Crack channelling mechanisms in brittle coating systems under moisture or temperature gradients

Emanuela Bosco (Corresponding author), Akke S.J. Suiker, N.A. Fleck

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Crack channelling is predicted in a brittle coating-substrate system that is subjected to a moisture or temperature gradient in the thickness direction. Competing failure scenarios are identified, and are distinguished by the degree to which the coating-substrate interface delaminates, and whether this delamination is finite or unlimited in nature. Failure mechanism maps are constructed, and illustrate the sensitivity of the active crack channelling mechanism and associated channelling stress to the ratio of coating toughness to interfacial toughness, to the mismatch in elastic modulus and to the mismatch in coefficient of hygral or thermal expansion. The effect of the ratio of coating to substrate thickness upon the failure mechanism and channelling stress is also explored. Closed-form expressions for the steady-state delamination stress are derived, and are used to determine the transition value of moisture state that leads to unlimited delamination. Although the results are applicable to coating-substrate systems in a wide range of applications, the study focusses on the prediction of cracking in historical paintings due to indoor climate fluctuations, with the objective of helping museums developing strategies for the preservation of art objects. For this specific application, crack channelling with delamination needs to be avoided under all circumstances, as it may induce flaking of paint material. In historical paintings, the substrate thickness is typically more than ten times larger than the thickness of the paint layer; for such a system, the failure maps constructed from the numerical simulations indicate that paint delamination is absent if the delamination toughness is larger than approximately half of the mode I toughness of the paint layer. Further, the transition between crack channelling with and without delamination appears to be relatively insensitive to the mismatch in the elastic modulus of the substrate and paint layer. The failure maps developed in this work may provide a useful tool for museum conservators to identify the allowable indoor humidity and temperature fluctuations for which crack channelling with delamination is prevented in historical paintings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-30
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Journal of Fracture
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


  • Coating-substrate systems
  • Crack channelling
  • Historical paintings
  • Hygral-thermal loading
  • Plane-strain delamination


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