Microstructure and fatigue strength of high performance gear steels
Observations on some steels used in high performance gears are presented in this thesis. The object was to understand how microstructure and residual stress influenced mechanical properties, particularly fatigue strength. The investigations were carried out using fatigue testing, metallographic techniques, shot peening, hardness testing and Xray diffraction to determine residual stress and the amount of retained austenite. The work is divided into two main parts. In the first part, the opportunity was taken of investigating a batch of case-carburised gears manufactured from 17CrNiMo6 steel that contained an abnormally high level of retained austenite. . The benefits or otherwise of retained austenite is a matter of some controversy in the literature and this was an opportunity of testing the effect of high retained austenite in gears. In the second part, the properties of a recently formulated through hardening steel was investigated. The steel is inexpensive and capable of being fully hardened by air-cooling. It is believed that use of the material could reduce the cost of gear manufacture by eliminating the carburisation process, oil quenching and the subsequent need to correct distortions that arise from quenching. Gears were manufactured using l7CrNiMo6 steel. After carburization, one batch was found to have an abnormally high level of retained austenite (40 to 60%). Normally, gears with this level of retained austenite would be rejected. Nevertheless, gears from this batch were found to have surface and bending fatigue strengths that were not very different from those with much lower retained austenite contents. Despite the fact that the material is relatively soft, it was found that a very thin surface layer had hardened during back-to-back gear testing, probably by strain-induced transformation of the retained austenite. It was deduced that this thin layer of hardened material is sufficient to maintain a good level of surface contact fatigue strength. The second part of the work includes a basic study of the through-hardening steel. The study includes heat treatment and hardness, estimation of fracture toughness and the development of residual stress during heat treatment. Specialised standing contact fatigue (SCF) tests were also done using this material. The SCF test consists of cyclic loading of a hard ball in contact with the surface of the specimen, which is meant to simulate asperity contact in surface contact fatigue. Radial cracks or ring cracks or both are nucleated just outside the indentation circle in these tests, depending on the load and the development of plasticity. The stresses near the indentation were modelled using Finite Element analysis and were found to be consistent with the experimental results. Finally, the effect of residual compressive stress induced by shot peeing was studied using the SCF test. It was found that shot peening suppressed the formation of radial cracks.