Strength / Mechanics of Materials Table of Content
The majority of engineering failures are caused by fatigue. Fatigue failure is defined as the tendency of a material to fracture by means of progressive brittle cracking under repeated alternating or cyclic stresses of an intensity considerably below the normal strength. Although the fracture is of a brittle type, it may take some time to propagate, depending on both the intensity and frequency of the stress cycles. Nevertheless, there is very little, if any, warning before failure if the crack is not noticed. The number of cycles required to cause fatigue failure at a particular peak stress is generally quite large, but it decreases as the stress is increased. For some mild steels, cyclical stresses can be continued indefinitely provided the peak stress (sometimes called fatigue strength) is below the endurance limit value.
A good example of fatigue failure is breaking a thin steel rod or wire with your hands after bending it back and forth several times in the same place. Another example is an unbalanced pump impeller resulting in vibrations that can cause fatigue failure.
The type of fatigue of most concern in circuit cards, gasoline, diesel, gas turbine engines and many industrial applications is thermal fatigue. Thermal fatigue can arise from thermal stresses produced by cyclic changes in temperature.
Fundamental requirements during design and manufacturing for avoiding fatigue failure are different for different cases and should be considered during the design phase.