Fracture is the separation of an object or material into two or more pieces under the action of stress. The fracture of a solid usually occurs due to the development of certain displacement discontinuity surfaces within the solid. If a displacement develops perpendicular to the surface of displacement, it is called a normal tensile crack or simply a crack; if a displacement develops tangentially to the surface of displacement, it is called a shear crack, slip band, or dislocation.
Brittle fractures occur with no apparent deformation before fracture; ductile fractures occur when visible deformation does occur before separation. Fracture strength or breaking strength is the stress when a specimen fails or fractures. A detailed understanding of how fracture occurs in materials may be assisted by the study of fracture mechanics.
Ductile materials have a fracture strength lower than the ultimate tensile strength (UTS), whereas in brittle materials the fracture strength is equivalent to the UTS. If a ductile material reaches its ultimate tensile strength in a load-controlled situation, it will continue to deform, with no additional load application, until it ruptures. However, if the loading is displacement-controlled, the deformation of the material may relieve the load, preventing rupture.
In brittle crystalline materials, fracture can occur by cleavage as the result of tensile stress acting normal to crystallographic planes with low bonding (cleavage planes). In amorphous solids, by contrast, the lack of a crystalline structure results in a conchoidal fracture, with cracks proceeding normal to the applied tension.
In ductile fracture, extensive plastic deformation (necking) takes place before fracture. The terms rupture or ductile rupture describe the ultimate failure of ductile materials loaded in tension. The extensive plasticity causes the crack to propagate slowly due to the absorption of a large amount of energy before fracture.
Because ductile rupture involves a high degree of plastic deformation, the fracture behavior of a propagating crack as modelled above changes fundamentally. Some of the energy from stress concentrations at the crack tips is dissipated by plastic deformation ahead of the crack as it propagates.
The basic steps in ductile fracture are void formation, void coalescence (also known as crack formation), crack propagation, and failure, often resulting in a cup-and-cone shaped failure surface. Voids typically coalesce around precipitates, secondary phases, inclusions, and at grain boundaries in the material. Ductile fracture is typically transgranular and deformation due to dislocation slip can cause the shear lip characteristic of cup and cone fracture.
Crack propagation is also categorized by the crack characteristics at the microscopic level. A crack that passes through the grains within the material is undergoing transgranular fracture. A crack that propagates along the grain boundaries is termed an intergranular fracture. Typically, the bonds between material grains are stronger at room temperature than the material itself, so transgranular fracture is more likely to occur. When temperatures increase enough to weaken the grain bonds, intergranular fracture is the more common fracture mode.