Experimental Characterization of the Effect of Microstructure on the Dynamic Behavior of SiC

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Martin, Samuel R.
Zhou, Min
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For roughly fifteen years the military has sought to use the properties of ceramics for armor applications. Current high-performance ceramics have extremely high compressive strengths and low densities. One ceramic that has been shown to be highly resistant under ballistic impact is silicon carbide (SiC). It has been found that even within the silicon carbides, those manufactured by certain methods and those with certain microstructural properties have advantages over others. In order to understand the microstructural reasons behind variations in ballistic properties, plate impact tests were conducted on two sintered silicon carbides with slightly different microstructures. Two variations of a silicon carbide with the trade name Hexoloy SA were obtained through Saint Gobain. Regular Hexoloy (RH) and Enhanced Hexoloy (EH) are pressureless sintered products having exactly the same chemistries. EH went through additional powder processing prior to sintering, producing a final product with a slightly different morphology than RH. Samples of each were characterized microstructurally including morphology, density, elastic wavespeeds, microhardness, fracture toughness, and flexure strength. The characterization revealed differences in porosity distribution and flexure strength. It was determined that the porosity distribution in EH had fewer large pores leading to an 18% increase in flexural strength over that for RH. The focus of the mechanics of materials community concerning dynamic material behavior is to pin down what exactly is happening microstructurally during ballistic events. Several studies have been conducted where material properties of one ceramic type are varied and the dynamic behavior is tested and analyzed. Usually, from one variation to the next, several properties are different making it hard to isolate the effect of each. For this study, the only difference in the materials was porosity distribution. Plate impact experiments were conducted at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) using the gas gun facilities within the Impact Physics Branch. A VISAR was utilized to measure free surface velocities. Tests were performed on each material to determine the Hugoniot Elastic Limit (HEL) and spall strength. Spall strength was measured as a function of impact stress, and pulse duration.
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