Spallation of thermal barrier coatings subjected to thermal fatigue occurs through cracking in or close to the metal–ceramic interface. To better match an experimentally observed damage progression curve with initially slow crack growth followed by rapid crack growth, a multitude of crack paths were modeled in a finite element analysis. Comparisons with experimental data enabled the most likely crack path to be identified. It was shown that the most likely failure type for the studied TBC system was crack initiation from pre-existing defects in the thermal barrier coating which propagated into the interface, leading to spallation. The results were used to fit a crack propagation model.

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