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FINITE ELEMENT STUDIES OF CRACK GROWTH IN A WC-Co MULTILIGAMENT ZONE S. Schmauder Max-Planck-Institut fr Metallforschung. Institut fr Werkstoffwissenschaften. Seestr. 92. 7000 Stuttgart 1. FRG

SUMMARY Crack growth in the system WC-Co was studied. An analysis of the plastic deformation of ductile Co-bridges within a multiligaulent zone has been carried out by means of the finite element method (FEM). An experimentally observed two dimensional crack tip morphology [lJ was used in the calculation. The FEM studies allowed the analysis of the propagation of the plastic region in front of the crack tip under increasing load. The calculations demonstrated that the ligaments were simultaneously plastically deformed to varying degrees. The size of the plastic zone in each ligament did not exceed a width of about 1 ~m. in agreement with experimental results. The development of pores inside the ligaments was also considered. A stress-controlled void nucleation criterion could be extracted by comparison of calculations with experimental results. INTRODUCTION The toughness of WC-Co hardmetals can be qualitatively understood in terms of microstructural parameters such as the volume content of Co and the mean grain size of WC. However. there are many different interpretations from experiments and calculations concerning the important processes at the crack tip. Detailed experimental information has been rare until recently. It was shown experimentally [lJ that a large amount the crack propagation energy is dissipated during the ductile fracture of the Co-binder. Therefore. the crack of

resistance is mainly dependent on the size of the plastic zone in the binder. Controversy exists concerning the size of this plastic region. FEM calculations [2J predicted a size 10 times larger than the experimentally determined one.

In this paper. crack tip plasticity in a technically interesting WC-Co-alloy with 10 w% cobalt and a coarsegrained microstructure is examined in detail by FEM. The model used is different from previous calculations in that plasticity in the entire process zone is considered. The predicted plastic deformation in the binder is compared with the experimental observations of ref. [1] and the accompanying void formation is accounted for by a stress criterion in the FEM-calculation. The size of the plastic zone is the critical parameter in all the existing toughness models. On the other hand. reliable experimental results on the crack-tip region [1] suggest modelling a whole process zone of WC-Co for the first time. TRE PROBLEM Fig. 1 shows a typical structure of a process zone in WC-Co where the crack propagates predominantly in the brittle carbide phase surrounding the ductile binder region. Such a process zone is called a multi-ligament zone (MLZ) [3]. In coarse-grained WC-Co-alloys. the MLZ extends to about 10 um and typically contains 3 ligaments of the Co-binder phase.


1: In WC-Co. the crack propagates preferentially in the brittle carbide phase. After fracture. Co-ligaments are severely plastic.ally deformed [1].

Dimples on the fracture surfaces prove that the ligaments fail by the development of pores. It has been experimentally shown that the location and orientation of the surrounding carbide crack determines the fracture path in the ligaments. This is shown schematically in Fig. 2.


2: The location of the carbide crack determines the fracture path in the ligaments. The void density is higher along carbide/binder phase boundaries than across ligaments.

It has been experimentally demonstrated that the density of voids is higher at WC/Co-phase boundaries than at crack paths which are far away from the interfaces. Fig. 3. shows schematically how the voids grow and how they lead to the fracture in the ligaments by coalescence.

fractured zone

multiligament zone

elastic zone

Fig. 3: Schematic cleation. ligaments

idea of crack propagation in WC-Co by nugrowth. and coalescence of pores in the [1].

The methods and the plastic zone sizes predicted by different investigators for comparable alloys are listed in the following table. where 2 r 1 is defined as the extension of the plastically deformed re~~on normal to the crack surface in mode loading:

Method Model2r = Ref. [4] LI Prediction ip 2rpl > Author(s)FEN Experiment 2r:~ <

[5] [1]


The experiments in ref. [1] did not show plastic deformation of binder regions remote from the crack surfaces within a resolution limit of 0.5% of plastic strain. The plastic zone size and the me an free path in the binder were found to be 2rpl

0.6 pm and Lp

= 0.84



To the author's knowledge. the first FEM-calculations of deformation in WC-Co were performed by Sundstrm [6]. These calculations were performed with a medium-fine FE-mesh under applied pressure and showed good agreement with the experimentally determined macroscopic stress-strain relation. Only small regions suffered plastic strains of more than 1%. This latter result is in agreement with the calculattions performed in ref. [2J where external forces were applied on a very coarse FE-mesh. There. it was shown that an increase in binder yield stress reduces the plastic zone dramatically according to Irwin's relationship

r p 1:::: (Krc /0 y )


where Kr is the stress intensity factor and the yield stress. The size of the plastic zone is not ve~y sensitive to the strain hardening of the binder. The models of both. = [5] and [6]. are coarse. They use low yield stresses of 0 783 MPa and = 1150 MPa. respectively. and do not accou6t for the MLZ i6 a realistic manner.

THE MODEL A MLZ model was built according to an experimentally determined crack trace on a WC-Co alloy surface. The micrograph from which the trace was obtained is shown in Fig. 4. The unfractured microstructure was also obtained from Fig. 4 assuming that the crack was elastically closed and that the ligaments were undeformed. Before the FE-mesh was generated. some insignificant changes had been made. e.g. some WC/Co-boundaries had been



4: Section of the crack trace in a WC-Co alloy. Measurable plastic deformations are restricted to the ligaments. Binder regions remote from the interface are not plastically deformed.

straightened. The cracked carbide grains had also been modelled. The frame of the modelled structure with ligaments L1-L3. binder phase regions B. B1-B6. carbide grains K1-K17. crack tip R. and crack tip positions A-F are shown in Fig.



5: The modelled microstructure after Fig. 4 (K = carbide grain. L = ligament. B = binder. R = crack tipI A-F = crack tip positions). The parameters of the model and of the real microstruc



6b: Continuum elements.


the MLZ modelled




6c: Finite element discretization of the outer continuum shell surrounding the area of Fig. 6b. Crack and boundary conditions are also shown. [9J were used:

et al.

WC E (GPa)

Co 211 0.31


714 0.194


The e1astic constants of the a110y were given to the continuum. The binder was assuTI,ed to defor~ plastically according to von Mises with the associated flow rule. Hardening was accounted for by the Voce-law (1 - exp [lJ:
KC U uy ~s


with Ic

rry + (rrs - u Y )

(-~/~ c ))


the following Yield


stress 2.19 MPa GPa 0.63 16.73 12.19 GPa m 1/2

Plastic flow occurs first in ligament LI (crack position A). From this reference state the external load was increased in 60 (plane stress) and 90 (plane strain) increments. respectively. by 30% of the reference load. On an average 2.2 (plane stress) and 3.2 (plane strain) iterations were necessary to obtain convergence. The calculations were performed on a Honeywe11-Bull 66DPS and each one required 20.9 hours CPU-time. RESULTS The deformation at fracture load in plane stress is in Fig. 7. It can easily be seen that the carbide

shown crack


7: Deformation times).

of the model

in plane



segments open with a rectangular profile in agreement with the experiment (Fig. 4). The development of the plastic deformation can be seen in Figs. 8-9 (plane stress) and in Figs. 10-11 (plane strain). respectively.
Plastic Zone


Kl!: 0.33K1c o.33K!c< Kl!: 0.67Klc

Kl =o.33Klc

Plane stress

Kl = O.67Klc Kl = Klc

0.67 K lc < Kl!: K 1<


8: Plasticity in the MLZ in plane stress. Preferential extension of the plastic region in direction of crack advance.

Plane stress KI=K1c

K5 K2

10 : 10%

:: 0% 1%o'f0 / 3 1 3% 0.5 : 0.5%


: 5%

Fig. 9: Equivalent plastic strains in plane stress at the fracture load in ligament LI. Large plastic deformations are concentrated at interfaces orthogonal to the direction of app lied load.

In Fig. 8, the development of the plasticity in plane stress is drawn for three equidistant loading steps and the last step corresponds to the fracture load. It can be seen that the region of plastic deformation extends preferentially in the plane of the experimentally observed crack path and is contained in a narrow band. The ligament LI suffers DIOSt of the plastic deformation and is fully plastic across its diameter while the plasticity in the other ligaments is restricted to the crack positions C-F. The intensity distribution of equivalent plastic strains at the fracture load is shown in Fig. 9 for ligament LI. Equivalent plastic strains higher than 5% are restricted to crack positions A and B in ligament LI at phase boundaries orthogonal to the direction of applied load. In contrast to the plane stress state the plasticity ~n plane strain extends primarily along the phase boundaries parallel to the direction of applied load (Fig. 10). No ligament is ful1y plastic at the fracture load. Interfaces orthogonal to the applied loading direction disturb the extension of the plastification.
Plastic Zone


loads: KI = 0.33 Klc =0.67Klc

KI S 0.33Klc Q33Klc < KI S 0.67Klc "Klc

Plane Strain


0.67 Klc <KI

KI = Klc


10: Plasticity in the MLZ in plane strain. Preferential extension of the plastic region in direction parallel to the applied load.

Intensities of equivalent plastic strains higher than 5% are exclusively restricted to crack position A in the first ligament LI. Plastically deformed regions are much more localized at the crack positions A-F and R in plane strain (Fig. 11) compared to plane stress.


Plane Stra in
Kr =Krc




Fig. 11:
Equivalent plastic strains in plane strain at the fracture load in ligament LI. Large plastic deformations are concentrated at interfaces parallel the direction of applied load. to


K1 o.5~m ~
A measure carbide grains

: 0% Q5 : 0.5% 1 : 1%

3 S

: 3% : 5%

for the constraint of the binder is the stress triaxiality [lOJ:


by the




Fig. 12: Stress triaxiality front of the crack


(plane strain) at the fracture load. High stress triaxiality at the phase boundary where the crack will propagate.

The distribution of aTri ahead of position A in the binder is shown in Fig. 12. The maximum in stress triaxia1ity occurs at the phase boundary in front of A where plastic deformations are also high (compare Fig. 11). The development of stress triaxiality with increasing load along the phase boundary in crack propagation direction ahead of A is shown in Fig. 13a. The corresponding equivalent plastic strain is shown in Fig. 13b. The maximum value of 4.5 is reached at the fracture load.
aTr; Epl 10


K( = Q33K(c K, = Q67K(c K( = K(c


Kr = Q33K(c K(= O.67K(c

Kr = Krc

0 .\

















x (11m)


13: (a) Stress triaxia1ity and (b) equivalent plastic strain ahead of the crack position A (horizontal direction). Characteristic stress maxima and decreasing strains ahead of crack position A (plane strain).

DISCUSSION Comparison of the calculation with the experimental shows that both the deformation behaviour and the re-


profile of the opened crack are in good agreement. The calculations verified the experimental observations of ref. [1] that the region of p1astic deformation does not extend into the whole ligament. The calculation predicts plastically deformed regions that are slightly too large for several reasons: - Neglect of eigenstresses and of void formation 1/2 of 9.87 MPa m ge-

- Two-dimensional - A conservative

calculation toughness value


On the other hand. validity in plane

the following results possess strain and in plane stress:

- There exist large strain concentrations in the binder to the notch effect of the carbide crack - Binder remote from the crack deforms only elastically


- Ligaments L2-L3 and the binder region B suffer small plastic deformations - Large plastic deformations are restricted to a narrow along the expected crack path In contrast to the model of ref.


[2J. the discretiza-

tion is fine enough to resolve details of the plasticity in the binder. An upper bound for the size of the plastic region of 0.7 pm can be extracted from Fig. 9. This value is in good agreement with The stress triaxiality the experimental value of 0.6 pm [lJ. can be used as a void formation

criterion [llJ. The results presented in Fig. 12 suggest the occurrence of void nucleation and growth at the ligament border. coalescence with the crack tip position. and concomitant void nucleation further inside the ligament. These predictions have been recently confirmed by metallographie observations [12J. The higher pore density along phase boundaries (see Fig. 2) compared to crack propagation through the binder can be explained by the higher stress concentration at the phase boundary due to the inhibition of plastic deformation there. The locations where pores can appear in plane strain and the so induced crack propagation is shown in Fig. 14. The predicted crack propagation in the ligaments LI and L2 for this case is in agreement with the experimental observation '(compare Fig. 4).

Formation Path Path

(calculated) (calculated) (observed)

Fracture Fracture




a d:

K I = K Ic


14: Preferential pore development at the crack tip precedes the fracture in the ligaments. The damage starts in ligament LI at crack position A and B.

CONCLUSION The results from the simulation of a MLZ in a WC-Co observations. were obtained:

alloy are in good agreement Additionally. the following

with experimental important results

- The ligament remote from the crack tip (LI) suffers a much more serious plastic deformation than the other ligaments. - Carbide facets play an important role for the development of the plastic zone in the ligaments - The principal mechanism of void formation could be explained by a stress-criterion. REFERENCES [lJ L. Sigl: "Das Zhigkeitsverhalten von WC-Co-Legierungen". Fortschr.-Ber. VDI Reihe 5 "Grundund Werkstoffe". Nr. 104. VDI-Verlag. Dsseldorf 1986. 194 p. (Dissertation) [2J A.-B. Ljungberg. C. Chatfield. M. Hehenberger. B. Sundstrm: "Estimation of the plastic zone size associated with cracks in cemented carbides". Proc. 2nd Intern. Conf. Science of Hard Materials. (Rhodes/Greece 1984). Inst. Phys. Conf. Sero No. 75 (1986) pp. 619-630 [3J A.G. Evans. A.H. Heuer. and D.L. Porter: "The Fracture Toughness of Ceramies". 4th Int. Conf. on Fracture. Ed.: D.M.R. Taplin. Pergamon Press. New York 1977. pp. 529-556 [4J Almond E.A. in Speciality Steels and Hard Materials Ed. N.R. Comins and J.B. Clark. Pergamon Press Oxford (1982) 353-360 [5J L.S. Sigl and H.E. Exner: "The Mechanics of Fracture in WC-Co Alloys". submitted to Met. Trans. [6J B.O. Sundstrm: "Elastic-Plastic Behaviour of WC-Co Analysed by Contiuum Mechanics". Mat. Sei. Engng. 12 (1973) 265-276 [7J FEMGEN User Manual. Version 7.0. FEGS Limited Oakington. Cambridge England. Aug. 1980 [8J J.H. Argyris and H. Kamel. Automatie System for a Kinematic Analysis (ASKA). Research Report No. 8. Institut fr Statik und Dynamik der Luft- und Raumfahrtkonstruktionen (ISD). Stuttgart. October 1965 [9J H. Doi. Y. Fujiwara. K. Miyake. and Y. Oosawa: "A Systematic Investigation of Elastic Moduli of WC-Co Alloys". Met. Trans. 1 (1970) 1417-1425 [10J G. Rousselier: "Finite Deformation Constitutive Relations Including Ductile Fracture Darnage". Three-Dimensional Constitutive Relations and Ductile Fracture". Ed.: S. Nemat-Nasser. North-Holland. Amsterdam 1981. pp. 331-355 [llJ A. Needleman and J.R. Rice: "Limits to Ductility Set by Plastic Flow Localization". Mechanics of Sheet Metal Forming. Eds.: Donald P. Koistinen and Neng-Ming Wang. Plenum Press. New York 1978. 237-266 [12J L. Sigl. S. Schmauder. "An FEM-Study of Plasticity in WC-Co Associated with Cracking under Mode I Loading". to be published


Edited by:

Department ofCivil Engineering, University College, Swansea. U.K.

Department ofCivil Engineering, University College, Swansea. U.K.

Office of Na val Research, Washington. D. c., U.S.A.

Southwest Research Institute. San Antonio. Texas, U.S.A.

Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference held in San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A. 23rd-27th March, 1987



Swansea, U.K.