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Stress Concentration


Ductile Fracture


Brittle Fracture


Effects of Temperature & Strain

Rate: Ductile-to-Brittle Transition


Impact Testing


Fatigue Mechanisms


Fatigue Testing


Non-Destructive Testing (NDT)



For a long, thin crack, its geometry results in the amplification or concentration of the applied stress at its crack tip,

Fracture is the separation of a piece of material into two or

more pieces when subject to stress.

such that the local stress near the tip is much higher that
the average applied stress (Fig. 7.1-1).

Fracture involves the initiation and propagation (i.e.

growth) of a crack, and may occur in several ways, such as:

slow application of external loads (e.g. tensile test)

rapid application of external loads (impact)

cyclic or repeated loading (fatigue)

time-dependent deformation (creep)


Fig. 7.1-1 Thin plate under uniaxial

tension with (a) edge crack of length a,
and (b) centre crack of length 2a.
(c) Concentration of stress at the crack tip.
(d) Photoelastic fringe pattern showing
concentration of stress at a crack tip.
[Note: the closer the lines,
the higher the stress]

Stress Concentration

The theoretical fracture strength of a material is the stress

required to cause simultaneous breaking of all atomic
bonds across the fracture plane, resulting in the creation of
two new surfaces.


However, actual fractures in bulk materials occur at stress

levels 101,000 times lower than their theoretical fracture
strengths. This is because real materials contain cracks,
which are unable to carry any tensile load; instead, the
applied load is transferred to regions around the cracks.

Cracks may be formed in a material during manufacture, or

through wear on the surface. In metals, cracks may also be
introduced during plastic deformation.
The mechanism by which the crack propagates (grows)
determines whether the fracture is brittle or ductile.




Brittle Fracture

Brittle fracture is sudden and catastrophic, with little or no

plastic deformation and low energy absorption

(Fig. 7.1-2).

Materials that fail by brittle fracture have low toughness.



Fig. 7.1-2 (a) Flat brittle fracture surface with little deformation.
(b) Stress-strain behaviour of a brittle material. A brittle material exhibits a small strain at
fracture, and absorbs little energy prior to fracture (small area under the curve).

Fig. 7.1-3 (a) Transgranular/cleavage fracture

crack propagation through the interior of
grains. (b) Typical grainy appearance of
cleavage fracture. Note the lack of
macroscopic plastic deformation
(c) Cleavage fracture surface with a faceted
(many small, shiny planes) appearance.

The separation of the material tends to occurs through the

grains (transgranularly) along specific crystallographic
planes (Fig. 7-1-3a). This process of splitting is called cleavage.
Cleavage fracture surfaces are relatively flat and shiny, with
a faceted texture

(Fig. 7-1-3b & c),

as the reflected light changes

with the orientation of cleavage planes in different grains.

Brittle fracture can also occur along grain boundaries
(intergranularly), whose cohesive strength become lower
when the local chemistry is changed by the segregation of
Fig. 7.1-4 (a) Intergranular fracture decohesion (separation) along grain boundaries.
(b) Intergranular fracture surface revealing clearly outlined grains.

harmful impurities or brittle second phases (Fig. 7-1-4).



The yield strength, !y, of a brittle material is higher than its

fracture strength. When the local stress, !local, near the
crack tip reaches the fracture strength, the atomic bonds
will break

(Fig. 7.1-5).

The crack grows rapidly between a pair

of atomic planes, giving rise to an atomically flat surface by

cleavage. Cleavage crack propagation reaches the speed of
sound, which is why brittle materials fail with a bang.


Ductile Fracture

Ductile fracture is characterized by extensive plastic

deformation prior to failure, which absorbs considerable

(Fig. 7.1-6b).

Materials that fail by ductile fracture are

considered tough.
A tensile specimen that has failed by ductile fracture in the





appearance (Fig. 7.1-6a, Fig. 7.1-7a).

Fig. 7.1-5 Crack propagation by cleavage occurs once the local stress, !local, near the crack
tip reaches the theoretical fracture strength. Brittle fracture is sudden and catastrophic.


Fig. 7.1-6 (a) Typical cup-and-cone ductile fracture.

(b) Stress-strain behaviour of a ductile material. A ductile material exhibits
a large strain (a lot of plastic deformation) at fracture, and absorbs a large
amount of energy prior to fracture (large area under the curve).

Cleavage fracture occurs in brittle ceramics, but is also

common in BCC and some HCP metals at low temperatures

(Sec. 7.1-4).

True cleavage has not been observed in FCC

To the naked eye, the central region of the fracture surface

looks dull, with an irregular and fibrous appearance

metals, due to their low shear stresses required for slip,


numerous slip systems, and the ability to cross-slip.

fracture surface (Fig. 7.1-7b).


(Fig. 7.1-

At high magnifications, dimples may be seen on the


When !local is sufficiently high to match or exceed the yield

strength of the strain-hardened material at the crack tip,
crack propagation will continue via continual plastic
deformation ahead of the crack tip.

Fig. 7.1-7 (a) Typical cup-and-cone ductile fracture.

(b) Dimples characteristic of ductile fracture. In some dimples, inclusions can be seen.
However, inclusions sometimes fall out of the dimples or they might be obscured by the
surrounding matrix although they are still inside the dimples.

The yield strength, !y, of a ductile material is less than its

fracture strength. Plastic flow will take place in the region
of the material ahead of the crack tip where the local
stress, !local, is greater than the !y

(Fig. 7.1-8a).

The size of this

plastic zone depends on the magnitude of !y: as !y

decreases, the plastic zone increases.



Fig. 7.1-8 (a) Stress distribution ahead of the crack tip, showing a zone of plastic
deformation where the local stress is higher than the yield strength; (b) plastic
deformation blunts crack tip, lowering local stress, while strain hardening in the plastic
zone raises yield strength. Crack propagation will continue if the applied stress is high
enough such that the local stress is greater than the strain-hardened yield strength.

Well-annealed metals do not usually contain cracks, since

The plastic flow ahead of the crack tip has the effect of

diffusion during annealing would have caused existing

turning an initially sharp crack into a blunt crack, such that

cracks to close. However, most engineering alloys contain

the stress concentration at the crack tip decreases; i.e. !local

second phase particles (inclusions or precipitates), at which

is reduced. At the same time, the plastic flow also strain-

voids nucleate through decohesion of weak matrix-particle

hardens the material in the plastic zone

(Fig. 7.1-8b).

If the


(Fig. 7.1-9a),

or fracture of brittle particles

(Fig. 7.1-9b).

crack becomes blunt enough, !local could drop below the

Voids also nucleate when dislocations pile-up at particles

new higher yield strength at the crack tip, effectively

(Fig. 7.1-10)

arresting crack growth unless a higher stress is applied.

coalesce (join/combine) becoming a crack (Fig. 7.1-11).


or grain boundaries. Such voids grow and


Within the plastic zone ahead of the crack tip, void

nucleation, growth and coalescence also occur, and the
crack continues to grow to fracture by this mechanism.
The dimpled appearance of a ductile fracture surface


shows the remnants of the voids, which were

separated by thin walls of material until these ruptured via

shear (slip) during crack growth

(Fig. 7.1-11).

Sometimes, the

particles that nucleated the voids may remain within the

dimples (Fig. 7.1-7b).

Fig. 7.1-11 (a) Void growth and coalescence,

(b) void growth by slip, (c) void coalescence by
slip between voids, leaving dimples.

Fig. 7.1-9 Void nucleation at particles initiated by

(a) particle-matrix interface decohesion, (b) particle fracture.

Fig. 7.1-10 A pile-up of dislocations at an inclusion,

leading to the nucleation of a void/micro-crack.



The continual plastic deformation during ductile fracture

consumes a lot of energy. The larger the plastic zone
ahead of the crack tip, the more energy is absorbed, and
the tougher the material.

Brittle vs Ductile Fracture

In a material under stress, there is a competition between
the processes of plastic deformation and fracture. If the
stress required to initiate plastic deformation by the
shearing of atomic planes is less than the stress necessary
to permanently separate atoms, yielding occurs in
preference to fracture and vice versa.
Ductile fracture is generally preferred because crack
growth is relatively slow and steady, and the presence of







imminent, allowing preventive measures to be taken.

Brittle fracture, on the other hand, occurs suddenly and
catastrophically without any warning.
Ductile fracture is also more desirable because of the
greater amount of energy absorbed prior to fracture.




Effects of Temperature & Strain Rate:

Ductile-to-Brittle Transition

Many materials exhibit a transition from ductile to brittle

modes of fracture as the temperature is lowered.
Ductile fracture is accompanied by plastic deformation,
which involves dislocation motion. For materials in which
the critical shear stress is high (e.g. BCC metals
pg 6-6]),

[see Table 6.1-2,

thermal energy helps in overcoming the energy


In general, slip systems in BCC metals and some HCP

At low temperatures, thermal activation for dislocation

motion is reduced. The result is that the yield strength
increases as temperature decreases

Fig. 7.1-12 Engineering stress-strain behaviour of iron at different temperatures.

The strength and ductility of iron (BCC) show a strong temperature dependence.


such that the

metals become active only when there is sufficient thermal

energy for dislocation motion; such metals exhibit a
ductile-to-brittle transition (Fig. 7.1-13).

plastic zone at the crack tip shrinks until it becomes so

small that the fracture mechanism changes from void
coalescence to cleavage.
Such materials also show a dependence on the strain rate
(i.e. how fast deformation is made to occur, which
depends on the loading rate), because thermal activation is
less effective at a faster rate of deformation. A higher strain
rate would raise the yield strength but lower the
elongation at fracture.

Fig. 7.1-13 The effects of temperature on the fracture behaviour

of various materials in impact tests.



Impact Testing

The ductile-to-brittle transition behaviour of materials may

be ascertained through impact testing. Impact testing may
also be used to compare the relative toughness of
An impact test imposes a stringent set of conditions a
pre-existing notch (crack) and high loading rates (fast
strain rates) which tend to promote brittle fracture rather
than plastic flow.
The Charpy test is one of the most widely used impact

(Fig. 7.1-14).

A notched specimen is positioned at the

base of the machine. A heavy pendulum is released from a

known height, h, striking the specimen on its downward
swing, fracturing it. The pendulum continues its swing,
rising to a maximum height h, which is lower than h. The

Fig. 7.1-10 Schematic diagram of the Charpy impact tests.

energy absorbed by the fracture is measured by the

While impact tests are useful for qualitative assessment of

difference between h and h.

material toughness, the results obtained; namely, the

A ductile material will absorb greater impact energy than a

energy to fracture and the appearance of the fracture

brittle material. This ability of a material to withstand an

surfaces, are not useful in design problems. Designing for

impact blow is often referred to as impact toughness.

fracture requires the use of fracture toughness, a material

property derived from fracture mechanics.


If a component or structure is subjected to repeated stress
cycles, it may fail at stresses well below the ultimate tensile
strength, and often even below the yield strength of the
The processes leading to this type of failure are known as
Fig. 7.2-1 Fatigue crack
initiation at stress raisers.

fatigue, and it is estimated that fatigue accounts for

approximately 90% of all metallic failures.
Fatigue fracture resembles brittle fracture in that failure is
sudden and catastrophic, with very little visible plastic
deformation, even in normally ductile metals.


Fatigue Mechanisms

In fatigue, cracks grow slowly under stresses less than the

Fig. 7.2-2 Local plastic deformation under a cyclic stress can roughen a surface,
in such a way that the valleys concentrate stress and initiate fatigue cracks.

yield strength until the cracks become so large that the

remaining cross-sectional area can no longer support the
load, and sudden and catastrophic failure occurs.

bending or torsional stresses are highest). Fatigue cracks






(Fig. 7.2-3),

tensile stress produces a small

plastic zone at the crack tip, stretching open the crack tip

Fatigue failures generally start at the surface (where


Under a cyclic stress


deformation at stress raisers (Figs. 7.2-1 & 7.2-2), including rough

surfaces left by tools or grinding.

by an amount ", creating new surface #"/2 there

(Fig. 7.2-4).

As the tensile stress is removed or reduced, the crack closes

and the new surface folds forward, extending the crack by

#"/4. The process is repeated on the next tensile cycle, and

so the crack inches forward slowly and steadily.

Fig. 7.2-3 (a) Sinusoidal, and (b) random variable stress cycles.
Fig. 7.2-5 The stages of fatigue failure: after crack initiation, the crack grows slowly
and steadily until the remaining cross section can no longer support the load,
resulting in rapid and catastrophic failure.

Fatigue fracture surfaces typically exhibit beachmarks (socalled because they resemble ripples in the sand on a
beach), or clamshell markings



(Fig. 7.2-6),

which are visible to

the naked eye.

Fig. 7.2-4 (b) Tensile stress

causes plastic deformation
at the crack tip, creating
new surface of length #"/2,
which, (c) when folded
forwards as the tensile
stress is relaxed, grows the
fatigue crack by #"/4.


As the crack grows, the cross-sectional area that supports

the load is decreased and the stress in this section
increases, until the component fails catastrophically in the
next stress cycle due to overload (Fig. 7.2-5).

Fig. 7.2-6 Beachmarks or clamshell markings typical of fatigue fracture.



Microscopic examination of the beachmarks reveal similar

markings on a finer scale, called striations

(Fig. 7.2-7).


spacing between the striations is a measure of the slow

crack advance per stress/strain cycle.


Fatigue Testing

The resistance of a material to failure by fatigue may be

determined through a fatigue test, in which a specimen is
subjected to a stress cycling through simultaneous bending
and rotation (Fig. 7.2-8).

Fig. 7.2-8 Fatigue testing.

The stress, in general, varies sinusoidally with time, and is

characterized by a stress amplitude, !a or S, that
alternates about a mean stress, !m (Fig 7.2-9).
Fig. 7.2-7 Fatigue fracture striations (crack propagation is from left to right).

!a =

" max - " min


!m =

" max + " min


Although fatigue is associated with slip, it is of such a

localized nature that very little overall plastic deformation

is produced during the development of a crack. It is this

lack of visible distortion that makes fatigue cracks difficult
to detect in service prior to final catastrophic failure.

Fig. 7.2-9 A typical stress cycle.



From the fatigue test, the stress amplitude, S, measured for

some constant mean stress, !m, is plotted against the
number of cycles to failure, N.
For some alloys (e.g. steels and titanium alloys), the S-N
curve becomes horizontal below a certain level of S

(Fig. 7.2-

This is called the fatigue limit (or endurance limit).

Below this stress amplitude, fatigue failure would not occur

regardless of the number of cycles.
Fig. 7.2-11 Stress amplitude, S, versus the number of cycles to fatigue failure, N
for a material that does not display a fatigue limit.

Apart from the dependence on stress amplitude, fatigue

life is also affected the mean stress, !m, about which the
stress cycle alternates. Increasing the mean stress level has
the effect of lowering the S-N curve to lower S values, thus
leading to a shorter fatigue life (Fig. 7.2-12).
Fig. 7.2-10 Stress amplitude, S, versus the number of cycles to fatigue failure, N
for a material that displays a fatigue limit.

Many nonferrous alloys (e.g. Al, Cu, Mg) do no have a

well-defined fatigue limit. The S-N curve continues to slope
downward with increasing N values

(Fig. 7.2-11).

For such

materials, the fatigue strength is defined as the stress level

at which failure would occur for some specified number of
cycles (e.g. 107 cycles). Fatigue life is the number of cycles
to cause failure at a specified stress level.

Fig. 7.2-12 Effect of mean stress on S-N fatigue behaviour.



The endurance limit / fatigue strength may be correlated

with strength (Fig. 7.2-13), since a stronger material has higher
resistance to slip at the crack tip during each tensile cycle.

Fig. 7.2-14 Carburized steel gear teeth showing gradual increase in hardness
from core to surface due to increasing carbon content in the steel.

Fig. 7.2-13 Relationship between endurance limit / fatigue strength and strength.

Fatigue life may be improved by selecting a stronger

material, increasing surface hardness (e.g. carburizing in

[Fig. 7.2-14]),

reducing stress raisers through proper

design and improved surface finish, as well as inducing

compressive surface stresses through heat treatment or

Fig. 7.2-15 In shot peening, tiny steel, glass or ceramic balls shot at high speeds
onto metal surfaces creates plastic deformation and
induces compressive stresses on the surface.

mechanical operations (e.g. shot peening [Fig. 7.2-15]).




Non-Destructive Testing (NDT)

Since many alloys (e.g. Al, Cu, Mg) do not have endurance
limits, critical engineering components must be inspected
periodically for fatigue cracks, which must not be allowed
to grow to critical sizes for final fracture.
Several techniques are available to detect surface and
internal flaws during manufacture and in-service (Table 7.2-1).