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Elucidating the dual role of grain boundaries as dislocation sources and obstacles and its impact on toughness and brittle-to-ductile transition
In this paper, we resolve the role of grain boundaries on toughness and the brittle-to-ductile transition. On the one hand, grain boundaries are obstacles for dislocation glide. On the other hand, the intersection points of grain boundaries with the crack front are assumed to be preferred dislocation nucleation sites. Here, we will show that the single contributions of grain boundaries (obstacles vs. source) on toughness and the brittle-to-ductile transition are contradicting, and we will weight the single contributions by performing carefully designed numerical experiments by means of two-dimensional discrete dislocation dynamics modelling. In our parameter studies, we vary the following parameters: (i) the mean free path for dislocation glide, δ, combined with (ii) the (obstacle) force of the grain boundary, ϕ, and (iii) the dislocation source spacing along the crack front, λ. Our results show that for materials or microstructures for which the mean distance of the intersection points of grain boundaries with the crack front is the relevant measure for λ, a decrease of grain size results in an increase of toughness. The positive impact of grain boundaries outweighs the negative consequences of dislocation blocking. Furthermore, our results explain the evolving anisotropy of toughness in cold-worked metals and give further insight into the question of why the grain-size-dependent fracture toughness passes through a minimum (and the brittle-to-ductile transition temperature passes through a maximum) at an intermediate grain size. Finally, a relation of the grain-size-dependence of fracture toughness in the form of K(dδ, dλ) = KIC + kdδ0.5/dλ is deduced.