Finite element simulations are performed to analyze the contact deformation regimes induced by a sharp indenter in elastic – power-law plastic solids. As the yield strength (σys) and strain hardening coefficient (n) decrease or, alternatively, as Young's modulus (E) increases, the contact regime evolves from (i) an elastic–plastic transition, to (ii) a fully plastic contact response, and to (iii) a fully plastic regime where piling-up of material at the contact area prevails. In accordance with preliminary analyses by Johnson, it is found that Tabor's equation, where hardness (H) = 2.7σr, applies within the fully plastic regime of elastic – power-law plastic materials. The results confirm the concept of the uniqueness of the characteristic strain, ∈r = 0.1, that is associated with the uniaxial stress, σr. A contact deformation map is constructed to provide bounds for the elastic–plastic transition and the fully plastic contact regimes for a wide range of values of σ ys, n, and E. Finally, the development of piling-up and sinking-in at the contact area is correlated with uniaxial mechanical properties. The present correlation holds exclusively within the fully plastic contact regime and provides a tool to estimate σ ys and n from indentation experiments.
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