In this paper, a new structural strain method is presented to extend the early structural stress based master S-N curve method to low cycle fatigue regime in which plastic deformation can be significant while an elastic core is still present. The method is formulated by taking advantage of elastically calculated mesh-insensitive structural stresses based on nodal forces available from finite element solutions. The structural strain definition is consistent with classical plate and shell theory in which a linear through-thickness deformation field is assumed a priori in both elastic and elastic-plastic regimes. With considerations of both yield and equilibrium conditions, the resulting structural strains are analytically solved if assuming elastic and perfectly plastic material behavior. The formulation can be readily extended to strain-hardening materials for which structural strains can be numerically calculated with ease. The method is shown effective in correlating low-cycle fatigue test data of various sources documented in the literature into a single narrow scatter band which is remarkable consistent with the scatter band of the existing master S-N curve adopted ASME B&PV Code since 2007.

With this new method, some of the inconsistencies of the pseudo-elastic structural stress procedure in 2007 ASME Div 2 Code can now be eliminated, such as its use of Neuber’s rule in approximating structural strain beyond yield. More importantly, both low cycle and high cycle fatigue behaviors can now be treated in a unified manner. The earlier mesh-insensitive structural stress based master S-N curve method can now be viewed as an application of the structural strain method in high cycle regime, in which structural strains are linearly related to traction-based structural stresses according to Hook’s law. In low-cycle regime, the structural strain method characterizes fatigue damage directly in terms of structural strains that satisfy linear through-thickness deformation gradient assumption, material nonlinear behavior, and equilibrium conditions. The use of a pseudo-elastic structural stress definition is not fundamental, but merely a means to put low-cycle and high-cycle fatigue test data in a conventional stress-based S-N data representation which is typically preferred in engineering practice, than a strain-based representation.

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