David Lahrman, VP Business Development, wrote this article on fatigue failure analysis for MFN International, March 2016. You can view it online here.
The analysis of fatigue failure using a scientific method and as an emerging field of study originates in 1842 with the investigation of the catastrophic failure of the Versailles frail accident in Meudon, France. The axle on the leading locomotive broke during a run and the carriages behind the locomotive piled into it and caught fire. More than 55 people were killed. William John Macquorn Rankine, a mechanical engineer, investigated the broken axle to understand the cause of failure. Rankine highlighted the importance of stress concentration factors in components and the impact of repeated cyclic stress on these areas that lead to the component’s failure. Unfortunately, the idea he and others proposed at this time for the progressive growth of cracks due to repeated cycling of the load was ignored by other engineers. William Fairbairn shortly thereafter demonstrated the effect of fatigue on repeated flexure on large beams. Fatigue continued to remain a serious and misunderstood phenomenon for some period of time.