Fatigue crack growth-based design is a significant modern engineering consideration for the transportation sector, and its implementation requires accurate characterization and understanding of crack propagation mechanisms with respect to microstructure. To support this goal, long and small fatigue crack growth studies were conducted on widely used A356-T61 cast aluminum alloys in various microstructural conditions. Microstructural variations were created through processing and chemistry means in order to systematically investigate the individual and combined effects of the materials’ characteristic microstructural features on fatigue crack growth at all growth stages. Crack growth mechanisms and failure mode transitions are identified with respect to the eutectic Si morphology/distribution and grain structure by fractographic techniques and electron backscatter diffraction. Crack-microstructure interactions were investigated in depth across all crack sizes, and the respective roles of microstructural features were identified experimentally and further corroborated by numerical models. It is concluded that the eutectic Si phase enhances the alloys’ fatigue crack growth resistance in early growth stages (by transferring stresses off of the α-Al matrix), and progressively decreases due to damage localization. In later growth stages, the eutectic Si phase becomes increasingly detrimental to fatigue crack growth resistance because of its inherently low debonding strength and brittle fracture, as evidenced by the crack selectively following eutectic Si colonies.
- Aluminum alloys
- Electron backscatter diffraction
- Microstructural mechanisms
- Small and long fatigue crack growth
- Stress concentrations