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Stress corrosion cracking

Stress corrosion cracking (SCC) is the unexpected sudden failure of normally ductile metals or tough thermoplastics subjected to a constant tensile stress in a corrosive environment, especially at elevated temperature (in the case of metals). This type of corrosion often progresses rapidly.

The stresses can be the result of the crevice loads due to stress concentration, or can be caused by the type of assembly or residual stresses from fabrication (eg. cold working); the residual stresses can be relieved by annealing.

Additional recommended knowledge


Materials Attacked

Certain austenitic stainless steels and aluminium alloys crack in the presence of chlorides, mild steel cracks in the present of alkali (boiler cracking) and nitrates, copper alloys crack in ammoniacal solutions (season cracking), and many metals crack when exposed to liquid metals or when coated by metals nearby their melting point (mercury, gallium, and at high temperatures even for example cadmium). This limits the usefulness of stainless steel for containing water with higher than few ppm content of chlorides at temperatures above 50 °C. Worse still, high-tensile structural steels crack in an unexpectedly brittle manner in a whole variety of aqueous environments, especially containing chlorides. With the possible exception of the latter, which is a special example of hydrogen cracking, all the others display the phenomenon of subcritical crack growth, i.e. small surface flaws propagate (usually smoothly) under conditions where fracture mechanics predicts that failure should not occur. That is, in the presence of a corrodent, cracks develop and propagate well below KIc. In fact, the subcritical value of the stress intensity, designated as KIscc, may be less than 1% of KIc, as the following table shows:

Alloy KIc


SCC environment KIscc


13Cr steel 60 3% NaCl 12
18Cr-8Ni 200 42% MgCl2 10
Cu-30Zn 200 NH4OH, pH7 1
Al-3Mg-7Zn 25 Aqueous halides 5
Ti-6Al-1V 60 0.6M KCl 20

Crack Growth

The subcritical nature of propagation may be attributed to the chemical energy released as the crack propagates. That is,

elastic energy released + chemical energy = surface energy + deformation energy

The crack initiates at KIscc and thereafter propagates at a rate governed by the slowest process, which most of the time is the rate at which corrosive ions can diffuse to the crack tip. As the crack advances so K rises (because crack length appears in the calculation of stress intensity). Finally it reaches KIc , whereupon fast fracture ensues and the component fails. One of the practical difficulties with SCC is its unexpected nature. Stainless steels, for example, are employed because under most conditions they are 'passive', i.e. effectively inert. Very often one finds a single crack has propagated while the rest of the metal surface stays apparently unaffected.


SCC caused the catastrophic collapse of the Silver Bridge in December 1967, when an eyebar suspension bridge across the Ohio river at Point Pleasant, WV, suddenly failed. The main chan joint failed and the whole structure fell in less than a minute into the river, killing 46 people in vehicles on the bridge at the time. Rust in the eyebar joint had caused a stress corrosion crack, which went critical as a result of high bridge loading and the low temperatures. The failure was exacerbated by a high level of residual stress in the eyebar. The disaster led to a nationwide reappraisal of the state of the nation's bridges.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Stress_corrosion_cracking". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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