Crack tunneling is a crack growth feature often seen in stable tearing crack growth tests on specimens made of ductile materials and containing through-thickness cracks with initially straight crack fronts. As a specimen is loaded monotonically, the mid-section of the crack front will advance first, which will be followed by crack growth along the rest of the crack front, leading to the formation of a thumb-nail shaped crack-front profile. From the viewpoint of fracture mechanics, crack tunneling will occur if the operating fracture criterion is met first in the mid-section of the crack front, which may be due to a higher fracture driving force and/or a lower fracture toughness in the mid-section. A proper understanding of this fracture behavior is important to the development of a three-dimensional fracture criterion for general stable tearing crack growth in ductile materials. In this paper, the phenomenon of crack tunneling during stable tearing crack growth in a single-edge crack specimen is investigated by considering the effect of stress constraint on the fracture toughness. Crack growth in the specimen under nominally Mode I loading conditions is considered. In this case, crack tunneling occurs while the initially flat crack surface (which is normal to the specimen’s lateral surfaces) evolves into a final slanted fracture surface. A mixed-mode CTOD fracture criterion and a custom three-dimensional fracture simulation code, CRACK3D, are used to analyze the tunneling and slanting process in the specimen. Results of this investigation suggest that the critical CTOD value (which is the fracture toughness) has a clear dependence on the crack front stress constraint (which is the ratio of the mean stress to the von Mises effective stress). This dependence seems to be linear within the range of stress constraint values found, with the toughness decreasing as the constraint increases. It is found that crack tunneling in this case is mainly the result of a higher stress constraint (hence a lower fracture toughness) in the midsection of the crack front. Details of the crack growth simulation and other findings of this study will also be presented.

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