Fatigue loading seldom involves constant amplitude loading. This is especially true in the cooling systems of nuclear power plants, typically made of stainless steel, where thermal fluctuations and water turbulent flow create variable amplitude loads, with presence of mean stresses and overloads. These complex loading sequences lead to the formation of networks of microcracks (crazing) that can propagate. As stainless steel is a material with strong deformation history effects and phase transformation resulting from plastic straining, such load sequence and variable amplitude loading effects are significant to its fatigue behavior and life predictions.
The goal of this study was to investigate the effects of cyclic deformation on fatigue behavior of stainless steel 304L as a deformation history sensitive material and determine how to quantify and accumulate fatigue damage to enable life predictions under variable amplitude loading conditions for such materials. A comprehensive experimental program including testing under fully-reversed, as well as mean stress and/or mean strain conditions, with initial or periodic overloads, along with step testing and random loading histories was conducted on two grades of stainless steel 304L, under both strain-controlled and load-controlled conditions. To facilitate comparisons with a material without deformation history effects, similar tests were also carried out on aluminum 7075-T6.
Experimental results are discussed, including peculiarities observed with stainless steel behavior, such as a phenomenon, referred to as secondary hardening characterized by a continuous increase in the stress response in a strain-controlled test and often leading to runout fatigue life. Possible mechanisms for secondary hardening observed in some tests are also discussed. The behavior of aluminum is shown not to be affected by preloading, whereas the behavior of stainless steel is greatly influenced by prior loading. Mean stress relaxation in strain control and ratcheting in load control and their influence on fatigue life are discussed. Some unusual mean strain test results are presented for stainless steel 304L, where in spite of mean stress relaxation fatigue lives were significantly longer than fully-reversed tests. Prestraining indicated no effect on either deformation or fatigue behavior of aluminum, while it induced considerable hardening in stainless steel 304L and led to different results on fatigue life, depending on the test control mode.
In step tests for stainless steel 304L, strong hardening induced by the first step of a high-low sequence significantly affects the fatigue behavior, depending on the test control mode used. For periodic overload tests of stainless steel 340L, hardening due to the overloads was progressive throughout life and more significant than in high-low step tests. For aluminum, no effect on deformation behavior was observed due to periodic overloads. However, the direction of the overloads was found to affect fatigue life, as tensile overloads led to longer lives, while compressive overloads led to shorter lives. Deformation and fatigue behaviors under random loading conditions are also presented and discussed for the two materials.
The applicability of a common cumulative damage rule, the linear damage rule, is assessed for the two types of material, and for various loading conditions. While the linear damage rule associated with a strain-life or stress-life curve is shown to be fairly accurate for life predictions for aluminum, it is shown to poorly represent the behavior of stainless steel, especially in prestrained and high-low step tests, in load control. In order to account for prior deformation effects and achieve accurate fatigue life predictions for stainless steel, parameters including both stress and strain terms are required. The Smith-Watson-Topper and Fatemi-Socie approaches, as such parameters, are shown to correlate most test data fairly accurately.
For damage accumulation under variable amplitude loading, the linear damage rule associated with strain-life or stress-life curves can lead to inaccurate fatigue life predictions, especially for materials presenting strong deformation memory effect, such as stainless steel 304L. The inadequacy of this method is typically attributed to the linear damage rule itself. On the contrary, this study demonstrates that damage accumulation using the linear damage rule can be accurate, provided that the linear damage rule is used in conjunction with parameters including both stress and strain terms. By including both loading history and response of the material in damage quantification, shortcomings of the commonly used linear damage rule approach can be circumvented in an effective manner.
In addition, cracking behavior was also analyzed under various loading conditions. Results on microcrack initiation and propagation are presented in relation to deformation and fatigue behaviors of the materials. Microcracks were observed to form during the first few percent of life, indicating that most of the fatigue life of smooth specimens is spent in microcrack formation and growth. Analyses of fractured specimens showed that microcrack formation and growth is dependent on the loading history, and less important in aluminum than stainless steel 304L, due to the higher toughness of this latter material.