Viscoplasticity is a theory in continuum mechanics that describes the rate-dependent inelastic behavior of solids. Rate-dependence in this context means that the deformation of the material depends on the rate at which loads are applied.[1] The inelastic behavior that is the subject of viscoplasticity is plastic deformation which means that the material undergoes unrecoverable deformations when a load level is reached. Rate-dependent plasticity is important for transient plasticity calculations. The main difference between rate-independent plastic and viscoplastic material models is that the latter exhibit not only permanent deformations after the application of loads but continue to undergo a creep flow as a function of time under the influence of the applied load.

Figure 1. Elements used in one-dimensional models of viscoplastic materials.

The elastic response of viscoplastic materials can be represented in one-dimension by Hookean spring elements. Rate-dependence can be represented by nonlinear dashpot elements in a manner similar to viscoelasticity. Plasticity can be accounted for by adding sliding frictional elements as shown in Figure 1.[2] In the figure E is the modulus of elasticity, λ is the viscosity parameter and N is a power-law type parameter that represents non-linear dashpot [σ(dε/dt)= σ = λ(dε/dt)(1/N)]. The sliding element can have a yield stressy) that is strain rate dependent, or even constant, as shown in Figure 1c.

Viscoplasticity is usually modeled in three-dimensions using overstress models of the Perzyna or Duvaut-Lions types.[3] In these models, the stress is allowed to increase beyond the rate-independent yield surface upon application of a load and then allowed to relax back to the yield surface over time. The yield surface is usually assumed not to be rate-dependent in such models. An alternative approach is to add a strain rate dependence to the yield stress and use the techniques of rate independent plasticity to calculate the response of a material[4]

For metals and alloys, viscoplasticity is the macroscopic behavior caused by a mechanism linked to the movement of dislocations in grains, with superposed effects of inter-crystalline gliding. The mechanism usually becomes dominant at temperatures greater than approximately one third of the absolute melting temperature. However, certain alloys exhibit viscoplasticity at room temperature (300K). For polymers, wood, and bitumen, the theory of viscoplasticity is required to describe behavior beyond the limit of elasticity or viscoelasticity.

In general, viscoplasticity theories are useful in areas such as

  • the calculation of permanent deformations,
  • the prediction of the plastic collapse of structures,
  • the investigation of stability,
  • crash simulations,
  • systems exposed to high temperatures such as turbines in engines, e.g. a power plant,
  • dynamic problems and systems exposed to high strain rates.

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