Fracture Toughness Evaluation of a Ni2MnGa Alloy Through Micro Indentation Under Magneto-Mechanical Loading

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Ni2MnGa is a ferromagnetic alloy that exhibits the shape memory effect either induced by an externally applied magnetic field or mechanical stress. Due to the former, the alloy is commonly called magnetic shape memory alloy or MSMA. The microstructure of the MSMA consists of tetragonal martensite variants (three in the most general case) that are characterized by a magnetization vector which is aligned with the short side of the tetragonal unit cell. Exposing the MSMA to a magnetic field causes the magnetization vector to rotate and align with the external field, eventually leading to variant reorientation. The variant reorientation is observed macroscopically in the form of recoverable strain of up to 6% [1, 2]. As the magnetic field induced reorientation happens instantaneously [1, 3], MSMAs are suitable for fast actuation, sensing, or power harvesting applications. However, actuation applications are limited by the maximum actuation stress of the material that is about 3.5MPa at approximately 2 to 3% reorientation strain. During MSMA fatigue magneto-mechanical characterization studies [4, 5] it was observed that cracks nucleate and grow on the surface of material samples, after a relatively small number of cycles, leading to loss in material performance. This triggered the need for understanding the mechanisms that govern crack nucleation and growth in MSMAs, as well as the nature of the material, i.e. ductile or brittle. The experimental study reported in this paper was carried out to determine material’s fracture toughness, the predominant crack growth directions, and the orientation of the cracks relative to the mechanical loading direction and to the material’s microstructure. A fixture has been developed to allow Vickers micro indentation of 3mm by 3mm by 20mm Ni2MnGa samples exposed to different levels of magnetic field and/or mechanical stress. Using the measured characteristics of the impression generated during micro indentation, the lengths of propagated cracks, and appropriate equations (introduced in the paper), and the fracture toughness was evaluated as a function of the magneto-mechanical loading experienced by the material. The influence of the magneto-mechanical loading on the growth of already nucleated cracks has also been evaluated.

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