Knowledge of the plasticity associated with the incipient stage of chip formation is important for understanding the flow field underlying transient material removal processes. The transition from an incipient state of strain to steady-state was investigated in chip formation of copper. Characterization of the flow field was made by image correlation, hardness mapping and microstructure measurement. A framework for describing the incipient straining length in chip formation as a function of process parameters was established and explained by effects of the deformation on shear plane morphology. The present results are potentially useful for enabling better informed design of processing configurations wherein transient flow fields contribute significantly to the overall deformation process, such as in grain refinement methods for bulk materials and micro-mechanical surface texturing methods based on machining.

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