Small-scale fracture toughness of ceramic thin films: the effects of specimen geometry, ion beam notching and high temperature on chromium nitride toughness evaluation

J. P. Best; J. Zechner; J. M. Wheeler; R. Schoeppner; M. Morstein; J. Michler

Philosophical Magazine 96 (2016) 3552-3569

For the implementation of thin ceramic hard coatings into intensive application environments, the fracture toughness is a particularly important material design parameter. Characterisation of the fracture toughness of small-scale specimens has been a topic of great debate, due to size effects, plasticity, residual stress effects and the influence of ion penetration from the sample fabrication process. In this work, several different small-scale fracture toughness geometries (single-beam cantilever, double-beam cantilever and micro-pillar splitting) were compared, fabricated from a thin physical vapour-deposited ceramic film using a focused ion beam source, and then the effect of the gallium-milled notch on mode I toughness quantification investigated. It was found that notching using a focused gallium source influences small-scale toughness measurements and can lead to an overestimation of the fracture toughness values for chromium nitride (CrN) thin films. The effects of gallium ion irradiation were further studied by performing the first small-scale high-temperature toughness measurements within the scanning electron microscope, with the consequence that annealing at high temperatures allows for diffusion of the gallium to grain boundaries promoting embrittlement in small-scale CrN samples. This work highlights the sensitivity of some materials to gallium ion penetration effects, and the profound effect that it can have on fracture toughness evaluation.