Until recently, the engineering application of fracture mechanics has been specific to a description of macroscopic fracture behavior in components and structural parts which remain nominally elastic under loading. While this approach, termed linear elastic fracture mechanics, has been found to be invaluable for the continuum analysis of crack growth in brittle and high strength materials, it is clearly inappropriate for characterizing failure in lower strength ductile alloys where extensive inelastic deformation precedes and accompanies crack initiation and subsequent propagation. Accordingly, much effort has been devoted in recent years toward the development of nonlinear or ductile fracture mechanics methodology to characterize fracture behavior under elastic/plastic conditions; an effort which has been principally motivated by problems in nuclear industry. In this paper, the concepts of ductile (elastic/plastic) fracture mechanics are introduced and applied to the problem of both stationary and nonstationary cracks. Specifically, the limitations inherent in this approach are defined, together with a description of the microstructural considerations and applications relevant to the failure of ductile materials by fracture, fatigue, and creep.

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