In this research, a load-based depth-sensing micro-indentation method for spallation detection and damage assessment of thermal barrier coating (TBC) materials is presented. A non-destructive multiple loading/partial unloading testing methodology was developed where in stiffness responses of TBC coupons subjected to various thermal cyclic loading conditions were analyzed to predict the spallation site and assess TBC degradation state. The measured stiffness responses at various thermal loading cycles were used to generate time-series color maps for correlation with accumulation of TBC residual stress states. The regions with higher stiffness responses can be linked to a rise in out-of-plane residual stress located near or at the yttria stabilized zirconia (YSZ)/thermally grown oxide (TGO) interface, which is ultimately responsible for initiating TBC spallation failure. A TBC thermal exposure testing plan was carried out where time-series cross-sectional microstructural analyses of damage accumulation and spallation failure associated with the evolution of bond coat/TGO/top coat composite (e.g. thickness, ratcheting, localized oxidations, etc.) of air plasma sprayed (APS) TBCs were evaluated and correlated to the measured stiffness responses at various thermal cycles. The results show that the load-based micro-indentation test methodology is capable of identifying the spallation site(s) before actual occurrence. This micro-indentation technique can be viewed as a viable non-destructive evaluation (NDE) technique for determining as-manufactured and process-exposed TBCs. This technique also shows promise for the development of a portable instrument for on-line, in-situ spallation detection/prediction of industrial-size TBC turbine components.

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