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International Journal of Fatigue 71 (2015) 1116

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International Journal of Fatigue

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ijfatigue

Measuring overload effects during fatigue crack growth in bainitic steel

by synchrotron X-ray diffraction
P. Lopez-Crespo a,, A. Steuwer b,c, T. Buslaps d, Y.H. Tai e, A. Lopez-Moreno f, J.R. Yates g, P.J. Withers h

Department of Civil and Materials Engineering, University of Malaga, C/Dr Ortiz Ramos, s/n, 29071 Malaga, Spain
MAX IV Laboratory, Lund University, Box 118, SE-221 00 Lund, Sweden
NMMU, Gardham Avenue, 6031 Port Elizabeth, South Africa
ESRF, 6 rue J Horowitz, 38000 Grenoble, France
Rolls-Royce plc, PO Box 31, Derby DE24 8BJ, UK
Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy Engineering, University of Jaen, Campus Las Lagunillas, 23071 Jaen, Spain
Simuline Ltd., Derbyshire S18 1QD, UK
School of Materials, University of Manchester, Grosvenor St., Manchester M13 PL, UK

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 28 October 2013
Received in revised form 9 March 2014
Accepted 17 March 2014
Available online 26 March 2014
Overload effect
Fatigue crack closure
Residual stress
X-Ray diffraction

a b s t r a c t
In this work we present the results of in situ synchrotron X-ray diffraction measurements of fatigue
crack-tip strain elds following a 100% overload (OL) under plane strain conditions. The study is made
on a bainitic steel with a high toughness and ne microstructure. This allowed a very high (60 lm) spatial
resolution to be achieved so that ne-scale changes occurring around the crack-tip were captured along
the crack plane at the mid-thickness of the specimen. We have followed the crack as it grew through the
plastic/residually stressed zone associated with the OL crack location. We observed two effects; one when
the enhanced plastic zone is ahead of the crack and one after it has been passed. Regarding the former it
was found that the compressive stress at the crack-tip initially falls sharply, presumably due to the
increased plastic stretch caused by the OL. This is associated with a concomitant fall in peak tensile stress
at Kmax, the elastic excursion between Kmin and Kmax remaining essentially unchanged from before OL.
Subsequently discontinuous closure as seen previously for plane stress caused by crack face contact at
the OL location limits the elastic strain range experienced by the crack tip and thereby retards crack
2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
The concept of crack closure has been used to explain many
crack retardation effects in the fatigue of materials. Closure encompasses effects that cause the crack faces to close early during
unloading so that the crack-tip does not experience the full
crack-opening fatigue cycle. Plasticity induced crack closure is
one of the most important mechanisms of crack closure, but is still
a hotly debated subject with some researchers suggesting it does
not occur at all [1], while others believe that it can only occur under plane stress [2]. To date, experimental measurements of crack
closure for plane strain samples have been inconclusive relying on
either (i) measuring some secondary property of the cracked body
such as compliance or electrical resistance or (ii) measurement of
crack-opening displacements on the surface of the cracked body.
Corresponding author.
E-mail address: plopezcrespo@uma.es (P. Lopez-Crespo).
0142-1123/ 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Third generation synchrotron X-ray facilities allow experimental

measurement of the strain eld within the interior of the specimen. Recently it has been shown that it is possible to map in 2D
the strain elds around the crack-tip, both with neutron diffraction
[3] and synchrotron X-ray diffraction [46].
Croft et al. [6,7] have studied the crack-tip stress elds during
and after an overload event in 4 mm thick (approximately plane
stress) steel samples. In some well-designed experiments they
found evidence of discontinuous crack closure in the locality of
the overload event at distances as large as 1.5 mm behind the crack
tip. This work has also been corroborated by synchrotron strain
mapping in 5 mm Ti6Al4V samples [8].
Under plane strain conditions the evidence obtained to date for
crack closure is not so clear. The highest spatial resolution cracktip strain measurements (25 lm) have been made on a very ne
grained AlLi alloy, but the low fracture toughness meant that under plane strain conditions the plastic zone was very small [9].
Nevertheless it was possible to extract accurate measures of the


P. Lopez-Crespo et al. / International Journal of Fatigue 71 (2015) 1116

crack-tip stress intensity factor at minimum, maximum and overload stresses, Kmin, Kmax and KOL. More recent experiments have allowed the measurement of crack-tip strains under plane stress
conditions with characteristically larger plastic zones [10,11].
Overload events have been studied at the surface via digital image
correlation [11] and microscopy [7,12] and in the interior, via synchrotron X-ray diffraction [13]. However, the large grain sizes involved in previous studies (50 lm) did not allow sufciently
high resolution strain mapping to resolve the changes occurring
immediately local to the crack-tip. The current work aims to examine the effect of overload during fatigue crack growth in a bainitic
steel. The attractions of using such a steel are rstly the high fracture toughness which allows high levels of applied DK during fatigue and hence a large plastic-zone, and secondly the very ne grain
size, which allows excellent resolution when mapping the strain
elds around the crack-tip. In the work that we report here, it
has been possible to track the crack-tip strain eld in a single sample at various stages of crack growth past the overload event.

Fig. 1. Optical micrograph of the bainitic steel used in the current work. The
micrograph was obtained at 1000X magnication.

2. Experimental procedure
2.1. Material and specimen
A compact tension (CT) fatigue specimen was machined from
quenched and tempered steel similar to Q1N (HY80) [14]. Its
chemical composition is summarised in Table 1. The tensile properties are as follows: Yield Stress = 570 MPa and Ultimate Tensile
Stress = 663 MPa. The CT specimen had a width of 62.5 mm and
thickness (B) of 12 mm.
The steel has a typical bainitic microstructure, shown in Fig. 1,
with an approximate grain size of 5 lm.
2.2. X-ray diffraction experimental setup
The crack-tip elastic strain elds were measured on beam line
ID15A at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in
Grenoble, using the same arrangement as that described in [5] as
shown schematically in Fig. 2. The scattering angle was 2h = 5.
The strains were derived by analysing the shifts in the (2 1 1) diffraction peak. The incident beam slits were opened to
60  60 lm giving a lateral resolution (x,y) of 60 lm and a nominal
gauge length through-thickness (z) of around 1.4 mm. This allowed
a 10 times greater resolution than in previous plastic zone mapping experiments under plane strain conditions [11]. Such a good
resolution was possible because of the very ne microstructure
of the bainitic steel used here (see Fig. 1), meaning that even at
such small gauge volumes, sufcient number of grains in the gauge
volume contribute to the diffracted signals to allow powder analysis of the diffraction patterns [16].
There are a number of methods for identifying the stress free
lattice parameter, as discussed by Withers et al. [17]. The initial
selection of a stress free lattice parameter far from the crack tip
gave a residual strain of 400  106 across the crack faces at Kmax.
This may be the result of Poissons ratio effects or plastic anisotropy [18]. Instead a stress-free lattice parameter was chosen so
as to give zero strain across the (open) crack faces at Kmax for the
baseline fatigue case (OL  1). It is noteworthy that previous studies have seen similar slightly negative (compressive) strains in the
crack wake [5,6].

Table 1
Chemical composition in weight % of Q1N steel. The balance is Fe.

















Fig. 2. Schematic of the diffraction geometry showing a CT specimen with the crack
plane horizontal, and the two detectors measuring two directions of strain; note the
coordinate system for exx and eyy adopted after [5]. Given that h = 2.5, these strains
can be taken as representative of those in the loading (y) and crack growth (x)

Great care was taken throughout the experiment to ensure that

any sample movement during loading to Kmax or unloading to Kmin
was taken account of. Since the crack-tip lies deep within the bulk
it is not possible to unambiguously determine the crack-tip location. For an ideal crack tip stress eld it would be a simple matter
to determine the crack position simply from the location of the singularity. However in reality the crack-tip is not so sharp, in part because of plasticity, in part because the gauge volume is 60 lm wide
and in part because the crack will not be perfectly straight or parallel to the z direction noting that the gauge is 1.4 mm long
through thickness. This was studied by cooling the sample to liquid
nitrogen temperature and cracking it open once the XRD experiment was nished. Beach markings indicated that at least for the
OL condition the crack front was essentially straight with around
1 mm difference in length from side to side.
For plane stress the plastic zone, rp, would be expected to be
approximately (DKI/rYS)2/2p = 380 lm or around approximately
(DKI/rYS)2/6p = 120 lm for plane strain (although considerably
smaller along the line of the crack) which is close to the gauge
dimension. From a gauge volume smoothing view point one could
take the crack-tip to be located at the mid-height of the rising


P. Lopez-Crespo et al. / International Journal of Fatigue 71 (2015) 1116

elastic strain curve. Here we have taken the crack-tip to lie near the
top of the elastic strain response which is possibly around rp in
advance of the actual crack-tip position.




Elastic strain (10 )


3. Results and discussion

Historically, it has been the practice to correlate long fatigue
crack propagation with a single fracture mechanics parameter
based on the applied range of stress intensity factor. As an engineering approximation for constant amplitude loading this has
served engineers well for more than half a century. In the presence
of overloads, and cycles of varying amplitude, the correlations
breakdown as process of crack growth is more complex than simply described by the range of the elastic crack tip displacements.
The elegant work by Liu and others [20,21] clearly show the
non-linear relationship between external load and crack tip
The traditional approach to modifying the stress intensity factor
crack in the presence of closure is to dene the level at which the
crack faces touch, represented by Kcl, and contrive an effective
range of DK. This is often identied by a knee in the crack compliance during unloading from Kmax, as recorded by a back-face strain
gauge [22] or by DIC [23]. A recent, and more promising, approach
has been proposed by James and co-workers [24] in which they use
four parameters to capture the different inuences on the crack tip
stress eld. The important feature of this work is the separation of
a retardation parameter, governed by the plastic enclave, from the
conventional elastic opening terms of the eld.
To investigate the manner in which the crack-tip strain eld
varies with unloading a series of measurements were made during
an unloading cycle (Kmax, 0.7Kmax, 0.2Kmax, Kmin) and the results are
shown in Fig. 3a. Furthermore the changes in elastic strain through
the loading cycle are shown in Fig. 3b with reference to the strains
at Kmin and compared directly with those expected for linear elastic
fracture mechanics:

eyy x p

1  2t1 t

where t is Poissons ratio, E is Youngs modulus and x is the distance

along the crack line as shown in Fig. 2. From Fig. 3b it is clear that
the strains increase in accordance with linear elastic fracture
mechanics from Kmin except in the immediate vicinity of the crack
tip where the linear elastic curve becomes singular while yielding
limits the elastic strains achieved in practice. The maximum elastic
strain is consistent with a multi-axial stress around (1650 MPa,
1650 MPa, 990 MPa) suggesting multiaxial yielding at around

0.7K max
0.2K max




Distance from Crack-tip (mm)


The specimen was fatigue pre-cracked for 43,000 cycles at a frep

quency of 10 Hz and stress intensity range DK = 28 MPa m and
load ratio Kmin/Kmax = 0.05. Plane strain conditions were met at
the mid-plane through the thickness for all loads applied during
the experiment [19]. The crack length was measured perpendicularly to the loading direction from the centre of the loading holes
[15]. Once the fatigue crack had grown to a length of 12.75 mm,
a 100% overload (OL) was applied. Strain measurements were
made on a number of occasions, namely, during the cycle immediately before the overload (OL  1); during the overload (OL); 20 cycles after the overload (OL + 20); 1000 cycles after the overload
(OL + 1000); 11,000 cycles after the overload (OL + 11,000); and
21,000 cycles after the overload (OL + 21,000). By measuring
around 50 strain points along the crack plane (y = 0), a prole of
the strain evolution behind and ahead of the crack-tip was produced for each of the stages of fatigue crack growth.

Realative elastic strain (10 )

2.3. Fatigue experiment




0.7K max
0.2K max


Distance from Crack-tip (mm)

Fig. 3. (a) The variation in the crack opening elastic strain measured mid-thickness
(z = 0) along the crack plane (y = 0) as the sample was unloaded from Kmax to Kmin at
OL 1 (1 cycle prior to overload), and (b) the change in elastic strain relative to Kmin
compared to the ideal elastic crack-tip response (dashed lines). Note that the cracktip location (x = 0) was taken to be the point of maximum tensile strain and so could
be rp (60120 lm) ahead of the actual crack tip position.

660 MPa (under the Tresca yield criterion) which is close to the
UTS for uniaxial loading. The plastic zone radius appears to be
around 100 lm along the x direction, in accordance with
From these measurements it is clear that compressive stresses
have started to develop by the time the load has fallen to 0.2Kmax.
Although this compressive trough is normally depicted in terms of
stresses [25,26], it is common to represent it in terms of strain
when experiments are performed with XRD [11,27]. Indeed the
compressive zone appears to increase only marginally both in
terms of depth and extent with further unloading to Kmin although
the peak tensile strain ahead of the crack at the edge of the plastic
zone continues to fall to a value of around 400  106 at Kmin located approximately 250 lm ahead of the crack tip. Very similar
behaviour has been observed in the region of the crack tip by Croft
et al. [7]. While it is difcult to ensure completely faithful registry
between scans at Kmax and Kmin, in both their work and our work
the compressive zone appears to span the crack-tip in our case
spanning a distance of around -360 lm. Of course stress equilibrium requires stress balance across the xz plane at zero load. At
Kmin the essentially residual stresses along the centreline (z = 0,
y = 0) do not appear to balance; the tensile residual stresses ahead
of the crack being larger than the compressive stresses in the vicinity of the crack. That might suggest that crack is being held open
somewhat at the mid-plane (z = 0) by the material towards the surfaces of the CT specimen.
Fig. 4 shows the evolution in the strain eld in the crack opening direction along the crack plane (y = 0) at mid-thickness (z = 0)
both at maximum and minimum loading as the sample undergoes
the overload event (at x = 0) and then as the crack grows past it.
The peak tensile strain at overload is around 4750  106 which


P. Lopez-Crespo et al. / International Journal of Fatigue 71 (2015) 1116

Fig. 4. Evolution of the strain in the crack opening direction eyy, at mid-thickness (z = 0) along the crack plane (y = 0) for all fatigue stages analysed. Kmax data is represented by
the solid lines and Kmin data by the broken lines.

represents a triaxial stress of around (1780 MPa, 1780 MPa,

1070 MPa) which is equivalent to mutli-axial yield at a level
around 710 MPa. It is clear that very little crack growth has taken
place after 20 and 1000 cycles, since in each case the tensile cracktip stress eld is located at approximately the same location as for
the OL curve. After 10,000 additional cycles the crack has progressed around 300 lm while after an additional 20,000 cycles
the crack has progressed 1070 lm beyond the overload event. It
should be noted that during the loading cycles the CT sample
moves slightly in response to the applied load, however we have
tried to correct for movement in both the crack growth direction
(x) and perpendicular to it (y). Given the overload the broad and
shallow residual compressive residual stress at the crack at Kmin
at OL is surprising and may be because the scan line just misses
the actual crack tip location. For cycles (OL + 20 and OL + 1000) it
is clear that at Kmin there is an extensive compressive trough at
the crack location arising from the OL. This has the effect of
depressing the tensile peak at Kmax compared to that just before
the overload (OL  1). With the crack having moved away from
the OL location there is clear evidence of a compressive stress
(compression across the crack faces) at the OL location (x = 0) for
OL + 11,000 at Kmin and limited evidence of crack face compression
at OL + 21,000 as observed by Croft et al. for plane stress [7]. The
low level tensile strains (<150  106) evident at the location of
the overload event at Kmax for OL + 11,000 and OL + 21,000 are
most probably slight shifts associated with intergranular strains
(plastic anisotropy) accumulated for the (2 1 1) peak due to the
large plastic strain associated with the overload event rather than
evidence of a tensile macrostress, although it could equally be a
Poisson effect arising in plane stresses (rxx) at the OL location.
Closer comparison of the shapes and magnitudes of the strains
local to the crack-tip can be obtained by examination of Fig. 5(a)

and (b). These show the strain evolution for the maximum and
minimum loads respectively shifted so that the crack tips of each
are approximately coincident with each other. The immediate drop
in the peak tensile strain at Kmax immediately after overload is evident, as well as its gradual recovery as the crack advances past the
overload location. This is in agreement with our previous paper on
austenitic steel [11]. There it was suggested that this is due to the
compressive residual stress in the near crack tip zone after overload through which the crack must grow. That this is due to a
downward (compressive) shifting of the stresses in the crack tip
location for both Kmin and Kmax is evident from Fig. 6. This shows
that despite the changes in the maximum stress the elastic strain
changes occurring each cycle are almost identical for OL  1,
OL + 20 and OL + 1000. Furthermore by comparing them with the
ideal elastic curves (dashed lines) it is clear that except for a region
100 lm from the crack tip the stress changes for OL  1, OL + 20
and OL + 1000 are elastic in accordance with the ideal response.
The difference between the fully elastic curve and the observed response for OL in Fig. 6 conrms that considerable plastic deformation has been induced in the crack-tip region (within 200 lm or so
of the crack-tip) by the overload event.
Fig. 5(b) shows the strain elds at Kmin, each curve being registered to the instantaneous position of the crack tip. It is noteworthy that for all the crack locations the tensile peak ahead of the
crack at Kmin attains approximately the same level (500  106)
being located around 400500 lm ahead of the crack (Fig. 5b).
Here, crack face closure forces would be evident as compressive
strains behind of the crack-tip. Conversely compressive residual
stresses arising from the plastic zone would lie ahead of the current crack-tip position. In practice it is very hard to ensure that
the crack location is accurately recorded because during the
loading and unloading experiment the crack moves relative to


P. Lopez-Crespo et al. / International Journal of Fatigue 71 (2015) 1116


Relative elastic strain (10 )

Max excursion


Max tensile
Max compression











Distance from the OL (mm)

Fig. 7. Maximum strain excursion (i.e. maximum strain difference between Kmax
and Kmin curves in Fig. 4), maximum tensile strain and maximum compressive
strain as a function of crack growth from the OL location. The second data point for
each curve represents the OL.

Fig. 5. Strain evolution mid-thickness along the crack plane at (a) Kmax and (b) Kmin
for all the stages of fatigue crack growth analysed. The coordinate along the crack
plane (horizontal axis) has been shifted so that the crack-tip positions coincide for
all cases.

Fig. 6. Plots showing the change in elastic strain between Kmax and Kmin as a
function of number of cycles, i.e. KmaxKmin curve. The dashed lines show the ideally
elastic curves.

the synchrotron beam both vertically (y) and horizontally (x).

While great care was taken to ensure that the linescans were accurately aligned with the crack tip, it is possible these differences in
the location and extent of the compressive zone are due to slight
differences in the locations of the linescans and 2D strain maps
are currently being acquired [11] to check this. Besides the changes
in the immediate vicinity of the crack tip, the compressive contact
stresses in the region of the crack tip at overload at Kmin are clearly
evident in Fig. 6 as positive peaks in the KmaxKmin curves for
OL + 11,000 and OL + 21,000. These compressive stresses appear
to hold open the crack reducing the extent of the excursion in

elastic strain at the crack tip by 30% for OL + 11,000 and to a lesser
extent (25%) for OL + 21,000. Of course it is possible that compressive stresses also arise behind the crack after 20 and 1000 cycles
but as is clear from Fig. 5b they are much less extensive.
The effect of the overload is studied in Fig. 7 in terms of the variation in the maximum strain excursion (i.e. the maximum strain
difference between Kmax and Kmin curves in Fig. 4), the maximum
tensile strain and the maximum compressive strain as a function
of crack growth past the OL crack tip location. It is clear that the
OL modies the strain curve for each fatigue stage. Both maximum
compression and maximum tensile strain show a similar trend.
Similar trends were found in 4140 steel specimens also subjected
to 100% OL [12]. However further experiments are required to correlate them with crack growth rates. Before the OL the compressive
zone peaks at 300  106 and deepens to 1500  106 twenty
cycles after overload. It then falls back to the baseline fatigue value
(300  106) by the time the crack has grown 1 mm beyond
the overload event (OL + 21,000). One of the most accepted theories is that the effect of the OL extends for a length equal to the size
of the plastic zone [11,28,29], however the compressive zone here
(closure plus plastic zone) is considerably smaller along x, being
around 600 lm.
It is also worth noticing the striking resemblance between Fig. 7
and crack growth curves (see for example Fig. 1 in [7]), suggestive
of a relation between maximum compressive strain at Kmin or maximum tensile strain at Kmax and crack growth data while the crack
grows through the OL plastically affected zone. The increase in the
compressive strain at Kmin after OL is probably because of the increase in plastic (stretch) deformation in the increased plastic zone
ahead of the crack rather than crack closure. The OL also increases
the crack opening thus promoting a decrease in crack face closure
behind the crack-tip as the faces come together on unloading.
Whilst the four parameter stress eld model of James et al. [24]
has yet to be applied to synchrotron data, it is clear from our work
that there would be value in doing so. The dramatic changes observed in the strain eld data after the OL event will provide valuable insight into the role of the changing retardation and shear
stress parameters on fatigue crack propagation.

4. Conclusions
Using very high spatial resolutions (60 lm in x,y) we have been
able to explore the elastic strains in the crack opening direction e
(x,y = 0), in the vicinity of a fatigue crack before and after an overload event. We have followed the crack until it is 1 mm beyond the
overload location. Unlike most of the work to date, the crack-tip


P. Lopez-Crespo et al. / International Journal of Fatigue 71 (2015) 1116

was under plane strain and all the cycles have been applied to a
single specimen causing the crack to grow 1 mm past the location
of the crack tip at the OL location.
We have observed two effects; one when the enhanced plastic
zone caused by the OL event is ahead of the crack and one when
it is behind. It is clear that the peak tensile strain at Kmax and the
peak compressive strain at Kmin become signicantly more compressive a few cycles after OL. This immediate drop is probably because of the plastic stretch introduced by the OL event ahead of the
crack. Whilst deepening the compressive stress ahead of the crack
tip at Kmin and reducing the tensile peak at Kmax it does not significantly affect the elastic excursion. Once the crack tip has grown
signicantly past the OL crack location (and the associated
stretched region, i.e. after 11,000 and 21,000 additional cycles)
there is evidence for discontinuous closure in agreement with previous work [6,8] for plane stress which does appear to reduce the
elastic excursion experienced by the crack tip (Fig. 5).
By superimposing the crack tip strain elds for the crack tip at
different stages of growth there is a suggestion that for baseline fatigue there is both a compressive stress just ahead of the crack due
to plasticity and behind the crack due to crack face closure in the
crack-tip region. There is evidence that the latter becomes less
marked after OL in agreement with surface digital image correlation measurements that indicate no closure in this regime [29]. It
is also possible that the regions towards the surfaces of the crack
(i.e. the plane stress regions) show more extensive closure which
acts to hold open the crack and there is some evidence of this in
that the tensile region ahead of the crack at the centreline does
not appear to be balanced by the compressive zone in the region
of the crack. Further work is needed to examine this possibility.
Of course it is extremely difcult to scan a 60 lm beam along
the crack plane due to movement of the sample during loading
and unloading. Experiments are now being undertaken to measure
full 2D maps of the crack tip stress eld to provide more denitive
We acknowledge ESRF for the use of facilities (beam time allocation reference number MA-1483) and the EPSRC for funding
through grant EP/F028431/1. PLC would like to acknowledge nancial support of Junta de Andaluca through Proyectos de Excelencia
grant reference TEP-3244.
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