Fracture mechanics of shape memory alloys: review and perspectives


Shape memory alloys (SMAs) are intermetallic alloys displaying recoverable strains that can be an order of magnitude greater than in traditional alloys due to their capacity to undergo a thermal and/or stress-induced martensitic phase transformation. Since their discovery, the SMA industry has been dominated by products for biomedical applications with geometrically small feature sizes, especially endovascular stents. For such products the technological importance of fracture mechanics is limited, with the emphasis being placed on preventing crack nucleation rather than controlling crack growth. However, the successful integration of SMAs into commercial actuation, energy absorption, and vibration damping applications requires understanding and practice of fracture mechanics concepts in SMAs. The fracture response of SMAs is rather complex owing to the reversibility of phase transformation, detwinning and reorientation of martensitic variants, the possibility of dislocation and transformation-induced plasticity, and the strong thermomechanical coupling. Large-scale phase transformation under actuation loading paths, i.e., combined thermo-mechanical loading, and the associated configuration dependence complicate the phenomenon even further and question the applicability of single parameter fracture mechanics theories. Here, the existing knowledge base on the fracture mechanics of SMAs under mechanical loading is reviewed and recent developments in actuation-induced SMA fracture are presented, in terms of the micro-mechanisms of fracture, near-tip fracture environments, fracture criteria, and fracture toughness properties.

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  1. 1.

    On going work that is presented in Sect. 3.1.

  2. 2.

    Private communication with Dr. Karaman’s group at Texas A&M University.

  3. 3.

    Rice (1968, 1967) demonstrated path-independence of the \(J\)-integral for flow theory plasticity near stationary crack tips loaded in mode III in elastic-power-law hardening materials under the small-scale yielding assumption. There is no such proof for in-plane loading modes. Actually, finite element calculations have shown that \(J\) is path-dependent near stationary crack tips for loadings with a mode I component in elastic-power-law hardening materials obeying flow plasticity theory (Carka and Landis 2011).

  4. 4.

    A video of simulated quasi-static stable crack growth in an SMA material and the resulted toughness enhancement measured in the terms of the ratio of the loading parameter, \(K_I\), to its critical value for initiation of crack growth, \(K_{I_c}\) under the small-scale transformation assumption can be found here (Supplementary material 1) (see Baxevanis et al. (2013) for the details of the simulation). \(\delta a\) denotes increments of the crack length \(a\) and \(R_{\xi }\) the approximated size of the transformation zone at initiation of crack growth.

  5. 5.

    The authors would like to acknowledge the help of Kirk, Rohmer, and Wheeler in performing the experiments.


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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers CMMI-1301139 and DMR-0844082.

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Correspondence to T. Baxevanis.

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Baxevanis, T., Lagoudas, D.C. Fracture mechanics of shape memory alloys: review and perspectives. Int J Fract 191, 191–213 (2015).

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  • Shape memory alloys
  • Fracture mechanics
  • Phase transformation
  • Finite element analysis