Damage and fracture mechanics of composite materials

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Abdussalam, Saleh R.
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The design of structural systems in the aerospace industry has been characterized by a continuing search for strong, yet lightweight, materials to achieve maximum payload capability for minimum weight. In recent years, this search has led to a wide use of fiber reinforced composites, such as carbon, glass and kevelar based composites. Comparison of these new materials with the traditional ones (metals) according to the basic properties, such as density, elastic modulus and also long-time and short-time strength, shows their superiority over traditional materials, when weight is a major design factor, like in the aerospace industry. Most composite materials of interest to aerospace applications have been adequately characterized under static loading conditions. Related work to study their fracture behaviour has been limited. Since most failure mechanisms involve crack growth and/or delamination, design of such components requires knowledge and understanding of their fracture properties. This thesis includes an experimental and analytical investigation of fracture characteristics of composite materials. The post-peak response of notched specimens subjected to uniaxial cyclic loading is established to evaluate the fracture energy associated with progressive matrix damage and subsequent crack growth. A total of 75 uniaxial tension specimens were tested. The experimental work consisted of first testing several un-notched specimens with different thickness (number of layers) to determine the initial and secondary elastic modulus as well as the tensile strength. The investigation studied the effect of the various fracture parameters, including th ckness, fiber orientation, and crack width ratio ('a'/'w') on the behaviour of crack propagation, peak load, and post-peak response. The specimens used in this research were prepared using the vacuum bagging technique, with a chosen number of fiber glass cloth layers and fiber orientation. The experimental results provided information regarding the peak load, post-peak response, fracture energy and stress intensity factor of the notched composite materials specimen under repeated loading/unloading cyclicity. The load versus crack opening displacement as well as crack length, fracture toughness and fracture energy versus number of loading cycles are produced for different specimens. Based on the experimental results, concepts of fracture mechanics are applied to evaluate stiffness degradation, fracture toughness and fracture energy evolution associated with crack growth. In addition, a linear elastic fracture mechanics approach combined with continuum damage representation is used to predict the response of specimens (peak load and crack opening displacement). This effort has also generated a new crack band model for computational purposes. A new formula is derived to compute delamination and interlaminar buckling loads using the finite element method. By matching the analytical near crack tip displacement field with the finite element approximation, the crack-axial stress magnitude is established, and therefore an accurate assessment of the buckling load responsible for delamination of composites is accurately evaluated. A comprehensive derivation of the fracture inelastic zone size and shape in anisotropic solids is presented. An adaptation of Hill's failure criterion is used to derive the shape of the inelastic zone. The findings explain the "banded" shape of the damage zone observed during crack growth.