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Failure Analysis of Failed Wire Rope

Article in Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention August 2010

DOI: 10.1007/s11668-010-9367-2


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4 authors, including:

Madhavarao Krishnadev Venkatachalam Lakshmanan

Laval University University of Delaware


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J Fail. Anal. and Preven.
DOI 10.1007/s11668-010-9367-2


Failure Analysis of Failed Wire Rope

Madhavarao Krishnadev Maude Larouche

V. I. Lakshmanan R. Sridhar

Submitted: 30 April 2010 / in revised form: 20 May 2010

ASM International 2010

Abstract Failure of an old rope from a stringing lattice indicate that impact testing is a better evaluator of the
transmission towers occurred in winter while the rope was susceptibility of wire ropes to brittle fracture than tensile
being removed to make way for a new rope. Fracture took tests.
place around mid-span. At that time, ambient temperature
was 22 C. Wire rope was in service for nearly 50 years. Keywords Wire rope  Failure  Metallography 
We were given the mandate to determine the reasons for Mechanical testing
the fracture of the wire rope and also to suggest measures
to prevent such failures from occurring. The study involved
laboratory testing (mechanical and metallographic) of Introduction
representative wire rope samples. The effect of low tem-
perature (from room temperature to 40 C) on the tensile In general, in case study failure analyses, the actual fracture
behavior of wires and wire rope samples was evaluated. In surfaces are available for metallographic analysis and
addition, we designed an instrumented impact test to assess evaluation, thus, the mode and mechanism of fracture are
the effect of notches, low temperatures and dynamic relatively easy to identify. However, under unusual cir-
loading on the fracture behavior; however, no standards cumstances, such surfaces are not available and the
were available for direct comparison. Optical metallogra- investigators have to deduce the reasons for failure based
phy was used to judge the extent of corrosion and the on laboratory testing of available material. This paper
nature of microstructure and the cleanliness of the steel. presents such a case study. Also, in the literature there are
The fracture morphology of broken tensile and impact many examples of failure analysis of wire ropes used in
specimens was carried out using scanning electron mining and heavy machinery but relatively few examples
microscopy to establish relations between test parameters discuss lattice transmission towers for power distribution
and fracture modes. Results indicate that considerations [1, 2].
have to be given to the occurrence of corrosion, notches, The failure of an old rope that was used in stringing
low temperatures, and dynamic loading conditions when lattice transmission towers occurred while being pulled
replacing wire ropes and this may necessitate the replace- through to make way for a new rope. The wire rope was in
ment of wire rope earlier than the time dictated by the service for more than 50 years. Fracture took place around
criterion of 10% loss in breaking strength. Results also mid-span. At that time of fracture, the ambient temperature
was 22 C. A conditioning test, conducted earlier, indi-
cated that measured breaking strength was 91.4% of the
M. Krishnadev (&)  M. Larouche
Department of Mining, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, book value. Actual fractured surfaces were not available;
Laval University, Quebec City G1V 0A6, QC, Canada however, adjacent lengths of the rope were available and
e-mail: we had to deduce the reasons for the failure by extrapo-
lating the effects of low temperatures and dynamic loading
V. I. Lakshmanan  R. Sridhar
Process Research ORTECH, 2395 Speakman Drive, on the mechanical behavior of samples from the available
Mississauga, ON L5K 1B3, Canada rope. Although this was a bit challenging, we were able to

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

come up with reasonably satisfying answers based on the to give us a go-no-go criterion for the lowest temperature
laboratory testing (mechanical and metallographic) of that the rope can withstand before cleavage (brittle frac-
representative samples from the failed rope. ture) occurs. The load time/deflection traces indicate the
fracture behavior under dynamic loading. To our knowl-
edge, such testing has not been carried out before.
Objective For impact testing, specimen dimensions were based on
IZOD (ASTM E 23) test technique. This technique is
This investigation focuses on determining the (i) chemistry generally used for evaluating the notch toughness of round
and grade of steel employed, (ii) the uniformity and bars and Server and Ireland have modified this technique
cleanliness of the microstructure of the rope steel and the for testing toughness and fracture behavior of composite
effect of microstructure on crack initiation and propaga- materials and hollow tubes [3]. However, we had to modify
tion, and (iii) the nature and extent of failure mechanisms the notch position and use Charpy impact testing proce-
as affected by rates of loading and temperatures as revealed dures, as Izod testing is not recommended for low
by the test results and fractography of broken tensile and temperatures. The test specimens were 75 mm long spec-
impact samples. This information will help in establishing imens with a central circumferential shallow notch. Tests
the lower limit of ambient temperature and in specifying were conducted from 0 C, down to 40 C.
the required low temperature tensile and impact properties.

Experimental Approach For metallography, specimens were mechanically polished

and etched in Nital and for studying fracture morphology, a
Samples were cut from wire ropes for chemical analysis, SEM equipped with EDAX was used.
tensile testing, and instrumented impact testing and
metallography. Tensile testing was also carried out with
individual wires. Results and Discussion

Chemical Analysis Composition

Chemical analyses were carried out as per ASTM standards Table 1 shows that the chemical composition of the wires
E1019-03, E1097-03 (modified), and E1479-99 (2005). corresponds to AISI 1060 steel. The wire steel is reason-
ably clean with low sulfur and phosphorous. Although
Mechanical Testing compositional requirements for wire ropes are not very
rigid, it is worthwhile pointing out here that high strength
For microhardness measurements, a dedicated Vickers wire ropes are generally manufactured from AISI 1074 [4].
hardness-testing machine with a load of 25 gf has been
used. Polished and lightly etched specimens were used. Metallography
For tensile testing of wires, samples 150 mm long with
75 mm between grips were used. Tests were conducted Cross-sectional metallography of wire rope samples indi-
from room temperature down to 40 C. Tests were con- cated severe corrosion and pitting in outer wires (see Fig. 1).
ducted based on ASTM standard E8. For testing of wire There is considerable loss in the metallic area and presence
ropes, initially 150 mm in long samples with 75 mm of notches is evident. Microcracks initiate and link up and
between grips were used. Tests were conducted at RT, 0, grow probably due to fatigue (see Fig. 2). Presence of not-
10, and 25 C. Lengths of the samples were dictated by ches can increase locally the yield strength by a factor of
the dimension of the cold chamber. Controlled evaporation nearly three and initiate fracture before general yield [5].
of liquid nitrogen was used to obtain the low temperatures. The core wires were virtually free from corrosion and
To prevent temperature gradients in the sample even grips were still covered with the galvanized coating (Fig. 3).
were cooled. Dedicated hydraulic grips were used, and
brass sheaves were used to envelop the ends of the wire
Table 1 Chemical analysis of steel (wt.%)
ropes to prevent damage while gripping.
No standards are available for evaluating the notch C Mn Si S P Fe
toughness of wire ropes; hence, we designed an instru-
Wire rope 0.57 0.89 0.18 0.019 \0.01 Balance
mented impact test to assess the effect of notches, low
AISI 1060 0.5565 0.690  \0.05 \0.04 Balance
temperatures, and dynamic loading on the fracture behavior

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

Fig. 1 (a) Cross-sectional view

of wire rope showing
considerable loss of metal due
to corrosion. Note that core wire
is virtually free from corrosion.
(b) Showing extensive corrosion
and creation of notches

Fig. 2 Metallograph of a
longitudinal section of an outer
wire showing notches on a
microscale and interior metal
loss due to corrosion (see dark
arrows). Crack link up along
inclusions may also be seen
(white arrow)

The wire matrix had a hardness of 345 HV (25 gf) while Mechanical Properties
the coatings show very low hardness values. A hardness
value of 345 corresponds approximately to UTS of Mechanical properties and description of the as-received
1104 MPa [6]. However, for cold-rolled and annealed cable are shown in Table 2. Tensile results of the wires and
wires, it is difficult to predict precisely the strength values wire ropes are shown in Tables 3 and 4. Figures 5 and 6
from hardness measurements. show typical loaddisplacement curves. It is apparent that
there is general yielding before the maximum in yield is
Microstructure reached attesting to the inherent ductility of wires under
tensile loading. It may also be noted from Fig. 6 that ini-
Figure 4 shows a typical ferritepearlite microstructure tially outer wires fail one by one, followed by the failure of
elongated due to cold rolling. Inclusions are generally core wire due to tensile overload. It is evident that low
dispersed uniformly, except, for occasional stringers. temperatures have no adverse effect on the strength and

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

Table 3 Effect of low temperatures on the strength and ductility of

Temperature, Maximum Maximum
Wire C load, lbf load, N

Core RT 1,549 6890.295

0 1,555 6916.985
30 1,557 6925.881
40 1,573 6997.053
Outer corroded RT 1,408 6263.096
wires (average)
30 1,433 6374.302
40 1,424 6334.268
Note: All specimens exhibited well-defined general yield before
maximum in load was reached attesting to the inherent ductility of
samples under tensile loading even at low temperatures
Fig. 3 Metallograph of core wire showing microhardness of the
matrix and the zinc coating
Table 4 Effect of low temperatures on the tensile properties of wire
Specimen Test temperature, Maximum Maximum
no. C load, lbf load, N

1 RT 9,769 43454.68
2 0 10,058 44740.21
3 10 10,190 45327.38
4 18 10,109 44967.07
5 25 10,253 45607.62

Fig. 4 Optical metallograph showing ferritepearlite matrix elon-

gated due to cold work

Table 2 Material description from catalog

Galvanized steel cable 5/16 9 7 strand

Ultimate tensile strength 180 000 psi or 1 241.06 N/mm2

Nominal cable diameter 0.327 in or 8.31 mm
Nominal wire diameter 0.109 in or 2.77 mm
Nominal area of wire 0.0093 Sq. in or 6 mm2
Number of wires 7
Rated breaking strength 11 000 lbf or 48 930.44 N

Fig. 5 Loaddisplacement curves for corroded outer wires and core

wire (test temperature40 C). Note well-defined general yielding
ductility properties. In fact there is a tendency for strength before the maximum
to increase with a decrease in the test temperature. Similar
trend has been observed in HSLA steels and it is attributed indicator of the susceptibility of the wire rope to brittle
to the intrinsic property of the b.c.c iron matrix [7, 8]. From failure at low temperatures. The fact that tensile testing is a
this, it is evident that tensile test alone cannot be used as an poor predictor of steel behavior at low temperatures is

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

rather well known and it was somewhat surprising that Impact Testing
there were apparently no standards for dynamic testing of
notched ropes even though wire ropes are often used at low Impact test results are shown in Table 5 and Fig. 7 shows
temperatures. typical instrumented impact traces. At 0 C, there is only
UTS of core wire was estimated by dividing the peak cracking and no cleavage fracture. At 10 C, there is
load by the area of the wire and a value of around cleavage but there is enough ductile dimpling to allow the
1173 MPa was obtained. This is lower than the book value rope to maintain some toughness. At 20 C and below
but is in excellent agreement with the hardness measure- cleavage (brittle) fracture dominates. This is in indirect
ments. There is the possibility that the bare wire before contrast to what was observed in tensile tests. The reason is
galvanization had the required UTS and could have been the higher rate of loading and triaxial state of stress [3]. It is
softened during galvanizing treatment. In any case, also worth noting that, even when outer wires fail by
strength values, at the best, were borderline. cleavage, core wire being free from corrosion, merely

Table 5 Effect of low temperatures on the impact energy of wire

rope specimens
Test temperature, C Energy, J Fracture morphology

0 51 Minor cracking but no cleavage

crack propagation
10 50.7 Occurrence of cleavage cracks
but compensated by dimples
20 37.9 Dominance of cleavage cracks
25 40 Predominantly cleavage
30 26.3 Predominantly cleavage
40 29 Predominantly cleavage
Note: (1) Specimens were 75 mm long with a central circumferential
notch (nonstandard specimen based on modified Izod test technique)
and (2) one reason for the relatively high energy at low temperatures
Fig. 6 Room temperature loaddisplacement curve for wire rope (even when cleavage dominates) is the fact that the core wire, being
illustrating the sequential prior-rupture of outer wires before the final free from corrosion, does not crack but merely bends blunting crack
failure of the core wire prorogation

Fig. 7 Instrumented impact

traces from wire rope specimens
illustrating the gradual decrease
in energy with lowering of test
temperature. Top two traces are
from tests at 0 and 10 C, and
the bottom two traces are from
tests at 20 and 30 C

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

bends and serves as an effective crack arrestor. The crack applications [9, 10]. According to British Standard 6570 a
arrest capabilities of the individual inner wires is the reason wire rope should be discarded when the surface of the
that even at 40 C, there is still significant amount of wires is severely roughened or pitted. According to
impact energy absorbed during the tests. research conducted on the validity and appropriateness of
discard criterion for wire ropes used in mining, it has been
Fractography suggested that although the general discard criterion were
based on a 10% loss in the rope strength, a number of the
Fractographs of broken tensile and impact specimens are discard criterion in the code required wire rope to be dis-
shown in Figs. 811. In impact specimens, at low tem- carded, not because it had lost an estimated 10% of its
peratures, cleavage is quite significant (see Fig. 11). Since strength, but it had sustained damage of a nature such that
cleavage (brittle) failure occurs rapidly and virtually the rate of subsequent deterioration would be far greater
without any plastic deformation, it should be avoided to than normal to the extent that the rope would have to
prevent catastrophic failures. However, in tensile speci- discarded before the next inspection [10].
mens, even at low temperatures, there is not much change It would also appropriate to reexamine the way that the
in the fracture behaviorit is still basically ductile with ratio of measured strength to book value is estimated. By
extensive dimpling surrounding cleavage microcracks. including the core wire that is virtually free from corrosion
This is also apparent from the shape of loaddisplacement in the calculation, we will be under estimating the real
curves that show pronounced general yielding before the effect of corrosion. For example, from the conditioning
peak in load is reached (see Fig. 6). tests carried out, conventional calculations give a value of
91.4% whereas by taking consideration only the corroded
Probable Failure Scenario outer wires, the ratio becomes 89.9% (see Table 6).

Metallography of wire rope samples has indicated that outer

wires are severely corroded. This results in reduction in the
load-bearing capability of the wires. In addition, the creation
of notches on a microscale increases, locally, magnitude of
the stress promoting cleavage. Low temperatures further
enhance this effect. Initiation of microcracks and their link
up probably by fatigue also promotes fracture. Thus likely
failure scenario is the fracture of outer wires followed by
failure of core wire due to overload. Since temperature was
below 20 C and since high carbon steels are intrinsically
prone to brittle fracture, it is very likely that cleavage plays a
significant role in the fracture of outer wires.
Although the results of conditioning tests carried out
indicated that the residual breaking strength was 91.4% of
the book value, in view of the severe corrosion and pitting,
consideration should have been given to replacing the wire Fig. 9 An enlarged view of cleavage fracture from Fig. 8(b) showing
before the next inspection as has been suggested in the case clearly defined cleavage steps and river pattern (see dark arrows).
of wire rope used in mining and other load-hauling Dimples surround the cleavage areas (see white arrows)

Fig. 8 Fractographs of an
outside wire fractured in tension
at room temperature: (a) Low
magnification photo showing an
essentially ductile fracture
interspersed with fine cracks
running in parallel. (b) At high
magnifications, walls of these
are formed by cleavage
probably at hard and brittle
pearlite colonies that are
elongated in the direction of

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

Fig. 10 (a) Macro fractograph

of a broken wire sample.
Instrumented impact at 0 C.
(b) SEM fractograph of a
broken wire sample showing
essentially a ductile fracture
with traces of cleavage (brittle)
fracture. Instrumented impact at
0 C

Fig. 11 (a) Macrofractograph

of a wire sample broken at
40 C, instrumented impact.
(b) SEM fractographs showing
cleavage steps, river pattern and
microcracks typical of brittle
fracture, instrumented impact at
40 C

Table 6 Calculation of breaking strength values (lbf)a from condi- 2. Cross-sectional metallography of wire rope sections
tioning test results indicates that outer wires are subjected to severe
Rated breaking strength = 11,000 lbf (48,930 N) corrosion and pitting. There is considerable loss in
Total measured breaking strength including core wire = 10,141 metallic area on the surface of the rope. In addition,
(45,109 N) notches on a microscale are present. These notches can
Conventional interpretation increase the yield strength locally, nearly by a factor of
Conventional measured strength to book value = 10,141/ three, and initiate fracture before general yield.
11,100 = 91.4%
3. In outer wires, there is evidence for the initiation,
Alternate interpretation growth, and link up of microcracks probably due to
Total measured breaking strength of six corroded outer cyclic (fatigue) loading that is inevitable in service.
wires = 8,574 (38,137)
This reduces again lowers the resistance to crack
Measured breaking strength value of core wire = 1,565 (6,961 N)
Measured strength to book value using only outer wires = 8,574/
(11,100 1, 565) = 89.9%
4. Core wire is virtually free from corrosion and still has
galvanized coating on it.
Note: (1) Generally cables are replaced when measured breaking 5. Room temperature tensile data and microhardness
strength values reach 90% of the book value and (2) based on the
alternate criterion that is more realistic, cables should have been measurements indicate that ultimate tensile strength
replaced earlier (UTS) of the wires is \1240 MPa.
Original conditioning results were in English units 6. Low temperatures down to 40 C have no adverse
effect on the strength and ductility of wires and wire
ropes. UTS of both the wire and the wire rope
increases with a decrease in the test temperature. This
is due to an intrinsic property of the b.c.c iron matrix.
1. Wires are made of AISI 1060 steel. Microstructure is SEM fractography of broken samples indicate that
essentially elongated ferritepearlite with reasonably even at room temperature, there are minor cleavage
finely distributed inclusions except for occasional cracks but the samples have enough ductility to blunt
stringers. Levels of sulfur and phosphorous are low them and prevent them from linking up and growing.
and within the norm. Even at moderate low temperatures, there is enough

J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

ductility in the samples to prevent brittle failure. ductile-to-brittle transition temperature of the rope
Hence, tensile tests at low temperatures are not ideal steel, but 10 C is a reasonable general suggestion.)
for predicting the susceptibility of wire ropes to brittle At the same time, it is important to make sure that cable
failure at low temperatures. has enough metallic area to resist the service loads and
7. Modified impact tests of circumferentially notched that it is free from notches that could provoke
wire rope specimens (75 mm long with central cleavage failure initiation at low temperatures.
circumferential notch) broken at different tempera-
tures, indicate that there is considerable cleavage
(brittle) fracture below 10 C. Thus, impact testing is
a better evaluator of susceptibility of wire ropes to References
brittle fracture than tensile tests. However, there is still
no ASTM or other standards for conducting such tests. 1. Singh, M.K., Mahto, A., Thakur, R.N., Sinha, A.: Failure analysis
of wire rope used for hoisting in mining: a case study. J. Fail.
Anal. Preven. 7, 8792 (2007)
2. Verret, R., Ridge, I.: Wire Rope ForensicsCASAR Special
Recommendations Wire Ropes, 1st edn., 47 p. PR GmbH, Aachen, Germany (2005)
3. Server, W.L., Ireland, D.R.: Nonstandard test techniques utiliz-
1. When there is severe corrosion and pitting, as in the ing instrumented Charpy and Izod tests. In: Desisto, T.S. (ed.)
Instrumented Impact Testing, ASTM STP 563, pp. 7491.
present case, wires have to be replaced earlier than the ASTM, Philadelphia, PA (1973)
normal criterion of 10% loss in the breaking strength. 4. Miller, B.A.: Failure analysis of wire rope. Adv. Mater. Process.
This would prevent premature failure of the wire rope 157, 4346 (2000)
due to enhanced corrosion before the next inspection. 5. Dieter, G.F.: Mechanical Metallurgy, 3rd edn., pp. 471500.
McGraw-Hill, Boston (1986)
2. It would be more apt and prudent, when estimating the 6. Boyer, H.E., Call, T.L. (eds.) Metals Handbook, Desk edition,
ratio of measured breaking strength to the book value, pp. 1.601.61. ASM, Metals Park, OH (1985)
to give preference to corroded outer wires only. 7. Krishnadev, M.R., et al.: An evaluation of the effect of low
Inclusion of core wire would distort the ratio, as it is temperature on the mechanical properties of a commercial steel to
be used in the Artic. J. Test. Eval., ASTM 8, 4247 (1980)
virtually free from corrosion. 8. Hertzberg, R.W.: Deformation and Fracture Mechanics of Engi-
3. As far as possible, cable replacement should be neering Materials, 4th edn., p. 64. John Wiley, New York (1995)
carried out at a relatively high ambient temperature 9. van Zyl, M.: Discard criterion for mine winder ropes. Final
but, if necessary replacement can be made when the report, Sept 2000 from Research Agency, Mike Van Zyl Inc.,
Project no. GAP 502, South Africa. Available from Internet:
rope is close to freezing but not at temperatures lower
than 10 C. (The actual temperature below which 10. Verret, R., Lindsey, W.: Wire Rope Inspection and Examination,
replacement should not be made depends on the 31 p. CASAR, PR GmbH, Aachen, Germany (1996)


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