The focus of this investigation was to examine the influence of dissolved hydrogen on the fatigue crack growth behavior of an austempered low-alloy AISI 4140 steel. The investigation also examined the influence of dissolved hydrogen on the fatigue threshold in this material. The material was tested in two conditions, as-received (cold rolled and annealed) and austempered (austenitized at 882 °C for 1 h and austempered at 332 °C for 1 h). The microstructure of the annealed specimens consisted of a mix of ferrite and fine pearlite; the microstructure of the austempered specimens was lower bainite. Tensile and Compact Tension specimens were prepared. To examine the influence of dissolved hydrogen, two subsets of the CT specimens were charged with hydrogen for three different time periods between 150 and 250 h. All of the CT samples were then subjected to fatigue crack growth tests in the threshold and linear regions at room temperature. The test results indicate that austempering resulted in significant improvement in the yield and tensile strength as well as the fracture toughness of the material. The test results also show that, in the absence of dissolved hydrogen, the crack growth rate in the threshold and linear regions was lower in austempered samples compared to the as-received (annealed) samples. The fatigue threshold was also slightly greater in the austempered samples. In presence of dissolved hydrogen, the crack growth rate was dependent upon the ∆K value. In the low ∆K region (<30 MPa√m), the presence of dissolved hydrogen caused the crack growth rate to be higher in the austempered samples as compared to annealed samples. Above this value, the crack growth rate was increasingly greater in the annealed specimens when compared to the austempered specimens in presence of dissolved hydrogen. It is concluded that austempering of 4140 steel appears to provide a processing route by which the strength, hardness, and fracture toughness of the material can be increased with little or no degradation in the ductility and fatigue crack growth behavior.
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