A detailed finite element study of stable crack growth in elastic-perfectly plastic solids obeying an incremental plasticity theory and the Huber-Von Mises yield criterion is performed under plane stress, small-scale yielding conditions. A nodal release procedure is used to simulate crack extension under continuously increasing external load. It is found that the asymptotic angular extent of the active plastic zone surrounding the moving crack tip is from θ = 0 deg to about θ = 45 deg. Clear evidence of an elastic unloading region following the active plastic zone is found, but no secondary (plastic) reloading is numerically observed. The near-tip angular stress distribution inside the active plastic zone is in good agreement with the variation inside a centered fan, as predicted by a preliminary asymptotic analysis by Rice. It is also observed that the stress components within the plastic zone have a strong radial variation. The nature of the near-tip profile is studied in detail.

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