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Fracture toughness of layered structures: Embrittlement due to confinement of plasticity
The fracture toughness of a layered composite material is analyzed employing a combined two dimensional dislocation dynamics (DD)-cohesive zone (CZ) model. The fracture mechanism of an elastic-plastic (ductile) material sandwiched within purely elastic layers approaches ideally brittle behaviour with decreasing layer thickness. We investigate the influence of different constitutive parameters concerning dislocation plasticity as well as the effect of cohesive strength of the ductile material on the scaling of fracture toughness with layer thickness. For a constant layer thickness, the results of the numerical model are consistent with the expectation that fracture toughness decreases with increasing yield strength, but increases with the cohesive strength of the material. The scaling behaviour of the fracture toughness with layer thickness depends on these material parameters, but also on the dislocation microstructure in the vicinity of the crack tip. Strain localization due to easy dislocation generation right at the crack tip improves toughness in thin layers and leads to a jump-like increase of fracture toughness with layer thickness. However, the fracture toughness for films that are thick enough to exhibit bulk behaviour proves to be higher when the distribution of dislocations is more homogeneous, because in this case the crack grows in a stable fashion over some distance.