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An examination of the role of flaw size and material toughness in the brittle fracture of polyethylene pipes


At low temperatures and hoop stresses, polyethylene pipes fail by the time-dependent propagation of a crack. These brittle, fissure-like failures have been observed to initiate from adventitious flaws, and the concepts and methods of fracture mechanics indicate that flaw size should determine stress rupture lifetime. A number of controlled model experiments have therefore been undertaken to assess the influence of flaw size and material toughness on the stress rupture lifetimes of polyethylene pipes. To two different pipe grade polyethylene resins (one shorter, one longer lifetime resin) flaws of varying sizes have been added. For the shorter lifetime resin small flaws were, in addition, purposely excluded by the use of fine melt filtration techniques. Pipes containing added flaws or pipes where flaws were excluded were then stress rupture tested under those conditions designed to induce brittle failure by slow crack growth. The stress rupture lifetimes of the various pipes are then correlated with flaw size. The results of the tests using the shorter lifetime resin show that flaw size does have a significant influence. It is particularly interesting to note that melt filtration, which removes large inherent flaws, substantially improved the stress rupture lifetime. With respect to material toughness, the longer lifetime pipe grade polyethylene resin showed a healthy tolerance to included flaws. In respect of the stress rupture test preferred resins can therefore be identified in terms of their tolerance to included flaws.

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Sandilands, G.J., Bowman, J. An examination of the role of flaw size and material toughness in the brittle fracture of polyethylene pipes. J Mater Sci 21, 2881–2888 (1986).

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  • Brittle
  • Brittle Fracture
  • Flaw Size
  • Brittle Failure
  • Hoop Stress