uncracked pipe at the start of the test and for the 4
in Figure 4, it is clear that the third phase in the crack growth measurements beginning at 28 000 cycles (phase 3 of the crack
behavior starts when the crack penetrates the pipe wall. Once growth). Only the central section of the specimen
this through thickness crack starts propagating, the bending (-500 < x < 500 mm) is shown. It is again clear that in this
stiffness of the pipe is reduced significantly and the bending phase the deflection increases rapidly, while the increase in the
deflection increases rapidly. preceding cycles is only limited.

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Crack Opening [mm]




21000 23000 25000 27000 29000


Crack opening Crack OPENING

0 cycles 28 000 cycles
28 500 cycles 29 500 cycles The observed crack growth behavior of the threaded
30 000cycles FEM no crack coupling is now analyzed using the fracture mechanics
FEM Crack 28 000 cycles FEM Crack 28 500 cycles calculations according to the AMSE BPVC VIII-3-app.D [14].
-9 Here a crack at the root of a thread is considered as an annular
Pipe Vertical Displacement [mm]

-10 flaw, which, considering the observed crack shapes, may be a

better assumption then using a semi-elliptical shape.
The stress intensity factor KI for a certain crack depth a is
-12 calculated according to Eq. (2).
K I = F πa (2)
-15 2aA1 F2 a 2 A2 F3 4 a 3 A3 F 4
F = A0 F1 + + + (3)
-16 π 2 3π
In Eq. (3) the F1, F2, F3 and F4 are magnification factors
-500 -250 0 250 500
Distance along pipe axis [mm] relative to the crack geometry, as given in [14]. The four
coefficients A0, A1, A2 and A3 are determined by the Buchalet-
SHAPE Bamford method [15] in which the distribution of stresses σ
normal to the plane containing the annular crack is
The modelled deflection shapes confirm the measured approximated by a third order polynomial Eq. (4).
behavior of the pipe. Also note that the deflection shape is
asymmetrical because the crack is propagating at the left-hand σ = A0 + A1 x + A2 x 2 + A3 x 3 (4)
side of the coupling, as can be clearly seen from the data points
measured at 30 000 cycles.
where x is the radial distance from the free crack surface or
Figure 8 illustrates the crack opening data. The four
x = 0 in the root of the LET. The stress distribution is first
circular markers correspond to the four different crack shapes
calculated by a linear elastic analysis and the coefficients are
that were modelled. Here the observed trends are again
determined by the best curve fit of the polynomial. If a single
confirmed by the numerical simulations. Between 24 000 and
polynomial is not sufficient to fit the stress distribution, it is
28 000 cycles, the crack opening increases only gradually, but
acceptable to split the distribution into several regions and
at 28 500 cycles, a significant crack opening is obtained. Hence
describe each region by a different polynomial.
it is confirmed that the observed beach mark lines correspond to
the crack shapes at the specified number of cycles.

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1000 0.1 mm since a finite value is necessary for the calculations, a
value of 0 mm would lead to an infinite number of cycles. The
calculated number of cycles are obtained by integrating Eq. (5).
800 The measured number of cycles is the amount of fatigue cycles
between the application of the beach markings.
Axial Stress [MPa]

It can be seen that there is a good correlation between the

x 600 calculated and measured number of cycles. Moreover, it is
0 confirmed by the crack growth calculations that the crack
initiated at approximately 21 000 cycles. Because the total
400 number of calculated cycles to reach the final crack depth of
3.6 mm is 7502 cycles and this crack depth was reached during
the experiment at 28 500 cycles.
Crack Initial
Total Calculated Measured
0 Depth Crack
Number Number of Number
Increase Depth
0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 of Cycles Cycles of Cycles
x [mm] [mm] [mm]
24 000 1.1 0.1 3313 3000
DISTRIBUTION AT THE LET 26 000 1.0 1.2 2012 2000
28 000 1.0 2.2 1583 2000
Since the crack is considered to be annular, the 2D 28 500 0.4 3.2 594 500
axisymmetric FE model as used previously in [4], now with
linear elastic material properties, is used to obtain the stress TABLE 1: CRACK GROWTH RATES
distribution. In Figure 9 the resulting axial stress distribution at
the LET is plotted for the minimum and maximum applied load. CONCLUSIONS
The load is applied as a uniform stress over the wall of the pin
with a magnitude of 15.5 MPa and 155 MPa respectively. Two In this paper the fatigue behavior of a 4.5” NPT threaded
polynomials are used to describe each curve. The first connection is studied in detail. During an experimental four-
polynomial describes the region 0 < x < 0.36 mm, the second point bending test the fatigue crack growth is monitored by
describes the region 0.36 < x < 3.5 mm. The boundary between measuring the change in the global deflection shape of the pipe
both regions is indicated by the dashed vertical line in Figure 9. by an optical 3D dynamic measurement device and by a local
For each polynomial the coefficients A0 to A3 are crack opening measurement. Additionally, a beach marking
determined. The fatigue crack growth rate can now be technique is successfully used to mark the crack shapes at four
calculated using the Paris Law Eq.(5), where N is the number of different moments during the test. The test specimen was
fatigue cycles, f is the crack growth rate factor and ∆K is range subjected to 30125 load cycles.
of the stress intensity factor corresponding to the minimum and Three distinct phases are observed during the fatigue life of
maximum applied load. the coupling. The first phase consists of crack initiation. During
the second phase the crack propagates gradually over the pipe
= C ⋅ f ⋅ ∆K m (5) circumference and in the depth, forming a long shallow crack.
dN The third phase begins when the crack penetrates the wall of the
pin after which the crack rapidly increases in size.
The factors C and m are material constants with values for The crack shapes obtained by analyzing the fatigue fracture
API 5L Grade B material according to [16]: surface are inserted into a finite element model. The model
C = 1.38 · 10-12 (MPa·m1/2)-m and m = 3.37. The crack growth results confirm the measured values of the pipe deflection and
rate factor f was determined by fitting the crack growth rate of crack opening.
equation (5) to the measured crack depth increase between Finally the crack growth results are analyzed using a
24 000 and 26 000 cycles. This resulted in a value of f = 1.96. fracture mechanics analysis. Again the appearing trends are
Using these factors the number of cycles required to confirmed and the fatigue crack initiation life of 21 000 cycles
achieve a certain crack depth increase can be calculated by is calculated which corresponds to the measured results.
integrating Eq. (5). This is done for the four measured crack The introduced methodology is shown to be effective and
depths at the beach marking lines. The results are summarized may be used for further analysis of additional connection types.
in Table 1. In second column the crack depth increase values as The obtained insights may be used to define allowable crack
measured on the fracture surface are used as inputs in the sizes in threaded pipe couplings and determine minimum
calculations. The initial crack depth on the first row is set to inspection intervals.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS [14] ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, 2010, Section
VIII, Division 3, “Rules for Construction of Pressure
The financial support of the BOF fund (B/04939) of the Vessels”.
Ghent University and of the FWO Vlaanderen (3G022806) are [15] Buchalet, C.B., Bamford, W.H., 1976, “Stress Intensity
gratefully acknowledged. Factor Solutions for Continuous Surface Flaws in Reactor
Pressure Vessels, Mechanics for Crack Growth”, ASTM
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[16] Lam, P.S., Sindelar, R.L., Duncan, A.J., Adams, T.M.,
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