Deflection is not affected by strength, but rather by stiffness as represented by the modulus of elasticity, which is essentially constant for all steels. For that reason, rigidity cannot be controlled by material decisions, but only by geometric decisions.

Necessary strength to resist loading stresses affects the choice of materials and their treatments. Many shafts are made from low carbon, cold-drawn or hot-rolled steel, such as ANSI 1020-1050 steels.

Significant strengthening from heat treatment and high alloy content are often not warranted. Fatigue failure is reduced moderately by increase in strength, and then only to a certain level before adverse effects in endurance limit and notch sensitivity begin to counteract the benefits of higher strength.

A good practice is to start with an inexpensive, low or medium carbon steel for the first time through the design calculations. If strength considerations turn out to dominate over deflection, then a higher strength material should be tried, allowing the shaft sizes to be reduced until excess deflection becomes an issue.

The cost of the material and its processing must be weighed against the need for smaller shaft diameters. When warranted, typical alloy steels for heat treatment include ANSI 1340-50, 3140-50, 4140, 4340, 5140, and 8650.

Shafts usually don’t need to be surface hardened unless they serve as the actual journal of a bearing surface. Typical material choices for surface hardening include carburizing grades of ANSI 1020, 4320, 4820, and 8620.

Cold drawn steel is usually used for diameters under about 3 inches. The nominal diameter of the bar can be left unmachined in areas that do not require fitting of components. Hot rolled steel should be machined all over. For large shafts requiring much material removal, the residual stresses may tend to cause warping.

If concentricity is important, it may be necessary to rough machine, then heat treat to remove residual stresses and increase the strength, then finish machine to the final dimensions. In approaching material selection, the amount to be produced is a salient factor.

For low production, turning is the usual primary shaping process. An economic viewpoint may require removing the least material.

High production may permit a volume conservative shaping method (hot or cold forming, casting), and minimum material in the shaft can become a design goal. Cast iron may be specified if the production quantity is high, and the gears are to be integrally cast with the shaft.

Properties of the shaft locally depend on its history—cold work, cold forming, rolling of fillet features, heat treatment, including quenching medium, agitation, and tempering regimen. Stainless steel may be appropriate for some environments.

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