Google Groups
Subscribe to Materials & Welding
Visit this group

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The ability of a metal to deform plastically and to absorb energy in the process before fracture is termed toughness. The emphasis of this definition should be placed on the ability to absorb energy before fracture. Recall that ductility is a measure of how much something deforms plastically before fracture, but just because a material is ductile does not make it tough. The key to toughness is a good combination of strength and ductility. A material with high strength and high ductility will have more toughness than a material with low strength and high ductility. Therefore, one way to measure toughness is by calculating the area under the stress strain curve from a tensile test. This value is simply called “material toughness” and it has units of energy per volume. Material toughness equates to a slow absorption of energy by the material.

There are several variables that have a profound influence on the toughness of a material. These variables are:

  • Strain rate (rate of loading)
  • Temperature
  • Notch effect

A metal may possess satisfactory toughness under static loads but may fail under dynamic loads or impact. As a rule ductility and, therefore, toughness decrease as the rate of loading increases. Temperature is the second variable to have a major influence on its toughness. As temperature is lowered, the ductility and toughness also decrease. The third variable is termed notch effect, has to due with the distribution of stress. A material might display good toughness when the applied stress is uniaxial; but when a multiaxial stress state is produced due to the presence of a notch, the material might not withstand the simultaneous elastic and plastic deformation in the various directions.

There are several standard types of toughness test that generate data for specific loading conditions and/or component design approaches. Three of the toughness properties that will be discussed in more detail are 1) impact toughness, 2) notch toughness and 3) fracture toughness.

Impact Toughness

The impact toughness (AKA Impact strength) of a material can be determined with a Charpy or Izod test. These tests are named after their inventors and were developed in the early 1900’s before fracture mechanics theory was available. Impact properties are not directly used in fracture mechanics calculations, but the economical impact tests continue to be used as a quality control method to assess notch sensitivity and for comparing the relative toughness of engineering materials.

The two tests use different specimens and methods of holding the specimens, but both tests make use of a pendulum-testing machine. For both tests, the specimen is broken by a single overload event due to the impact of the pendulum. A stop pointer is used to record how far the pendulum swings back up after fracturing the specimen. The impact toughness of a metal is determined by measuring the energy absorbed in the fracture of the specimen. This is simply obtained by noting the height at which the pendulum is released and the height to which the pendulum swings after it has struck the specimen . The height of the pendulum times the weight of the pendulum produces the potential energy and the difference in potential energy of the pendulum at the start and the end of the test is equal to the absorbed energy.

Since toughness is greatly affected by temperature, a Charpy or Izod test is often repeated numerous times with each specimen tested at a different temperature. This produces a graph of impact toughness for the material as a function of temperature. An impact toughness versus temperature graph for a steel is shown in the image. It can be seen that at low temperatures the material is more brittle and impact toughness is low. At high temperatures the material is more ductile and impact toughness is higher. The transition temperature is the boundary between brittle and ductile behavior and this temperature is often an extremely important consideration in the selection of a material.


Notch toughness is the ability that a material possesses to absorb energy in the presence of a flaw. As mentioned previously, in the presence of a flaw, such as a notch or crack, a material will likely exhibit a lower level of toughness. When a flaw is present in a material, loading induces a triaxial tension stress state adjacent to the flaw. The material develops plastic strains as the yield stress is exceeded in the region near the crack tip. However, the amount of plastic deformation is restricted by the surrounding material, which remains elastic. When a material is prevented from deforming plastically, it fails in a brittle manner.

Notch-toughness is measured with a variety of specimens such as the Charpy V-notch impact specimen or the dynamic tear test specimen. As with regular impact testing the tests are often repeated numerous times with specimens tested at a different temperature. With these specimens and by varying the loading speed and the temperature, it is possible to generate curves such as those shown in the graph. Typically only static and impact testing is conducted but it should be recognized that many components in service see intermediate loading rates in the range of the dashed red line.

Fracture Toughness

Fracture toughness is an indication of the amount of stress required to propagate a preexisting flaw. It is a very important material property since the occurrence of flaws is not completely avoidable in the processing, fabrication, or service of a material/component. Flaws may appear as cracks, voids, metallurgical inclusions, weld defects, design discontinuities, or some combination thereof. Since engineers can never be totally sure that a material is flaw free, it is common practice to assume that a flaw of some chosen size will be present in some number of components and use the linear elastic fracture mechanics (LEFM) approach to design critical components. This approach uses the flaw size and features, component geometry, loading conditions and the material property called fracture toughness to evaluate the ability of a component containing a flaw to resist fracture.

A parameter called the stress-intensity factor (K) is used to determine the fracture toughness of most materials. A Roman numeral subscript indicates the mode of fracture and the three modes of fracture are illustrated in the image to the right. Mode I fracture is the condition in which the crack plane is normal to the direction of largest tensile loading. This is the most commonly encountered mode and, therefore, for the remainder of the material we will consider KI

The stress intensity factor is a function of loading, crack size, and structural geometry. The stress intensity factor may be represented by the following equation:

Where:KI is the fracture toughness in
s is the applied stress in MPa or psi
a is the crack length in meters or inches
is a crack length and component geometry factor that is different for each specimen and is dimensionless.

Role of Material Thickness Specimens having standard proportions but different absolute size produce different values for KI. This results because the stress states adjacent to the flaw changes with the specimen thickness (B) until the thickness exceeds some critical dimension. Once the thickness exceeds the critical dimension, the value of KI becomes relatively constant and this value, KIC , is a true material property which is called the plane-strain fracture toughness. The relationship between stress intensity, KI, and fracture toughness, KIC, is similar to the relationship between stress and tensile stress. The stress intensity, KI, represents the level of “stress” at the tip of the crack and the fracture toughness, KIC, is the highest value of stress intensity that a material under very specific (plane-strain) conditions that a material can withstand without fracture. As the stress intensity factor reaches the KIC value, unstable fracture occurs. As with a material’s other mechanical properties, KIC is commonly reported in reference books and other sources.

Plane Strain - a condition of a body in which the displacements of all points in the body are parallel to a given plane, and the values of theses displacements do not depend on the distance perpendicular to the plane

Plane Stress – a condition of a body in which the state of stress is such that two of the principal stresses are always parallel to a given plane and are constant in the normal direction.

Plane-Strain and Plane-Stress When a material with a crack is loaded in tension, the materials develop plastic strains as the yield stress is exceeded in the region near the crack tip. Material within the crack tip stress field, situated close to a free surface, can deform laterally (in the z-direction of the image) because there can be no stresses normal to the free surface. The state of stress tends to biaxial and the material fractures in a characteristic ductile manner, with a 45o shear lip being formed at each free surface. This condition is called “plane-stress" and it occurs in relatively thin bodies where the stress through the thickness cannot vary appreciably due to the thin section.

However, material away from the free surfaces of a relatively thick component is not free to deform laterally as it is constrained by the surrounding material. The stress state under these conditions tends to triaxial and there is zero strain perpendicular to both the stress axis and the direction of crack propagation when a material is loaded in tension. This condition is called “plane-strain” and is found in thick plates. Under plane-strain conditions, materials behave essentially elastic until the fracture stress is reached and then rapid fracture occurs. Since little or no plastic deformation is noted, this mode fracture is termed brittle fracture.

Plane-Strain Fracture Toughness Testing When performing a fracture toughness test, the most common test specimen configurations are the single edge notch bend (SENB or three-point bend), and the compact tension (CT) specimens. From the above discussion, it is clear that an accurate determination of the plane-strain fracture toughness requires a specimen whose thickness exceeds some critical thickness (B). Testing has shown that plane-strain conditions generally prevail when:

Where: Bis the minimum thickness that produces a condition where plastic strain energy at the crack tip in minimal
KICis the fracture toughness of the material
syis the yield stress of material

When a material of unknown fracture toughness is tested, a specimen of full material section thickness is tested or the specimen is sized based on a prediction of the fracture toughness. If the fracture toughness value resulting from the test does not satisfy the requirement of the above equation, the test must be repeated using a thicker specimen. In addition to this thickness calculation, test specifications have several other requirements that must be met (such as the size of the shear lips) before a test can be said to have resulted in a KIC value.

When a test fails to meet the thickness and other test requirement that are in place to insure plane-strain condition, the fracture toughness values produced is given the designation KC. Sometimes it is not possible to produce a specimen that meets the thickness requirement. For example when a relatively thin plate product with high toughness is being tested, it might not be possible to produce a thicker specimen with plain-strain conditions at the crack tip.

Plane-Stress and Transitional-Stress States For cases where the plastic energy at the crack tip is not negligible, other fracture mechanics parameters, such as the J integral or R-curve, can be used to characterize a material. The toughness data produced by these other tests will be dependant on the thickness of the product tested and will not be a true material property. However, plane-strain conditions do not exist in all structural configurations and using KIC values in the design of relatively thin areas may result in excess conservatism and a weight or cost penalty. In cases where the actual stress state is plane-stress or, more generally, some intermediate- or transitional-stress state, it is more appropriate to use J integral or R-curve data, which account for slow, stable fracture (ductile tearing) rather than rapid (brittle) fracture.

Uses of Plane-Strain Fracture Toughness KIC values are used to determine the critical crack length when a given stress is applied to a component.

Where: scis the critical applied stress that will cause failure
KICis the plane-strain fracture toughness
Yis a constant related to the sample's geometry
ais the crack length for edge cracks or one half crack length for internal crack

KIC values are used also used to calculate the critical stress value when a crack of a given length is found in a component.

Where:ais the crack length for edge cracks or one half crack length for internal crack
sis the stress applied to the material
KICis the plane-strain fracture toughness
Yis a constant related to the sample's geometry

Orientation The fracture toughness of a material commonly varies with grain direction. Therefore, it is customary to specify specimen and crack orientations by an ordered pair of grain direction symbols. The first letter designates the grain direction normal to the crack plane. The second letter designates the grain direction parallel to the fracture plane. For flat sections of various products, e.g., plate, extrusions, forgings, etc., in which the three grain directions are designated (L) longitudinal, (T) transverse, and (S) short transverse, the six principal fracture path directions are: L-T, L-S, T-L, T-S, S-L and S-T.


No comments:

Blog Archive