A flake is a crack that is induced by trapped hydrogen within steel. To study its formation mechanism, previous studies mostly focused on the formation process and magnitude of hydrogen pressure in hydrogen traps such as cavities and cracks. However, according to recent studies, the hydrogen leads to the decline of the mechanical properties of steel, which is known as hydrogen embrittlement, is another reason for flake formation. In addition, the phenomenon of stress induced hydrogen uphill diffusion should not be neglected. All of the three behaviors are at work simultaneously. In order to further explore the formation mechanism of flakes in steel, the process of flake initiation and growth were studied with the following three coupling factors: trap hydrogen pressure, hydrogen embrittlement, and stress induced hydrogen re-distribution. The analysis model was established using the finite element method, and a crack whose radius is 0.5 mm was set in its center. The cohesive method and Bilinear Traction Separate Law (BTSL) were used to address the coupling effect. The results show that trap hydrogen pressure is the main driving force for flake formation. After the high hydrogen pressure was generated around the trap, a stress field formed. In addition, the trap is the center of stress concentration. Then, hydrogen is concentrated in a distribution around this trap, and most of the steel mechanical properties are reduced. The trap size is a key factor for defining the critical hydrogen content for flake formation and propagation. However, when the trap size exceeds the specified value, the critical hydrogen content does not change any more. As for the crack whose radius is 0.5 mm, the critical hydrogen content of Cr5VMo steel is 2.2 ppm, which is much closer to the maximum safe hydrogen concentration of 2.0 ppm used in China. The work presented in this article increases our understanding of flake formation and propagation mechanisms in steel.
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