The size and the character (low and large angle, special boundaries, tilt and twist boundaries, twins) of the grain boundaries (GBs) in polycrystalline materials influence their strength and their fracture toughness. Recent studies devoted to nanocrystalline (NC) materials have shown a deviation from the Hall–Petch law. Special GBs formed by Σ3 twins in face-centred cubic metals are also known to have a strong effect on the mechanical behaviour of these metals, in particular their work-hardening rate. Grain orientation influences also crack path, the fracture toughness of body-centred cubic (BCC) metals and the fatigue crack growth rate of microstructurally short cracks. This paper deals both with slip transfer at GBs and with the interactions between propagating cracks with GBs. In the analysis of slip transfer, the emphasis is placed on twin boundaries (TBs) for which the dislocation reactions during slip transfer are analysed theoretically, experimentally and using the results of atomic molecular simulations published in the literature. It is shown that in a number of situations this transfer leads to a normal motion of the TB owing to the displacement of partial dislocations along the TB. This motion can generate a de-twinning effect observed in particular in NC metals. Crack propagation across GBs is also considered. It is shown that cleavage crack path behaviour in BCC metals is largely dependent on the twist component of the GBs. A mechanism for the propagation of these twisted cracks involving a segmentation of the crack front and the existence of intergranular parts is discussed and verified for a pressure vessel steel. A similar segmentation seems to occur for short fatigue cracks although, quite surprisingly, this crossing mechanism for fatigue cracks does not seem to have been examined in very much detail in the literature. Metallurgical methods used to improve the strength of the materials, via grain boundaries, are briefly discussed.
One contribution of 19 to a theme issue ‘Fracturing across the multi-scales of diverse materials’.
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