Bertacchini, Olivier Walter (2009-12). Characterization and Modeling of Transformation Induced Fatigue of Shape Memory Alloy Actuators. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • The main focus of this research is the transformation induced fatigue behavior of shape memory alloy (SMA) actuators undergoing thermally induced martensitic phase transformation. The recent development of aerospace applications employing shape memory alloys (SMAs) has expanded the need for fatigue life characterization and modeling. Lightweight, compact and with a great work output, SMAs are ideal materials for actuated structural components. However, fatigue life becomes a key factor in applications such as commercial airplanes. Therefore, it is necessary to not only perform fatigue testing but also to investigate the causes of fatigue failure. As a new class of materials, SMAs have unique characteristics and require novel test methodologies to conduct repeatable and reliable fatigue testing. For this research, two materials are being investigated: TiNiCu and Ni-rich NiTi. The experiments performed on the first selected alloy, i.e. TiNiCu SMA, explore three major parameters: the applied stress level, the amount of actuation, and the corrosive nature of the environment. Experimental results show that SMAs undergoing transformation induced fatigue exhibit a low-cycle fatigue behavior and the measurement of the accumulated plastic strain at failure is associated to a Manson-Coffin type failure criterion. Investigations conducted on the post-mortem microstructure showed evidence of a multiphysical coupling between corrosion and cyclic phase transformation, from which a novel cyclic damage mechanism is proposed and explained using the micromechanical shear lag model accounting for actuation and accumulated plastic strains. Thereafter, based upon the identified failure mechanism and considering damage accumulation through crack formation, a stress renormalization procedure is proposed in combination with the Miner's rule to predict the reduction of number of cycles to failure due to cyclic phase transformation and corrosion. A direct method is first presented and the predictions show good agreement with experimental results. However, both corrosion and corrosion-free fatigue data are required. Therefore, a new approach is proposed: the inverse Miner's rule, which requires corrosion fatigue data only to predict corrosion-free life. The new and attractive properties of the selected second alloy, i.e. Ni-rich NiTi SMA, have revived the motivation of the aerospace industry to design SMA actuators. One particular property is cyclic stability generated by precipitation hardening mechanism using precipitates. However, are also precipitates due to high Nickel content (60 wt.% or 55 at.%). Parameters such as processing, heat treatments, size effects, surface quality and environment are investigated. Thermomechanical response and fatigue life are discussed and the greatest impact is found to come from specimen surface quality. Finally, a detailed fractography presents the different microstructural aspects of the fatigue damage and concludes to a precipitation driven fatigue failure mechanism cause by precipitates.

publication date

  • December 2009