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Metal Science and Heat Treatment Vol. 46, Nos.

5 – 6, 2004

UDC 620.178.3


V. F. Terent’ev1

Translated from Metallovedenie i Termicheskaya Obrabotka Metallov, No. 6, pp. 22 – 28, June, 2004.

The main concepts of the fatigue limit of metallic materials are considered. Results of cyclic tests of various
steels and copper in the range of high-cycle and gigacycle fatigue are presented. Special features of the respec-
tive fatigue curves are discussed. Problems of initiation of fatigue cracks in various domains of cyclic defor-
mation and of existence of a secondary fatigue limit in the range of gigacycle fatigue are considered.2

It is assumed that high-cycle fatigue curves of metallic Let us consider the problem of the nature of the physical
materials plotted for standard test bases of N = 107 – 108 cy- fatigue limit in greater detail, especially in the light of the
cles in semilogarithmic coordinates s – log N can have two fact that in recent years the number of works devoted to fa-
forms (curves 1 and 2 in Fig. 1). Curve 2 has a horizontal re- tigue resistance on very large (109 – 1010 cycles) test bases
gion at a certain critical stress sR1 and critical number of cy- known as gigacycle fatigue has increased [10 – 13]. Such
cles, at which the specimen remain unbroken for the test base tests may be required, because the load life of many heavy-
NR1 . In this case researchers speak of a physical fatigue limit duty metallic structures operating under cyclic loads exceeds
sR (physikalische Dauerschwingfestigkeitsgrenze in German the standard bases of fatigue tests. Possible methods for com-
sources [1] or sharp fatigue limit in English sources [2]) by putation at very large test bases are considered in [14].
analogy with the physical yield point sy . Note that the physi- Conduction of such tests has shown an interesting thing.
cal fatigue limit is most frequently observed in materials Metallic materials that exhibit a physical fatigue limit at
having a physical yield point [3 – 5]. For metallic materials standard test bases suddenly start to fail after 107 – 109 load-
having no physical fatigue limit, researchers determine the ing cycles. A “second branch” of the curve appears in the
range of gigacycle fatigue, and a long step appears between
restricting fatigue limit sRN , i.e., the cycle stress with a
the ranges of the high-cycle and gigacycle fatigues (a
maximum whose absolute value corresponds to the specified
stepped, double, or multi-stage fatigue curve [15]). At large
endurance [6] (curve 1 in Fig. 1). In accordance with the
test bases (N > 107 – 108 cycles) cracks virtually always ap-
GOST 25.502–79 Standard the test base for determining the
pear under the surface layer instead of on the surface as oc-
fatigue limit is equal to 107 cycles for metals and alloys pos-
curs in high-cycle fatigue. Figure 2 presents results of fatigue
sessing a virtually horizontal region on the fatigue curve and
to 108 cycles for light alloys and other metals and alloys, the
ordinates of the fatigue curves of which decrease continu- sa
ously over the entire length with growth in the number of cy-
cles [7]. However, for some high-strength [8] and hardened 3
[9] steels the dependence s – log N is linear (curve 3 in
Fig. 1) and is characterized by enhanced scattering of experi- 1
mental results. It is assumed that such a linear dependence is 2
connected with the presence of defects in the material (for sR1
example, quenching microcracks in carbon steels).
A. A. Baikov Institute for Metallurgy and Materials Science of NR1 NR2 log N
the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia; N. É. Bau-
man Moscow State Technical University, Moscow, Russia Fig. 1. Fatigue curves: 1 ) with horizontal region; 2 ) without hori-
(E-mail: fatig@online.ru). zontal region; 3 ) in the form of linear dependence; NR1 and
The work was supported by the Russian Fund for Fundamental NR2 ) standard test bases for curves 1 and 2, respectively; sR1 and
Research, Grant No. 04-03-32431. sR2 ) fatigue limits.

0026-0673/04/0506-0244 © 2004 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.
On the Problem of the Fatigue Limit of Metallic Materials 245

smax , ÌPà sa , ÌPà

I II à
900 T
800 A
2 T
700 800
104 105 106 107 108 109 1010 N, cycles 104 105 106 107 108 N, cycles
sa , ÌPà
Fig. 2. Fatigue curves for high-strength spring Cr – Si steels [12]: T
)) 54SC6; =) 55SC7; ^) 55SC7TT2; I ) range of crack initiation on 1400 b
T A 3
the surface; II ) under the surface. 1300 A
1200 A T
1100 A M
tests with a frequency of 20 kHz under conditions of sym- TA M
1000 4 T A A
metric tension-compression of specimens of high-strength A T
900 A
Cr – Si spring steels [12]. It can be seen that in all the cases M T
the fatigue curves have two branches separated by a horizon- M
tal region (discontinuity of fatigue curves). As a rule, the first 104 105 106 107 108 N, cycles
branch ends at an endurance of N = 1 ´ 106 – 5 ´ 106 cycles,
Fig. 3. Fatigue curves of steel JIS-SCM440 with strength class cor-
and the second branch begins after 108 loading cycles. If the responding to sr @ 1600 MPa (a) and sr @ 2000 MPa (b ) in different
specimens break in a test lasting up to 107 cycles, fatigue states [17]: 1 ) AF1600 (after ausforming); 2 ) QT1600 (after
cracks appear on their surface. At N > 107 cycles cracks ap- quenching and tempering); 3 ) AF2000 (after ausforming);
pear at the subsurface level primarily at sulfide nonmetallic 4 ) QT2000 (after quenching and tempering); &, )) cycle frequency
inclusions from 10 to 40 mm in size [12]. f = 120 Hz; ^) f = 20 kHz; A ) initiation of cracks in subsurface
Subsurface microcracks in the range of gigacycle fatigue layer at nonmetallic inclusions of Al2O3; T ) at TiN inclusions;
M ) in the matrix; crossed spots) initiation of cracks on the surface.
can also appear near fine dispersed segregations, on inter-
faces of plastic and stronger phases, and as a result of crack-
ing of brittle phases. In plastic metals cycling with standard
the structure consisted of tempered martensite. After ausfor-
test bases can lead to the appearance of pores in internal vo-
ming the grain boundaries were extended in the direction of
lumes of the material. For example, the authors of [16] stu-
the deformation. The mechanical properties and the notation
died formation of internal microcracks and pores in different
of the studied variants of state are given in the table. Figure 3
stages of fatigue tests of iron (0.025% C) using microscopic
presents results of fatigue tests in an electromagnetic reso-
diffraction analysis and determining the strength of the mate-
nance machine (with loading frequency f = 120 Hz) and in an
rial. The fatigue tests were performed at a constant amplitude
ultrasonic installation (f = 20 kHz). It can be seen from
of plastic deformation in a cycle Dep1 = 6 ´ 10 – 3 and a num- Fig. 3a that the maximum fatigue limit sR = 920 MPa is ob-
ber of loading cycles amounting to 50, 70, and 90% of the served in the steel with strength class corresponding to
expected life (before failure). It was shown that cyclic defor-
sr @ 1600 MPa after ausforming. In this case fatigue cracks
mation decreased the density of the iron specimens due to
initiate on the surface of the metal. After quenching and tem-
formation of microcracks and pores up to 2.4 mm in diameter pering the fatigue limit sR = 820 MPa. Before N = 105 cycles
with increase in the test time. Thus, subsurface microcracks the cracks appear on the surface of the metal, and at
can be generated in plastic metals and alloys at very large test N > 105 cycles they appear in the subsurface layers primarily
bases in the region of large pores that have formed in the cy-
cling process at standard test bases.
Interesting data on special features of initiation of micro- TABLE 1. Mechanical Properties of Steel JIS-SCM440 in Differ-
cracks at different endurances are presented in [17]. The au- ent Structural States
thors studied the fatigue characteristics of high-strength
Conventional s , MPa sr , MPa
low-alloy steel JIS-SCM440 (0.42% C, 0.19% Si, 0.8% Mn, d, % y, % HV
name of state 0.2
0.015% P, 0.018% S, 0.01% Cu, 0.02% Ni, 1.16% Cr, and
AF1600 1495 1580 11.9 56 457
0.16% Mo) with ultimate rupture strength sr @ 1600 MPa
QT1600 1380 1520 11.8 51 455
and 2000 MPa obtained by conventional hardening and tem-
AF2000 1540 2070 12.1 54 576
pering and by ausforming (thermomechanical treatment with
quenching from the range of stable austenite). In both cases QT2000 1545 1975 11.2 49 557
246 V. F. Terent’ev

sa , ÌPà log Dep1 /2

10 – 4 I
1200 III
10 – 5
log Dep1 /2 » 2.5 ´ 10 – 5
103 104 105 106 107 N, cycles
10 – 6
Fig. 4. Fatigue curves for high-carbon chromium bearing steel JIS 104 105 106 107 108 109 N, cycles
SUJ2 [11]: )) initiation of crack on the surface; &) in subsurface
Fig. 6. Fatigue curve of copper at super-high test bases in coordi-
nates log ep1 – N (ep1 is the amplitude range of plastic deformation
per cycle, N is the number of cycles before failure) [15].

We can ask whether the secondary fatigue limit will arise
1 in a test at still lower stresses and very large test bases. Two
points of view exist on the problem [15]. Some researchers
[15, 18, 19] assume that fatigue curves can have one more

2 fatigue limit at low stresses and ultrahigh-base tests, and oth-


ers think that it is absent in the gigacycle range [20, 21].

An example of fatigue curve of the second type obtained
in a test with a base of 109 cycles is presented in [11]. The
authors studied special features of initiation of fatigue cracks
Specimen surface
à in high-strength bearing steel JIS SUJ2 (1.01% C, 0.23% Si,
0.36% Mn, 1.45% Cr, 0.06% Cu, 0.04% Ni, 0.02% Mo,
0.012% P, and 0.007% S) with sr = 2315 MPa under the con-
ditions of bending with torsion at a frequency f = 52.5 Hz.
It can be seen from Fig. 4 that at a stress amplitude
sa > 1200 MPa the fatigue curves have two branches. On one
of the branches (corresponding to failure of specimens after a
small number of cycles) fatigue cracks appear on the surface
of the specimens and on the other branch (for specimens with
50 mm longer endurance) they appear at nonmetallic inclusions in
subsurface layer. In the latter case a “fisheye” zone of initia-
tion of fatigue crack appears (Fig. 5). At sa < 1200 MPa and
Fig. 5. Diagram of initiation of subsurface fatigue crack at nonme-
tallic inclusion (a) and view of the starting defect (“fisheye”) in initi-
test base of 107 – 109 cycles fatigue cracks always appear un-
ation of fatigue crack in high-strength steel JIS SUJ2 (b ) [11]: 1 ) in- der the surface. The number of cycles before failure is virtu-
clusion; 2 ) “fisheye”; 3 ) light fracture facet. ally independent of the length of a subsurface crack within
2b = 40 – 380 mm. The critical size of a microcrack for this
high-strength steel is 2b ~ 40 mm.
near TiN and “fisheye” nonmetallic inclusions. A step is It should be noted that in addition to double or stepped
formed on the fatigue curve. The steel with strength class fatigue curves, fatigue curves without steps (like curve 1 in
corresponding to sr @ 2000 MPa also exhibits the highest fa- Fig. 1) can occur up to superlarge test bases. Such a fatigue
tigue limit after ausforming (sR = 1010 MPa). After conven- curve has been obtained for specimens of cast iron of grade
tional heat treatment (quenching and tempering) sR = SG 52 at different loading frequencies. At an endurance
840 MPa (Fig. 3b ). In both cases fatigue cracks appear on N > 107 cycles cracks appear under the surface layer [22].
the surface only at high amplitude stresses and in subsurface The author of [15] considers the problem of the shape of
layers (at various types of nonmetallic inclusion) at low gigacycle fatigue curve or ultrahigh cycle fatigue curve
stresses. Fatigue microcracks may appear around nonmetal- (UHCF) and concludes that there exist two types of materials
lic inclusions and on the interface of the matrix with an in- differing in the mechanism of initiation of fatigue cracks. In
clusion or on the tip of an inclusion. Fatigue fractures exhibit materials of type I represented by annealed plastic metals
a small optically dark surface in addition to the nonmetallic and alloys the initiation of fatigue microcracks and their
inclusion [17]. propagation start from the surface. These materials are char-
On the Problem of the Fatigue Limit of Metallic Materials 247

sa , ÌPà
acterized by stepped fatigue diagrams with two fatigue lim-
its. In [15] such a fatigue diagram obtained from experimen- Low-cycle fatigue High-cycle fatigue
tal data for plastic copper is presented in semilogarithmic co- 1200
ordinates log Dep1 – N (Fig. 6). Here region I corresponds to
fatigue fracture obeying the Coffin – Manson law and the
horizontal region II corresponds to the fatigue limit on stan- 1000
dard test bases (the author of [15] associates this threshold
deformation with the minimum amplitude of plastic defor- 900
mation per cycle at which formation of stable slip bands is 10 50 90
possible). 800
Region III is a secondary branch of the fatigue curve in 5 ´ 104
the gigacycle range, and region IV is a secondary fatigue 700
limit connected with the threshold amplitude of plastic defor- 103 104 105 106 N, cycles
mation at which the irreversible processes of shear formation Fig. 7. Fatigue curves of nitrided steel 20MnCr5V (with nitrided
are virtually absent. Analyzing the possibility of formation of layer 0.5 mm thick) with different probability of failure P (indicated
stable slip bands in the range of gigacycle fatigue the authors at the curves in percent) [28]: &) initiation of crack on the surface;
of [23] conclude that these bands cannot appear at superlarge ¶) subsurface crack initiation.
test bases. However, a low irreversibility of the processes of
shear formation at cyclic loads in 108 – 1010 cycles can lead
to formation of a quite developed local surface texture and cesses of dynamic strain aging, as well as by the formation of
generation of a fatigue microcrack. In materials of type II, residual compressive stresses in this layer. When the fatigue
which include steels, surface fracture is observed at high and limit is higher than the static yield strength, conditions for
intermediate levels of stresses. At low stress amplitudes in formation of a stronger surface layer in the process of cyclic
the range of gigacycle fatigue, cracks appear in subsurface deformation are preserved despite the preliminary plastic de-
layer. formation of the entire cross section of the material. The
The discovery of the secondary branch of fatigue curve same factors as in the former case, when the normalized fa-
at superlarge test bases made in recent years makes us return tigue limit is lower than the static yield strength, act in the
once more to the problem of the nature of what is known as latter case too. It is known that the phenomena of dominant
the physical fatigue limit. It is possible that in the light of flow of the surface layer and creation of residual compres-
novel experimental data this limit obtained on standard test sive stresses are observed at high degrees of plastic deforma-
bases (see curve 2 in Fig. 1) should be called normalized fa- tion too.
tigue limit to differentiate it from the conventional fatigue In [24] we considered the process of micro- and
limit determined on fatigue curves having no horizontal re- macroplastic deformation of metallic materials below the fa-
gion on standard test bases (curve 1 in Fig. 1). tigue limit at standard test bases (107 – 108 cycles), which
Concepts of the fatigue limit are reviewed in [3, 4]. In re- could lead to formation of stable slip bands and even to
cent years the presence of a horizontal region on a fatigue nonpropagating fatigue microcracks. Growth in the test base
curve has frequently been associated with processes of static to N = 109 – 1010 cycles commonly results in virtual finish-
or dynamic strain aging. In [3, 4] I put forward a hypothesis ing of the process of microplastic deformation in the main
on the nature of the physical fatigue limit of b.c.c. metals and volume of the metal; they are localized in the zone of
alloys. It is based on the idea of the barrier action of the subsurface nonmetallic inclusions, where microcracks ap-
stronger surface layer with a thickness on the order of the pear due to local concentration of stresses. It has been shown
grain size and enhanced dislocation density, which forms in in [25] that hydrogen contained in steels (in an amount of
advance (relative to the internal volumes of the metal) in ear- 0.07 ppm) can promote the development of a subsurface fa-
lier stages of cyclic loading at a stress corresponding to the tigue microcrack of “fisheye” type. In addition, strong segre-
normalized fatigue limit. In [3, 4] I proceeded from the as- gation of hydrogen has been detected in bearing steel SUJ2
sumption that such phenomena as physical yield strength and at the sites of subsurface initiation of fatigue cracks [26].
physical fatigue limit in b.c.c. metals and alloys are interre- We have already mentioned that the initiation of fatigue
lated in nature. cracks in gigacycle tests of metallic materials often occurs in
When the fatigue limit is lower than the static yield a subsurface layer and primarily at nonmetallic inclusions. It
strength, a stronger barrier layer with a thickness on the order should also be noted that subsurface initiation of fatigue
of the grain size and enhanced dislocation density forms in cracks has been detected in conventional high-cycle fatigue
the stage of cyclic microyield due to the earlier plastic flow [27] in cases where the surface layer of the material was
of the surface layers. In b.c.c. metals and alloys the creation hardened (for example, by induction hardening, carburizing,
of a stronger surface layer is promoted by the presence of a or nitriding [28 – 30]). Figure 7 presents experimental results
great number of slip systems and by the occurrence of pro- of cyclic tests of nitrided high-strength steel 20MnCr5V
248 V. F. Terent’ev


1 1. We have reviewed works devoted to testing of metallic

materials for fatigue and established that today the fatigue
tests can be classified into three kinds, i.e., tests for low-cycle
fatigue (N = 5 ´ 104 – 1 ´ 105 cycles), for high-cycle fatigue
3 (N = 107 – 108 cycles), and for gigacycle fatigue
(N = 109 – 1010 cycles).
2. We suggest calling the characteristics obtained in fa-
tigue tests with standard bases normalized characteristics, for
example, the normalized conventional fatigue limit for high-
Fig. 8. Fracture of steel 45 after surface induction hardening and fa- cycle fatigue (for the case where the fatigue curve has no
tigue fracture (place of initiation of subsurface crack at nonmetallic horizontal region on a standard test base) and simply the nor-
inclusion, ´ 100): 1 ) hardened layer; 2 ) core; 3 ) nonmetallic inclu- malized fatigue limit (when the fatigue curve has a horizon-
sion. tal region).
3. Two principal kinds of fatigue curve exist in the range
of gigacycle fatigue, i.e., (a) the curve with a continuously
[28]. It can be seen that the transition from low-cycle fatigue increasing endurance before failure with a decrease in the cy-
to high-cycle fatigue is accompanied by an inflection of the clic stresses (in this case we can speak of the conventional
fatigue curve and a change in the mechanism of crack initia- fatigue limit in the gigacycle range, which depends on the
tion from surface to subsurface pattern [28]. Figure 8 pre- chosen test base) and (b ) the curve with a step (normalized
sents a picture of initiation of a fatigue crack in a specimen fatigue limit) and secondary branch of the fatigue curve in
of steel 45 at a nonmetallic inclusion on the interface of the the gigacycle range.
surface hardened by the induction method and the matrix 4. In plastic metals and alloys the mechanism of initia-
metal [29, 30]. tion of fatigue microcracks is connected with stable slip
Thus, we may infer that the most probable cause of sub- bands formed in the surface layer. If the surface layers of me-
surface initiation of fatigue microcracks in the range of tallic materials have been hardened preliminary (for example
gigacycle fatigue is predominant hardening of the surface by nitriding or induction hardening), microcracks of the
layer (with a thickness ranging from several microns to sev- “fisheye” type form under the surface at standard bases in the
eral tens microns) in the process of long-term repeated load- range of high-cycle fatigue.
ing. As a result, the surface layer becomes a barrier for exit 5. The presence of an intermediate fatigue limit (corre-
of dislocations and hinders formation of stable slip bands. sponding to the horizontal region on the fatigue curve in a
Such a layer is stronger than the core despite the presence of range of 105 – 107 cycles) and the initiation of subsurface
surface defects (including microcracks not propagating in cracks at ultralarge fatigue test bases can be explained by
plastic materials and nonmetallic inclusions located on the predominant hardening of the surface layer with a thickness
surface of the metal). A hardened surface layer can be pre- ranging from several microns to several tens of microns in
sent even in the initial material after mechanical or thermo- the process of long-term loading.
chemical treatment [31, 32]. The presence of such a layer re-
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