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Engineering Fracture Mechanics Vol. 50, No. 2, pp.

157 164, 1995

Copyright ~ 1995 Elsevier Science Ltd
Pergamon 0013-7944(94)00188-X Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved
0013-7944/95 $9.50 + 0.00


K, B. B R O B E R G
Department of Mathematical Physics. University College Dublin, Belfield. Dublin 4. Ireland

Abstract Virtually all methods in fracture mechanics seem to be dependent on the existence of an
autonomous region near the crack edge, a region in which the processes are dependent on the material
rather than on the body and loading geometry. This, usually tacit, assumption is questionable for very
large scale yielding. In addition, the most c o m m o n tool to describe the state of the autonomous region,
the J-integral, may lose its path-independence at very large scale yielding, and the assumption of the
existence of J- R-curves, that are independent of the scale of yielding, is far from obvious. These
circumstances, together with the fact that the J R-curve method is intended for monotone loading,
whereas most structures are subjected to more than one load application during their life-time, calls for
more reliable and adequate methods within the realm of non-linear fracture mechanics. One method with
such aspirations, the J N-method, previously suggested by the author is briefly discussed.

1. I N T R O D U C T I O N
CURRENT methods in fracture mechanics rest on one basic assumption, explicitly pronounced or
not, namely the concept of autonomy [1] in a region near the crack edge, including, at least, the
process region. This concept implies that, in each given class of situations--the autonomy class,
the mechanical processes near the crack edge are always the same, independent of body and loading
geometry. Each autonomy class contains (1) a given material and temperature, (2) a given mode
near the crack edge (mode I, II, III or a certain mixture), (3) certain restrictions on the body
geometry, such as a smallest permissible ratio between the length of the shortest ligament from the
crack edge to the outer boundary and the crack length, or a smallest permissible plate thickness,
(4) either rather small, usually compressive, T-stress, as in most engineering applications [2, 3], or
a large tensile T-stress, as in wedging and (5) an upper limit of the scale of yielding. The T-stress
is the non-zero principal stress near the crack edge on the (traction free) crack faces.
The simplest autonomy class concerns small scale yielding (SSY): then there is no need for
making restrictions on the T-stress. This class is, of course, the class of linear elastic fracture
mechanics (LEFM), usually specified by the ASTM criterion.
When autonomy prevails, the state of the process region can be uniquely described by means
of one parameter, only. In many cases the J-integral can be chosen for this purpose. It is reasonably
path-independent even inside the plastic region at the crack edge, provided that the path is not
drawn very near the process region and that no crack growth has taken place. Onset of (stable)
crack growth occurs when the J-integral reaches a critical value [4]. This is the so-called J-integral
The J-integral criterion is actually not very useful for practical purposes, since it describes only
when stable crack growth starts, and not when fracture (unstable crack growth) occurs. Unlike
stable crack growth, which is governed by a local criterion, unstable crack growth is a question
of global instability. An early attempt to relate local and global phenomena, in order to determine
when unstable crack growth occurs, was made by Krafft et al. (1961)[5], who introduced
"R-curves'" (crack resistance curves). Such curves were later adapted to the J-integral: so called
J R-curves. It has been tacitly assumed that these curves are independent of the scale of yielding.
J R - c u r v e s have been widely used, but often without proper attention to the autonomy class.
They are generally obtained from tests with CT specimens, which are characterized by high
T-stresses, seldom encountered in engineering, but rather representative of wedging [2, 3]. Such
J R-curves should, consequently, not be used for the autonomy class of small T-stresses.
The J - R - c u r v e method is designed for monotone loading, but very often it is used for
tlm~+~ ~ 157

engineering structures, subjected to static loading without much regard to the number of load
applications expected. Thus static loading and monotone loading are often confused. Does this
really matter, as long as the total number of load applications is fairly low, say less than a few
hundred or thousand? The answer seems to be that it does not matter very much within the realm
of LEFM, but at large scale yielding (LSY) it really does, in some cases even if there are less than
100 load applications [2, 3]. Methods developed for low-cycle fatigue should therefore be used.
Actually, due to the rare occurrence of only one load application during the whole life-time of a
structure, methods developed for monotone loading are of very limited use (except at LEFM).


In L E F M the stress intensity factor, defined as an amplitude factor for the inverse square root
term in a series expansion of the stresses in the elastic region, controls the state of the autonomous
region with high accuracy, even if this term is nowhere dominating over other singular or regular
terms with a similar high accuracy. The state of the autonomous region at LSY cannot in general
be described in a similar way, i.e. by a certain term in a series expansion of the stresses or strains
in the plastic (or elastic) region, in the idealized case of a point-sized process region. One should
observe that consideration of a process region implies involvement of singular terms that are
forbidden for energy reasons in the idealized case of a point sized process region. For a certain
autonomy class the state of the process region can be regarded as controlled by a certain mix of
terms in a series expansion rather than by one dominant term, but this mix cannot be easily found.
The J-integral, therefore, which offers a fairly simple way to describe the state of the process region
without direct connection with mathematical singularities in idealized cases, seems to be a suitable
choice. However, it can be used only as long as it is reasonably path-independent outside the largest
(common) region of autonomy for the autonomy class considered. This requirement prevents the
use of J-integral methods in many cases when net section plastic flow is approached or exceeded.
Although the J-integral criterion is widely used, its experimental confirmation is still very
uncertain, at least under plane strain conditions. An early attempt by Begley and Landes[6]
received much attention in the U.S.A., but was obviously incorrect, since the authors did not
determine the onset of crack growth, but assumed, erroneously, that it occurred at maximum load.
(The excellent agreement with theory, reported by Begley and Landes, was therefore puzzling, but
turned out to depend on errors in the analysis of the experimental data.) For predominantly plane
stress conditions (thin plates) Hickerson [7] obtained experimental verification of the J-integral
criterion for considerably longer cracks and shorter unbroken ligaments than prescribed by ASTM
conventions for LEFM. However, although there is no difficulty to verify the J-integral criterion
experimentally under plane strain conditions, as long as SSY prevails up to the onset of crack
growth, there are certain difficulties at LSY with conventional test pieces, since these usually have
to be chosen so small that non-uniform deformation near the crack edge makes interpretations
uncertain: note that the J-integral is defined only for plane strain or plane stress. On the other hand,
a systematic experimental investigation of the J-integral criterion at LSY may not be very urgent.
As it appears, onset of stable crack growth, in cases of engineering interest, generally occurs at SSY,
whereas LSY may appear during the subsequent stable crack growth. The ASTM criterion implies,
for many geometries, that LEFM is valid up to about one third of the load that produces net section
yield. If stable crack growth starts at this load, then net section yield might be reached before
fracture or be closely approached before the occurrence of fracture.
From a theoretical point of view it is evident that when net section yield is approached, one
cannot rely upon autonomy near a crack edge. Due to the hyperbolic character of the equations
governing the strain field in the plastic region, the strains near the process region would be
influenced by the strains in the outer part of the plastic region, and these strains, obviously, may
be as much or more dependent on the body geometry as a whole as on the existence of the crack.
Even if the J-integral was still path-independent, the J-integral criterion would not make sense
when net section yield was approached.
Even at large scale yielding well below net section plastic flow, care must be taken that the
J-integral criterion is not actually used outside the autonomy class assumed. Such a class might
be restricted to a rather narrow T-stress region. Results from some recent studies on stress-strain
Methods in nonlinear fracture mechanics 159

fields near the crack edges [8-12], albeit performed without consideration of the existence of a
process region, have emphasized the importance of the T-stress when defining an autonomy class.


The J R-curve shows a relation between the J-integral for a sufficiently remote path, and the
amount of stable crack growth, (a - a0). This relation is believed to be independent of the scale
of yielding, but there does not seem to be any proper justification for this belief. Actually, there
might be reason for disbelief. Stable crack growth is explained by the fact that the required energy
flow to the process region cannot be sustained, unless the load is increased, because of the gradual
increase of the screening action of the plastic region on the energy flow to the process
region [13, 14]. Then it seems to be logical to assume that this increase would be more pronounced
at LSY than at SSY, which would imply a steeper rise of the curve showing J as a function of
(a - a0).
A closer investigation shows that a dependence of the J vs (a - a0) relation on the scale of
yielding actually exists, and that it is related to a material property, which can be described as the
embedment of the process region in the plastic region at SSY. At deep embedment the J vs (a - a0)
relation appears to be strongly dependent on the scale of yielding, which unfortunately implies that
the J - R - c u r v e method is not reliable for prediction of fracture at LSY.
A simple description of a process region, adequate for the present purpose, can be made by
means of a decohesion curve; see Fig. 1. The maximum of the curve is the cohesive strength, i.e.
the stress a o required for incipient decohesion. The height increase of the process region is then
v0. Complete decohesion occurs when the height increase is v , . The ratios a o / a r , where crr is the
yield stress, and 2 = v,/vo are two of three important parameters of the process region: the third
is its height, h.
The process region height is generally dependent on the distance between dominant kernels
of micro-separations, for instance particles at which voids are opened: it should be somewhat larger
than the average distance between these kernels. With a cell model of the material, each cell
containing one dominant kernel of potential micro-separation, the process region shape could look
as schematically shown in two dimensions in Fig. 2. It is confined to a somewhat wrinkled layer
of cells with only one cell thickness in height, but possibly many cell thicknesses in length. The
stresses near the upper and lower boundaries of the process region are highest, approximately equal
to a o, at the cell furthest from the crack edge, and lowest at the cell closest to the edge. Figure 3
shows the stress vs height increase state at the upper boundary of a process region cell, marked
A in Fig. 2 and at the lower boundary of a neighbouring cell, marked B in Fig. 2. The length, L,
of the process region in the forwards direction, can be related to the height, h, and to the forwards


LtJ ~D

V0 V8

Fig. 1. Relation between cohesive/decohesivestress and height increase of the process region. Decohesion
occurs after the curve maximum has been reached.

Fig. 2. The process region is confined to one layer of material cells.

extension, Rp, o f the plastic region at SSY. The latter relation describes the e m b e d m e n t of the
process region in the plastic region.

Process region length in relation to its height

It is found that L/h depends on ao/ar, 2, and the strain hardening. Using results by Andersson
and Bergkvist [15] and after some adjustments for realistic decohesion curve shapes, one finds that
- ~ 0.52, (1)
for a process region in an elastic surrounding. This relation seems to underestimate L/h by a factor
of 2-3 for a growing crack in an elastic-plastic surrounding, according to a c o m p a r i s o n with results
by T v e r g a a r d and Hutchinson [16]. However, if decohesion takes place at very low stress, a process
region develops before plastic flow takes place, i.e. it develops in an elastic surrounding. Sj6berg
and Stfihle [17] determined the upper limit for this occurrence to be ao/ar -~ 1.6995. On the other
hand, if the stress required for decohesion is very high, no process region is formed, but increased
blunting occurs. The lower limit for this occurrence depends on the strain hardening. F o r a perfectly
plastic material it is ao/ar = (2 + n ) x f 3 ~ 2.968 [18], and for strain hardening values typical for
m o d e r n steels it is a b o u t 3-4, cf. [16]. Between the two limits, L/h is roughly constant, i.e. a r o u n d
10 for the material data used by T v e r g a a r d and Hutchinson [16]; except when the upper limit is
approached, when it first decreases to its m i n i m u m length, unity (one cell length), and then
disappears. Figure 4 shows schematically the dependence of L/h on ~ro/~rr.

Process region size in relation to the plastic region

The forward extension of the plastic region, including the process region, at SSY and plane
strain, can be taken as

Rp = 0.05 K~
a~' (2)

0 0


Fig. 3. Cells belonging to the process region are unloaded, but increase in height, whereas cells above and
below the process region are unloaded and decrease in height. Stress and height increase are shown for
one process region cell, marked A in Fig. 2 and for a neighbouring cell, marked B in Fig. 2.
Methods in nonlinear fracture mechanics 161


Fig. 4. If the cohesive strength is very low, no plastic region appears, but a process region in an elastic
surrounding. If it is very high, no process region develops, but increasing blunting takes place. In an
intermediate region the process region may be many times longer than its height.

even t h o u g h this expression depends somewhat on strain hardening and process region character.
It might be convenient to introduce an embedment parameter, B = Rp/L. According to the previous
discussion B--* 1 as ao/tzr~ 1.7, and it can be assumed that B ~ i when tzD/ay.~ 1.7-2. A rough
estimate o f B when az~/ay is so high that the process region consists o f only one cell in the forwards
direction (L = h) can be made by assuming that L/Rp ~ Ey/~ . . . . where ~r ~ 3tz r/E (E is the modulus
o f elasticity) is the strain at the forwards b o u n d a r y o f the plastic region and Emax is the strain at
the forwards b o u n d a r y o f the process region. Assuming Ema, to be o f the order o f 10% implies that
B ,~ E/3Oar, so that B m a y be a b o u t 5-10 for a range o f materials used in engineering structures
and possessing a high cohesive strength.
The estimates given were based on the assumption that steady state growth is approached, i.e.
when unstable crack growth is about to occur at SSY. However, the length o f the process region
seems to be rather constant during the phase o f stable crack growth, except at the early stages,
when it increases rapidly [19].

Implications of different degrees of embedment of the process region

There are three important implications o f different degrees o f embedment of the process
Implication on stable crack growth. A very illustrative example can be found from numerical
calculations by Tvergaard and H u t c h i n s o n [16]. Their results concern a material with power-law
strain hardening with exponent N = 0.1, a yield stress a r = 0.003E and some assumptions regarding
the shape o f the cohesion/decohesion curve. F o u r different cohesive strengths were studied, ranging
from a~/t~v= 3.0 to ~ / a y = 3.75, which can be estimated to correspond to values o f the
embedment parameter B ranging from 2 to 10. Small scale yielding was assumed. The results
showed that the a m o u n t o f stable crack growth, estimated from their Fig. 3.1 when a steady state
is reasonably well approached, was less than the length Rp at the onset o f crack growth for B = 2,

Braex - B << 1

~ E D I A T E

-~"~ B - 1 << 1
0 5 10 Rp
Fig. 5. The influence of the stable crack growth at different degrees of embedment, B, of the process region
at small scale yielding. Bmax is the maximum value of B for which a process region develops, and K/K~,
expresses the relation between current load and the load at onset of crack growth.
t62 K. B. B R O B E R G

PROCESS 1//////////////~//~/
\ W-,.~ ~ /-//// AT ONSET OF ~//~
\ ~ ~.~////~ AUTONOMOUS ~"/~// UNSTABLE CRACI</~


Fig. 6. If the amount of crack growth before fracture at SSY was much smaller than the forwards extension
of the plastic region at SSY, then one could expect the existence of an autonomous region, outside which
the J-integral was path-independent. However, the real situation at deep embedment of the process region
is rather the one schematically shown in the following figure,

but several times this length for B ~ 10. (Note that Tvergaard and Hutchinson have another
definition of the length parameter representing the size of the plastic region than the one used here.)
At poor embedment (B ,~ 2) unstable crack growth would occur after a load increase of only about
40% over the load at the onset of crack growth, corresponding to an increase of the J-integral
by a factor of 2, approximately. At deep embedment (B ~ 10) the load had to be increased by a
factor of about 4.5, which implies an increase of the J-integral by a factor of about 20.
Figure 5 shows schematically the influence of different degrees of embedment of the process
region on the stable crack growth.
The fact that the amount of stable crack growth at SSY is considerably larger than the
forwards extension of the plastic region at deep embedment of the process region seems to remove
the apparent basis for the assumption of a J vs (a - a0) relation that is independent of the scale
of yielding. Figure 6 illustrates the basis required for this assumption, whereas Fig. 7 shows the
real situation.
Implication on the distribution of energy dissipation. As can be expected, poor embedment
implies that most of the energy dissipation at SSY takes place in the process region, even when
a steady state is approached. St~,hle [19] found that 80% of the energy dissipation occurred in the
process region for materials with linear strain hardening Er/E = 0.001-0.01 and cohesive strength
tro/crr = 2.5. The embedment parameter B can be estimated at somewhat less than 2. Such a
material would be experienced as rather "brittle". At deep embedment the major part of the energy

/ ~ ""

Fig. 7. At deep embedment of the process region, the amount of stable crack growth before fracture at
SSY is considerably larger than the forwards extension of the plastic region.
Methods in nonlinear fracture mechanics 163

dissipation takes place in the plastic region. The assumption that the energy dissipation rate in the
process region is rather independent of the amount of crack growth implies that the ratio between
this dissipation and the total energy dissipation is about (Kj~./Ko)2, where K~ is the fracture
toughness and K0 the value of the stress intensity factor at the onset of crack growth. Thus it is
about 5% for the deep embedment case studied by Tvergaard and Hutchinson [16]. Analysis of
experimental results on stable crack growth in a Swedish steel, D O M E X 450 at - 1 0 0 ' C
(ar/E ~ 0.003), gave consistent results if it was assumed that 10% of the energy dissipation took
place in the process region [14], but no attempts were made to determine aD/ar.
Implication on the fracture load at large scale yielding. Analysis of results obtained by StS,hle
produced a direct illustration of the dependence of a relation between J and (a - a0). He showed
that the fracture load at large scale yielding is underestimated by LEFM at deep embedment of
the process region [20], but overestimated at poor embedment [21]. Assume now that a J R-curve
was obtained at SSY. Prediction of the fracture load for a case of LSY, using this curve, always
results in a lower fracture load than prediction by using LEFM. Thus, if the J-R-curve was
reasonably independent of the scale of yielding at which its determination was made, then LEFM
would always overestimate the fracture load at LSY in comparison to the prediction using the
J-R-curve. In view of the results obtained by St~hle [21] this implies that both L E F M and the
J--R-curve method underestimate the fracture load at deep embedment of the process region, but
that LEFM gives the better estimate. At poor embedment, on the other hand, the J R-curve
method may give the better estimate.
The purpose of the discussion in the preceding paragraph was to point out again that the
.l- R-curve is far from independent of the scale of yielding. LEFM was used as a theoretical tool
in this discussion: the fracture toughness K~, can, of course, not always be determined, due to the
requirement of large test pieces.

4. T H E J - N CURVE
The difficulties encountered in nonlinear fracture mechanics are essentially related to the scale
of yielding: the larger this scale is, the more fragile the basis for currently used methods. This fact,
together with the fact that methods developed for monotone loading are of very limited use,
because of the rarity of structures which are expected to be subjected to just one load application
during their whole life-time, calls for more reliable and adequate methods. One method, in which
the uncertainties connected with very large scales of yielding can be reduced considerably, and in
which the number of major load applications expected for the structure can be taken into account,
has been suggested by Broberg [2, 3]; see also Lundstr6m and Tryding [22]. Only a brief account
will be given here.
The test method consists simply of applying a number of load applications on a test piece and
counting the number N of cycles to failure. The J-integral at the first load application is taken as
a measure of the loading. By choosing different load amplitudes in different tests a J N-curve is
obtained. Since cracks in engineering structures generally are small compared to significant
structural dimensions, the prefabricated crack in the test piece should (as a compromise) be one
quarter of the test piece width and only tests leading to fracture before the crack has traversed half
the test piece width are accepted. The J N-curve can be directly used for predicting the number
of cycles to fracture in a structure containing a crack of the same length as the one prefabricated
in the test piece. If it is different, the number of cycles to fracture increases in proportion to the
original crack length, as a dimensional analysis shows for cracks that are much smaller than
significant structural dimensions.
For most engineering applications the T-stress is small and usually compressive. This implies
that a test piece like the three point bend specimen should be used. For wedging type loading a
CT specimen could be chosen.
The method takes advantage of the fact that it is only in the last or the last few load
applications before fracture that the scale of yielding becomes comparable to the one just before
fracture at monotone loading. The vast majority of the load applications takes place under a much
smaller scale of yielding and the amount of crack growth during the first few load applications is
much smaller than the total amount of stable crack growth at monotone loading. Thus both

autonomy and path-independence of the J-integral are much better realized than in a test with
monotone loading.
For the rare cases of monotone loading, the J-N-curve method can be used by assuming that,
say, 5 or 10 load applications instead of one actually occurs. This, of course, introduces some safety.
The requirement that the crack must not traverse more than half the test piece width is, of
course, based on the wish to obtain a reasonable simulation of a crack that is much smaller than
significant structural dimensions. This implies a limit of the number of load applications for which
data can be obtained at the given test piece size. Usually this number is a few thousand. In this
context it could be noted that only situations in which the crack grows to at most twice its original
length before fracture are considered. This contrasts sharply to cases of high-cycle fatigue.

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(Received I December 1993)