In this study, we investigated the drawbacks of previous studies regarding the evaluation of fracture toughness from spherical indentation tests (SITs). This was achieved by an examination of the material damage mechanism during indentation tests, uniaxial tensile tests, and Mode I/II fracture tests. A new approach based on the energy release rate was proposed in this study to evaluate the fracture toughness of ductile metals. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) observations revealed that the mechanism for material damage during an indentation test was different with the material damage in uniaxial tensile tests and Mode I fracture tests, but similar to that in Mode II fracture tests. Thus, the energy release rate during SITs should be correlated with JIIC. Compared with previous studies, this new proposed method was more consistent with the actual damage mechanism and did not rely on the specific critical damage values. Experiments on SA508, SA533, 15CrMoR, and S30408 revealed that the maximum error from this energy release rate-based approach was no more than 13% when compared with their conventional counterparts (compact tension tests), and thus can meet the precision requirement of engineering applications.

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