Crystal Defects

A perfect crystal, with every atom of the same type in the correct position, does not exist. All crystals have some defects. Defects contribute to the mechanical properties of metals. In fact, using the term “defect” is sort of a misnomer since these features are commonly intentionally used to manipulate the mechanical properties of a material. Adding alloying elements to a metal is one way of introducing a crystal defect. Nevertheless, the term “defect” will be used, just keep in mind that crystalline defects are not always bad. There are basic classes of crystal defects:

  • point defects, which are places where an atom is missing or irregularly placed in the lattice structure. Point defects include lattice vacancies, self-interstitial atoms, substitution impurity atoms, and interstitial impurity atoms
  • linear defects, which are groups of atoms in irregular positions. Linear defects are commonly called dislocations.
  • planar defects, which are interfaces between homogeneous regions of the material. Planar defects include grain boundaries, stacking faults and external surfaces.

It is important to note at this point that plastic deformation in a material occurs due to the movement of dislocations (linear defects). Millions of dislocations result for plastic forming operations such as rolling and extruding. It is also important to note that any defect in the regular lattice structure disrupts the motion of dislocation, which makes slip or plastic deformation more difficult. These defects not only include the point and planer defects mentioned above, and also other dislocations. Dislocation movement produces additional dislocations, and when dislocations run into each other it often impedes movement of the dislocations. This drives up the force needed to move the dislocation or, in other words, strengthens the material. Each of the crystal defects will be discussed in more detail in the following pages.