On My Mind: Hydrogen Hysteria

Hydrogen embrittlement is certainly not a new phenomenon.

Hydrogen embrittlement is certainly not a new phenomenon. In fact, it was first identified almost 150 years ago. Since hydrogen embrittlement has been around almost as long as Dick Clark, I thought the fastener industry would have cured the phenomenon's ills long ago. But, like a Mark McGwire home run, the controversy surrounding hydrogen embrittlement just seems to keep going and going and going...

Apparently there has been some debate in recent months about who is to blame for parts that fail due to hydrogen embrittlement and what can be done to fix the problem, if in fact there really is a problem. One side claims that the blame has fallen unfairly on platers. According to one individual there is a "witch hunt within the automotive industry for a problem that doesn't really exist." Those that support this claim believe that hydrogen embrittlement hasn't caused any documented problems for the automotive industry and the means to control/minimize it are well understood and widely implemented.

According to Tom Doppke, a longtime member of the fastener industry, it is time to set the record straight. In a recent issue of the American Fastener Journal, Mr. Doppke asserts two points: 1) some materials are susceptible to hydrogen embrittlement if not handled correctly; and 2) many of the past problems were caused by a small number of platers that didn't bake the parts quickly enough, but with most platers QS or ISO 9000 registered this situation no longer exists.

However, there are others that disagree with these views. In the same article, Bruce Meade, metallurgical service manager at Camcar Textron, states that there is finally a serious effort not only to quantify the effects of hydrogen embrittlement but actually prevent the catastrophic failures it might cause. He claims that this is not an attempt to punish platers but a way for platers to demonstrate control of their processes and show they did not do anything to cause hydrogen embrittlement.

What do you think? Does the industry have a case of hydrogen hysteria? Are platers blamed unfairly any time a fastener fails? Can the concern over hydrogen embrittlement be completely eliminated? Is there a need for an ASTM test method, or is the industry already doing everything it can to prevent hydrogen embrittlement?