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Overview of Vibration Fatigue

Vibration Fatigue is a specific type of mechanical fatigue that is caused by the vibration of equipment during operation. Like other forms of fatigue, vibrations can initiate a crack which may lead to propogation of the crack and eventual failure of the equipment. The most commonly affected areas of vibration fatigue include areas around pumps, compressors, and rotating equipment.

The amount of damage is related to the magnitude and frequency of vibration and results in the form of brittle cracking. Cracking caused by vibration fatigue can be detected using surface nondestructive testing (NDT) techniques. However, inspection is not the most cost-effective or reliable method for locating and monitoring cracks caused by vibration fatigue.

Not all materials are subject to vibration-induced fatigue failures. Some materials, such as carbon and low alloy steels, have an endurance limit (sometimes called the fatigue limit). The endurance limit is the stress amplitude below which the material will never fail by fatigue, regardless of the number of fatigue cycles. For carbon and low alloy steels, the endurance limit is usually 40 to 50% of the tensile strength of the material. Materials such as the austenitic stainless steels (i.e. the 300-series) do not have endurance limits. Regardless of the stress amplitude, these materials will eventually fail if they are in a vibrating service for a sufficient length of time.

Mitigation Measures

The best defense against vibration-induced fatigue is in initial design, the use of supports, and vibration dampening equipment. Some important notes on mitigation:

  • Material upgrades are usually not a solution.
  • Small bore piping near pumps or compressors has higher risk to vibration-induced fatigue. Installation of gussets or stiffeners can mitigate small bore piping fatigue problems.
  • Installation of restraints in the wrong places can aggravate the problem instead of mitigating it. Therefore, post-construction installation of restraint systems should be done by personnel qualified to judge where such restraint will be beneficial.
  • Vortex shedding can be minimized at the outlet of control valves and safety valves through proper side branch sizing and flow stabilization techniques. Note that purpose-designed pressure reducing valves are available that are essentially immune to vibration-induced fatigue failure.

 

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Articles about Vibration Fatigue
  • July/August 2016 Inspectioneering Journal
    By Ralph E. King P.E. at Stress Engineering Services Inc., and Jacob Manuel, P.E. at Stress Engineering Services, Inc.

    An overview of process piping vibration and evaluating piping systems in vibration service to reduce harmful vibrations.

  • November/December 2015 Inspectioneering Journal
    By Paolo Torrado at Engineering and Inspection Services, LLC., and Dr. Reza Azizian at Engineering & Inspection Services, LLC

    Excessive vibration is a problem frequently encountered in industrial plants and their peripheral equipment, including piping systems, pressure vessels, and steel structures. Long term excessive vibration can lead to fatigue crack propagation and consequently, may cause system failure.

  • May/June 2014 Inspectioneering Journal
    By Fernando Vicente at ABB

    Ensuring the integrity of process piping systems in the Oil & Gas industry (specifically those related to the ASME Code B31.3) is a key issue with respect to the process, business, safety, and the environment. However, in the current cost reduction environment, some companies are adopting a very risky strategy for piping systems where maintenance and inspection tasks are reduced and eliminated indiscriminately, without considering the relative importance of piping for the process.

  • July/August 2003 Inspectioneering Journal
    By John Reynolds at Intertek

    Few of us have not experienced or heard about vibration fatigue (cracking) failures, especially around pumps and compressors. Typically small branch connections, equalizer lines, vents and drains are susceptible, especially if they are screwed connections. Such failures have often led to safety and reliability events because of the sudden release of flammable hydrocarbons.

  • January/February 1997 Inspectioneering Journal
    By Del Underwood at Det Norske Veritas

    Back before I became a consultant in 1962, I was employed by TransCo. My boss had a number of very descriptive expressions for commonly encountered problem conditions with reciprocating compressors. One of them that I have always appreciated over the previous 30 plus years was his term for pendulum action of a large unsupported mass on the end of a vibrating pipe. He called it "a billiard ball on the end of a fly rod." You avid fishermen will appreciate that one.

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