Creep is the tendency of a solid material to slowly move or deform permanently under the influence of stresses. It occurs as a result of long term exposure to levels of stress that are below the yield strength or ultimate strength of the material. Creep is more severe in materials that are subjected to heat for long periods, and near the melting point. It is often observed in glasses. Creep always increases with temperature.
The rate of this deformation is a function of the material properties, exposure time, exposure temperature and the applied load (stress). Depending on the magnitude of the applied stress and its duration, the deformation may become so large that a component can no longer perform its function — for example creep of a turbine blade will cause the blade to contact the casing, resulting in the failure of the blade. Creep is usually of concern to engineers and metallurgists when evaluating components that operate under high stresses or high temperatures. Creep is not necessarily a failure mode, but is instead a deformation mechanism. Moderate creep in concrete is sometimes welcomed because it relieves tensile stresses that otherwise may have led to cracking.
Unlike brittle fracture, creep deformation does not occur suddenly upon the application of stress. Instead, strain accumulates as a result of long-term stress. Creep deformation is "time-dependent" deformation.
The temperature range in which creep deformation may occur differs in various materials. For example, Tungsten requires a temperature in the thousands of degrees before creep deformation can occur while ice formations such as the Antarctic ice cap will creep in freezing temperatures. Generally, the minimum temperature required for creep deformation to occur is 30% of the melting point for metals and 40–50% of melting point for ceramics. Virtually any material will creep upon approaching its melting temperature. Since the minimum temperature is relative to melting point, creep can be seen at relatively low temperatures for some materials. Plastics and low-melting-temperature metals, including many solders, creep at room temperature as can be seen markedly in old lead hot-water pipes. Planetary ice is often at a high temperature relative to its melting point, and creeps.
Creep deformation is important not only in systems where high temperatures are endured such as nuclear power plants, jet engines and heat exchangers, but also in the design of many everyday objects. For example, metal paper clips are stronger than plastic ones because plastics creep at room temperatures. Aging glass windows are often erroneously used as an example of this phenomenon: measurable creep would only occur at temperatures above the glass transition temperature around 900°F/500°C.
An example of an application involving creep deformation is the design of tungsten lightbulb filaments. Sagging of the filament coil between its supports increases with time due to creep deformation caused by the weight of the filament itself. If too much deformation occurs, the adjacent turns of the coil touch one another, causing an electrical short and local overheating, which quickly leads to failure of the filament. The coil geometry and supports are therefore designed to limit the stresses caused by the weight of the filament, and a special tungsten alloy with small amounts of oxygen trapped in the crystallite grain boundaries is used to slow the rate of coble creep.
In steam turbine power plants, steam pipes carry superheated vapor at high temperatures (1050°F/566°C) and high pressures of 3500 psi (24.1 MPa) or greater. In modern jet engines, temperatures can reach up to 1400°C (2550°F) and initiate creep deformation in even advanced-coated turbine blades. Hence, it is crucial for safety's sake to understand creep deformation behavior of materials.
where is the creep strain, C is a constant dependent on the material and the particular creep mechanism, m and b are exponents dependent on the creep mechanism, Q is the activation energy of the creep mechanism, is the applied stress, d is the grain size of the material, k is Boltzmann's constant, and T is the absolute temperature.
For dislocation creep , m = 4-6, and b=0. Therefore dislocation creep has a strong dependence on the applied stress and no grain size dependence.
Some alloys exhibit a very large stress exponent (n > 10), and this has typically been explained by introducing a "threshold stress," , below which creep can't be measured. The modified power law equation then becomes:
where , and can all be explained by conventional mechanisms (so ).
Nabarro-Herring creep is strongly temperature dependent. For lattice diffusion of atoms to occur in a material, neighboring lattice sites or interstitial sites in the crystal structure must be free. A given atom must also overcome the energy barrier to move from its current site (it lies in an energetically favorable potential well) to the nearby vacant site (another potential well). The general form of the diffusion equation is where Do has a dependence on both the attempted jump frequency and the number of nearest neighbor sites and the probability of the sites being vacant. Thus there is a double dependence upon temperature. At higher temperatures the diffusivity increases due to the direct temperature dependence of the equation, the increase in vacancies through Schottky defect formation, and an increase in the average energy of atoms in the material. Nabarro-Herring creep dominates at very high temperatures relative to a material's melting temperature.
When subjected to a step constant stress, viscoelastic materials experience a time-dependent increase in strain. This phenomenon is known as viscoelastic creep.
At a time t0, a viscoelastic material is loaded with a constant stress that is maintained for a sufficiently long time period. The material responds to the stress with a strain that increases until the material ultimately fails. When the stress is maintained for a shorter time period, the material undergoes an initial strain until a time t1, after which the strain immediately decreases (discontinuity) then gradually decreases at times t > t1 to a residual strain.
Viscoelastic creep data can be presented in one of two ways. Total strain can be plotted as a function of time for a given temperature or temperatures. Below a critical value of applied stress, a material may exhibit linear viscoelasticity. Above this critical stress, the creep rate grows disproportionately faster. The second way of graphically presenting viscoelastic creep in a material is by plotting the creep modulus (constant applied stress divided by total strain at a particular time) as a function of time. Below its critical stress, the viscoelastic creep modulus is independent of stress applied. A family of curves describing strain versus time response to various applied stress may be represented by a single viscoelastic creep modulus versus time curve if the applied stresses are below the material's critical stress value.
Additionally, the molecular weight of the polymer of interest is known to affect its creep behavior. The effect of increasing molecular weight tends to promote secondary bonding between polymer chains and thus make the polymer more creep resistant. Similarly, aromatic polymers are even more creep resistant due to the added stiffness from the rings. Both molecular weight and aromatic rings add to polymers' thermal stability, increasing the creep resistance of a polymer. (Meyers and Chawla, 1999, 573)
Both polymers and metals can creep. Polymers experience significant creep at all temperatures above ~-200°C, however there are three main differences between polymetric and metallic creep. Metallic creep: