Philosophical Magazine 86 no. 33-35 (2006) 5265-5283

There is increasing interest in using sharp cube-corner indenters in nanoindentation experiments to study plastic properties. In combination with finite element methods, it is, for example, possible to extract stress-strain curves from load-displacement curves measured with differently shaped pyramidal indenters. Another example is the fracture toughness of coatings, which can be studied using cracks produced during indentation with cube-corner tips. We have carried out indentation experiments with Berkovich and cube-corner indenters on eight different materials with different mechanical properties. To gain information about the formation of pile-up and cracks, indentation experiments with cube-corner indenter were performed inside a scanning electron microscope (SEM) using a custom-built SEM-microindenter. The results show that reliable hardness and modulus values can be measured using cube-corner indenters. However, the fit range of the unloading curve has a much bigger influence on the results for the cube-corner than for the Berkovich tip. The unloading curves of a cube-corner measurement should, therefore, be carefully inspected to determine the region of smooth curvature, and the unloading fit range chosen warily. Comparison of the modulus results shows that there is no significant difference between cube-corner and Berkovich measurements. Also for hardness, no fundamental difference is observed for most of the investigated materials. Exceptions are materials, such as silicon nitride, cemented carbide or glassy carbon, where a clear difference to the hardness reference value has been observed although the modulus difference is not pronounced.