Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Materials Science and Engineering


David S. Wilkinson


Nikolas Provatas



Committee Member

Mukesh Jain


The superior high-temperature elastic-plastic properties coupled with greater damage tolerance when compared with monolithic ceramics make ceramic matrix composites, CMCs, promising candidates for challenging applications such as engine components, rocket nozzles, cutting tools and nuclear energy reactor core components. Anelastic recovery is the time-dependent back strain observed upon the load removal following creep. In whisker-reinforced CMCs this can be a factor limiting operating conditions. Plastic strain misfit between two phases is thought to be the main driver in terms of the interactions within a percolating network. However, the network deformation mechanisms are still unclear and a previous neutron diffraction study showed an unexpected decrease of peak width after creep contradicting the theoretical predictions.

In this contribution, the finite element method (FEM) is applied to a representative volume element (RVE) with proper boundary conditions in order to simulate the creep deformation and hot pressing processes. Three geometries have been generated and studied: a 3D randomly-oriented short-fiber unit cell without fiber to fiber contact, generated by a random sequential adsorption algorithm; 3D regularly aligned single fiber unit cells; and 2D regularly aligned percolating unit cells. Deformation mechanism has been studied from an energy point of view and compared with a modified analytical model. Then a virtual diffraction model has been developed providing a framework to transfer information between the FEM simulations (strain fields) and the diffraction pattern in terms of the peak width (full width at half maximum: FWHM) and peak position as a measure of stress distribution and mean stress state respectively. Furthermore, the coupling effects of external stress, deformation mode, and thermal stress on the diffraction patterns have been studied.

The critical importance of a percolating whisker network for the anelastic recovery is demonstrated based on the 3D multi-whisker random unit cell. Whisker bending is shown to be the dominant mechanism over contact effects during the creep deformation of a composite containing a well aligned percolating whisker network based on the 2D unit cell model. Good qualitative agreement was found between our FEM simulations and the analytical model of Wilkinson and Pompe with regards to the maximum recoverable strain and the characteristic relaxation time. The analytical model captures all the critical factors characterizing the strain recovery, e.g., the effect of creep pre-exponent constant, whisker Young’s modulus and aspect ratio. Furthermore, it is found that the deformation from an initial stress-free state inevitably introduces peak broadening of whiskers inside the matrix. Several factors determine the peak-width and -shift, i.e., creep strain, applied stress, aspect ratio and geometry. However, thermal stress from the cooling stages following creep and hot pressing processes shelters this broadening effect and complicates the trends. Wide-ranging peak-width changes from narrowing to broadening are predicted depending on the geometry and applied stress. The peak position is shifted to a lower angle due to this thermal effect. This clearly explains the contradicting phenomena motivating this work and leads to that recommendation that a diffraction source with high angular resolution is needed to detect the subtle change of peak profile during creep.

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