The electric potential drop (EPD) method is a laboratory technique to monitor the initiation and the propagation of a crack, mainly in the field of fatigue research. It can also be used in fracture experiments, involving plasticity and large deformations. The size of a crack in a metallic member is predicted by applying a constant d.c. (direct current) or a.c. (alternating current) to the member and by measuring an increase in electric resistance due to the crack. Practically, several pairs of probes are attached to the specimen crossing over the crack and the voltage drop is measured periodically along the test. The main difficulty is to correlate the EPD changes to the crack extension.

Thanks to the analogy between the thermal conduction problem and the electrical conduction problem, a classical thermo-mechanical finite element solver can be used to predict the EPD along a crack, given the electrical resistivity of the material, the current intensity and the geometry of the structure and of the crack. This technique works well for fatigue studies, where the structure remains elastic and whose shape is unchanged. However, in fracture experiments, the change in geometry and the possible effect of the plastic strain on electrical resistivity make the problem much more complex.

The paper presents the principle of the EPD method, a work on the effect of the plastic strain on the electrical resistivity, FE computations for the elastic case (for fatigue pre-cracking) and for the plastic case (for ductile tearing experiments). Several practical applications will be presented on various metallic materials.

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