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One of the critical requirements of fatigue crack growth simulation is calculation of the remaining life of a structure under cyclic loading.

This paper presents a method which predicts the remaining fatigue life of a part, and gives information on the eventual mode of failure. The path of a growing crack needs to be understood so that informed assessment can be made of the structural consequences of eventual fast growth, and the likelihood of leakage and determination of leakage rates. For these reasons the use of standard handbook solutions for crack growth is generally not adequate, and it is essential to use the real geometry and loading.

The reasons for performing such simulation work include preventive investigations performed at the design stage, forensic investigations performed after failure, and sometimes forensic investigations performed during failure-when the results provide input to the planning of remedial work.

This paper focuses on the 3D simulation of cracks growing in metal structures exposed to cyclic loading, and explains the techniques which are used. The loading might arise from transients of pressure or other mechanical forces, or might be caused by thermal-stress variations. The simulation starts from an initial crack which can be of any size and orientation. The relevant geometry of the cracked component is modelled, and the loading is identified using one or more load cases together with a load spectrum which shows how the loading cycles. The effects of the crack are determined by calculating stress intensity factors at all positions along the crack front (it would be called the crack tip if the modelling was performed in 2D). The rate and direction of crack growth at each part of the crack front are calculated using one of the available crack growth laws, together with appropriate material properties. The effects of such growth are accumulated over a number of load cycles, and a new crack shape is determined. The process is repeated as required.

The use of multi-axial and mixed mode techniques allows the crack to turn as a result of the applied loading, and the resulting crack path is therefore a consequence of both the detail of the geometry and the loading to which the structure is subjected. Gas or other fluid pressures acting on the crack faces can have significant impact, as can the contact between opposing.

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