A material is generally said to be brittle if it cannot be deformed to any appreciable degree prior to fracture. This behaviour does not imply that the ultimate tensile strength measured on a smooth specimen during a tensile test is low. On the contrary, the opposite phenomenon is usually observed. Hardening treatments which aim to increase strength are usually accompanied by a dramatic degradation of ductility and tend to enhance brittleness.
Brittleness is neither an absolute nor a simple concept. As a rule, the susceptibility to brittle behaviour in a given material is increased by:
- the lower the temperature to which it is exposed.
- the more rapid the loading to which it is submitted.
- the more disturbed the stress distribution it experiences.
Brittleness is influenced by ductility, i.e. the capacity of a material to strain plastically, and by strain-hardenability, i.e. the property of developing a higher strength while undergoing plastic deformation.
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