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foam/composite sandwich structures under ﬂexural loading
, P. Compston, S. Kalyanasundaram
Department of Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, The Australian National University, Engineering Building,
32, North Road, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
a r t i c l e i n f o
Available online 16 March 2008
Finite element modelling
a b s t r a c t
This paper models the ﬂexural behaviour of a composite sandwich structure with an aluminium foam
core using the ﬁnite element (FE) code LS-DYNA. Two core thicknesses, 5 and 20 mm, were investigated.
The FE results were compared with results from previous experimental work that measured full-ﬁeld
strain directly from the sample during testing. The deformation and failure behaviour predicted by the
FE model compared well with the behaviour observed experimentally. The strain predicted by the FE
model also agreed reasonably well with the distribution and magnitude of strain obtained experimen-
tally. However, the FE model predicted lower peak load, which is most likely due to a size effect exhibited
by aluminium foam. A simple modiﬁcation of the FE model input parameters for the foam core subse-
quently produced good agreement between the model and experimental results.
Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Metallic foams offer good stiffness and strength to weight ra-
tios, high energy absorption, good sound damping, electromagnetic
wave absorption, thermal insulation and non-combustibility [1,2].
This range of properties has increased the interest in metallic
foams as an alternative to polymer foams as the core material in
composite sandwich structures. To date, attention has focussed
on the potential for signiﬁcant impact energy absorption in struc-
tural applications. Cantwell et al.  and Reyes and Cantwell  re-
ported relatively high energy absorption in low and high velocity
impact testing of sandwich structures with aluminium foam cores
and ﬁbre-reinforced composite skins. A signiﬁcant amount of the
energy absorption was attributed to the ductile failure modes in
the aluminium foam. Compston et al.  also found that an alu-
minium foam sandwich structure exhibits less localised damage
and signiﬁcant out-of-plane, ductile deformation under low veloc-
ity impact loading compared to a polymer foam counterpart, which
exhibited catastrophic failure at the impact point. Characterisation
of surface strain contours during post-impact loading also showed
lower strain concentrations at the impact point in the aluminium
foam sandwich structure, which suggests increased damage toler-
ance compared polymer foam sandwich structures .
While impact energy absorption and damage tolerance are
desirable properties, the main in-service attribute of a sandwich
structure is high bending stiffness with minimal increase in weight
due to the low density core. Therefore, the quasi-static ﬂexural
behaviour of a sandwich structure that includes aluminium foam
must be predictable when designing for future applications. How-
ever, the cellular nature of commercially available aluminiumfoam
presents a signiﬁcant problem when attempting to predict
mechanical behaviour . The properties can depend on the rela-
tive magnitude of the average cell size and the geometry of the
specimen. The bulk material behaviour of aluminium foam has
exhibited a distinct size effect [7,8], where the compressive and
shear strength properties were found to reach a plateau level as
the ratio of specimen size to cell size increased . Chen and Fleck
 also found constraints on the foam core from skin sheets also
resulted in a size effect.
Two approaches based on ﬁnite element methodology have
been used to model the mechanical behaviour of complex cellular
foam materials. The ﬁrst replicates the detailed topology and struc-
ture of the foam using repeated unit cells imitating the geometry of
individual cell faces. This method has been implemented with a
number of geometries and crushing techniques [10–15]. A second
approach models the foam as a continuum, using empirical data to
generate a standard yield surface to reproduce the bulk properties
of the material. A number of constitutive models have been devel-
oped that attempt to incorporate the various stages of deformation
the metal foam can display [16–20]. Some of these constitutive
models have been implemented as material models within FE pack-
ages and have been used in a range of modelling studies [21–23].
However, it is notable that current FE models were developed for
metallic foams as ﬁller materials within energy absorbers, where
compression forces dominate. The suitability of these models for
0263-8223/$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +61 2 6125 3072; fax: +61 2 6125 0506.
E-mail address: Milli.Styles@anu.edu.au (M. Styles).
Composite Structures 86 (2008) 227–232
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structural applications, especially within composite sandwich
structure where ﬂexural loading dominates, needs further
The current study examines the ability of an FE model to predict
the ﬂexural behaviour of a composite sandwich structure with an
aluminium foam core. Sample with core thickness of 5 and
20 mm were modelled in 4-point bending. The FE model utilises
an existing LS-DYNA material model  developed for aluminium
foam energy absorbers and based on the Deshpande–Fleck consti-
tutive model . Although this study is limited to quasi-static
behaviour, the possible applications of this material system are
likely to involve dynamic loading, making the use of the explicit
FE code LS-DYNA appropriate. A composite damage material model
that incorporates matrix cracking, compressive failure and ﬁbre
breakage is used for the sandwich skins. The results will be com-
pared with load–displacement behaviour, failure modes and full-
ﬁeld strain contours obtained from a previous experimental study
of ﬂexural behaviour of the same sandwich structures . The
strain contours in the previous study were obtained using an ad-
vanced optical 3D image correlation system, and showed the strain
progression during the ﬂexural loading. This strain data will be
particularly useful for FE model validation.
2. Numerical implementation of the constitutive model
Deshpande and Fleck  proposed a constitutive model for the
plastic behaviour of metal foams including differential hardening
effects from hydrostatic stress on the shape of the yield surface.
The model is an extension of the von Mises yield criterion with
the hydrostatic stresses incorporated in the equivalent stress term.
This constitutive model was implemented by Reyes et al.  as a
material model in LS-DYNA which was utilised in this study. The
yield function is deﬁned by
U ¼ ^ r ÀY 6 0 ð1Þ
where, the yield stress Y can be expressed as
Y ¼ r
Here, Rð^eÞ is the strain hardening term and ^e is the equivalent strain
. Deshpande and Fleck  deﬁne the equivalent stress ^ r as
Here, the von Mises effective stress is r
is the mean stress and
the shape of the yield surface is deﬁned by the parameter a. The
expression for a is given by
is the plastic coefﬁcient of contraction. Details of the
method used to implement this model as an integration algorithm
within LS-DYNA are available elsewhere . The material model
requires several parameters to be obtained from compression test-
ing. The expression for yield stress is given by
Y ¼ r
, c and b are material parameters obtained from a curve
ﬁt of the stress–strain data from uniaxial compression. The densiﬁ-
cation strain e
is determined from the density of the foam (q
bulk aluminium (q
This constitutive model has been implemented as Mat_Deshpan-
de_Fleck_Foam material model in LS-DYNA .
3. Finite element model
The results from the ﬁnite element model were obtained by
using the commercial explicit code LS-DYNA version 971 on an
SGI Altix UNIX platform. The 4-point bending loading conditions
were replicated using four rollers of rigid shell elements with the
material properties of tool steel. The sandwich beam was modelled
with symmetry conditions along the width to reduce the computa-
tional time. The FE pre-processing package Hyperworks from Altair
was used to develop the mesh and input deck for LS-DYNA.
3.1. Material model
The material parameters for the aluminium foam were obtained
by performing compressive tests on cubes of ALPORAS foam
(30 mm sides). Fig. 1 illustrates the experimental stress strain
curve and the curve ﬁt used to obtain the material model parame-
ters of plateau stress (r
, c, and b. The values for different
parameters are given in Table 1. The parameter C
is the value
of the failure strain of foam and is used to remove failed elements
during simulation. The damage progression in the composite skin
was modelled using the composite material model Mat22 provided
by LS-DYNA . This is a model for orthotropic composites and
can model matrix cracking, compressive failure and ﬁnal failure
due to ﬁbre breakage. The mechanical properties for the composite
skin were obtained from manufacturer’s data sheets for Twintex
3.2. Element and contact deﬁnitions
The default eight-node brick element was used for the core with
a one point reduced integration scheme and the LS-DYNA stiffness-
based hourglass control. Skin layers were modelled with shell
elements using the Belytschko–Tsay formulation. The interface
Fig. 1. Deshpande–Fleck yield surface curve ﬁt of experimental compression data.
Material input parameters for foam model Mat154
0.23 1.1 0.0 2.12 3.12 2.4629 0.368 4.47 1.35 0.2
228 M. Styles et al. / Composite Structures 86 (2008) 227–232
between the core and skin materials was replicated using a tied
contact type with an offset. This contact deﬁnition used a soft con-
straint-based formulation. This contact formulation is recom-
mended when the material constants of the surfaces in contact
have large differences in elastic bulk moduli values. No failure cri-
terion for the interface was implemented, to replicate the lack of
any delamination observed experimentally.
3.3. Load application
The load was applied through motion of the top load rollers. The
bottom rollers were constrained to be stationary. A prescribed
velocity in the z direction was applied to the load rollers to simu-
late the experimental conditions. To replicate quasi-static loading
experienced during testing, the following velocity ﬁeld was applied
Here, T is the total time of the loading and d
is the maximum dis-
placement of the load rollers. This velocity ﬁeld produces an initial
acceleration of zero, ensuring that the loading takes place gradually.
For this study, the total loading time T was 750 ms and the maxi-
mum displacement was 30 mm. This velocity ﬁeld ensured that
quasi-static conditions were simulated in an explicit ﬁnite element
4. Results and discussion
The deformation and failure of sandwich structure models hav-
ing 20 mm and 5 mm aluminium foam cores was compared with
the observed experimental behaviour , using both force–dis-
placement curves and full-ﬁeld strain distributions.
4.1. Failure behaviour of the sandwich structure with 20 mm core
The general deformation shape and failure mechanisms of the
20 mm core model compared favourably with that observed in
the physical testing. Fig. 2 illustrates the ﬁnal deformed shapes
after approximately 25 mm of crosshead displacement. The pre-
dominant deformation mechanisms observed in the tested sample
were core crushing and indentation damage under the loading roll-
ers. There was some minor skin failure in the form of slight fracture
and wrinkling. A similar deformation shape was produced by the
FE model. Core crushing was observed under the top rollers with
little distortion of core elements elsewhere in the beam. There
was some minor deformation of the skin elements following the
core indentation but no signiﬁcant skin wrinkling was observed.
Fig. 3 depicts the load–displacement curves recorded during the
physical testing and as produced by the numerical model. The gen-
eral shape of the model curve matches the experiment with an ini-
tial linear elastic region followed by a decrease in slope up to a ﬁrst
peak load point. In the curve from the physical testing, this peak
load point is followed by a plateau region. In this region the load
level is reasonably constant with some small variation towards
the end of the test. This curve agrees with the deformation mech-
anisms observed; the initial peak corresponds to the ﬁrst signiﬁ-
cant failure of foam cells followed by the progressive crushing
and densiﬁcation of the core. The ﬂuctuation in the load magnitude
may relate to the inconsistency in the cells; for example, as larger
or weaker cells fail the load will drop considerably. The second part
of the model curve also shows some small ﬂuctuations throughout
a semi-plateau region. The complete proﬁle of the model curve
matches well with the experimental curve.
While the general shape of the curve produced by the model is
in agreement with the experiment, there is a difference in the mag-
nitude of the load. The peak load predicted by the model is 0.8 kN
compared to the experimental value of 1.2 kN. This deformation
behaviour has not been reported in other studies where the major
emphasis of the work is on bulk compressive behaviour [22,28].
There are two likely reasons for the underestimation of the load
by the model. The ﬁrst is related to a size effect in the core mate-
rial. Previous studies of metal foams have found a number of
potentially signiﬁcant size effects on material properties, with re-
spect to the ratio of cell size to specimen size. In particular, Chen
et al.  reported that shear response is sensitive to the thickness
of the specimen, with a stronger response displayed by specimens
of smaller thickness. Similar results have been discussed by Kesler
et al.  as very important in considering sandwich panel design.
The core thickness used in this investigation is less than the sample
size used to generate the input parameters for the material model,
and as such, a size effect may be involved. As discussed by Chen
et al.  in an investigation of constrained deformation, the mate-
rial model appears to be unable to predict the sample size effect on
the strength. The inclusion of this effect is essential in developing
an accurate model for sandwich structure applications. A second
factor that may be contributing to the lower load prediction by
Fig. 2. Deformation in the sandwich structure with 20 mm thick core; (a) FE model and (b) observation from experimental work .
Fig. 3. Comparison of the load–displacement curve from FE model with the curve
from experimental work  for the sandwich structure with the 20 mm thick core.
M. Styles et al. / Composite Structures 86 (2008) 227–232 229
the model is related to the Saint-Venant’s principle. The experi-
mental ﬂexural testing can be inﬂuenced by the concentrated loads
of the rollers on the sample. These point loading conditions can
lead to elevated stress values in the region around the points of
loading or support, and thus can result in an ampliﬁed recorded
load magnitude. In contrast, the compression testing for deriving
the model input parameters, involves a relatively uniform stress
distribution. It is suggested the combination of these issues of size
effect and stress concentrations from point loads may have caused
the difference in load magnitudes between the simulation and
The effect of some of the material model parameters was inves-
tigated in an attempt to match the experimental results more clo-
sely. The magnitude of the parameters used to describe the
Deshpande–Fleck yield surface was increased and the resulting
load–displacement curves are illustrated in Fig. 4. The parameters
of plateau stress (r
), c and a
were increased by factors of 1.5 and
2. The magnitude of the load–displacement curve increases accord-
ingly, with the experimental curve most closely matched by the
model with parameters increased by a factor of 1.5. The effective-
ness of simply increasing these parameters supports the sugges-
tion that the initial model underestimation of peak loads is, at
least partially, related to the size effect.
The effect of parameters in the skin material model was also
investigated. The compressive, tensile and shear strength parame-
ters were varied around the initial value without any signiﬁcant ef-
fect on the behaviour of the model. Similarly the shear modulus
parameter was found to have minimal effect on the model. The
parameters relating to the longitudinal modulus were found to
have the most effect on the magnitude of the curve. Fig. 5 illus-
trates load–displacement curves from models with Young’s modu-
lus values having a very low value (5 GPa) or higher values
(20 GPa) compared to manufacturer’s reported values of 15 GPa.
As expected, these changes affect the initial slope of the curve
and have only minimal effect on the overall magnitude of the
curve. The minimal effect of varying the skin model properties sug-
gests that the foam core material model dominates the overall
behaviour of the sandwich structure for this particular geometry.
4.2. Strain distribution of the sandwich structure with 20 mm core
A full-ﬁeld strain distribution of the region of the sandwich
structure between the load rollers was recording throughout the
ﬂexural testing. Fig. 6 provides a comparison of Von Mises strain
contours between simulation and experiment at a crosshead dis-
placement of 2.7 mm. This value of crosshead displacement corre-
sponds to the initial peak load. The experimental results exhibit
isolated regions of slightly higher strain dispersed throughout the
sample, which can be associated with the cellular structure of
the core. In the regions beneath the load rollers, small, more con-
centrated regions of high strain have appeared. On the right side
there is a signiﬁcant region of high strain in the centre of the thick-
ness beneath the load roller. This is likely to be the site of a weak
cell where initial crushing is beginning. The simulation results
illustrate regions of increased strain directly under the load rollers.
This region is also where the ﬁrst cell failure and crushing was ob-
served in the experiment. The remainder of the beam displays uni-
form regions of strain level unlike the dispersed higher strain
regions seen in the experiment. This is a result of the use of the
continuum material modelling method which does not include
any variation in properties between elements. More importantly,
the magnitude of the strain levels agrees well with the experimen-
tal strain values for most parts of the structure.
Fig. 7 provides a comparison of Von Mises strain contours be-
tween simulation and experiment at a crosshead displacement of
10 mm. The simulation and experimental results indicate that
the regions under the load rollers having concentrated high strain
values. These regions correspond to the observed regions of core
crushing. The maximum strain value in the model at this crosshead
displacement was 0.436 which compares well with the maximum
strain value of 0.47 observed in the experiment. The correlation of
overall strain distribution between experimental and simulation
results is very good. Therefore this study is the ﬁrst of its kind to
validate the constitutive model for sandwich foam structures
through experimental observation for structures experiencing
non-uniform strain ﬁelds.
4.3. Failure behaviour of the sandwich structure with 5 mm core
The effect of reducing the core thickness on the model perfor-
mance was investigated using a 5 mm core sample. Fig. 8 provides
a comparison between simulation and experiment on the failure
behaviour of this reduced core thickness. The main failure ob-
served for this structure was skin wrinkling and ﬁbre fracture with
minor core cracking. There was no apparent crushing within the
core structure. Instead, the structure exhibits plastic hinge type
Fig. 4. Comparison of the load–displacement curves after modifying material par-
ameters (plateau stress (r
), c and a
magnitude) for the 20 mm thick aluminium
foam core in the FE model.
Fig. 5. Load–displacement curves for the sandwich structure with the 20 mm thick
core after modifying Young’s modulus for the composite skin in the FE model.
230 M. Styles et al. / Composite Structures 86 (2008) 227–232
deformation behaviour beneath each load roller. The simulation re-
sults for the overall deformation behaviour matches experimental
results. The simulation results also exhibit some minor compres-
sion of the core directly beneath the load rollers, and some element
rotation at each beam hinge.
Fig. 9 illustrates a typical load–displacement curve for this
structure. The curve recorded from the experiment shows initial
linear elastic behaviour followed by a decrease in slope up to a
maximum load magnitude. This is followed by a sharp drop in load
before reaching a plateau. This progression agrees with the defor-
mation mechanisms observed of skin wrinkling and ﬁbre fracture.
The curve produced by the simulation follows the general shape of
the experimental curve closely though there are some differences
in the load magnitude. The initial stiffness response of the struc-
ture has been overestimated by the model. In contrast, the peak
load produced by the model is signiﬁcantly lower than experimen-
tally measured value. In this structure where the deformation ap-
pears dominated by skin failure mechanisms, the initial slope of
the curve is highly dependent on the skin properties. An overesti-
mated skin thickness is a possible cause for the model’s high initial
stiffness. This model used the manufacturer’s nominal thickness
for a single ply of consolidated Twintex. This nominal thickness
may be greater than the effective thickness achieved by the metal
foam sandwich manufacturing process used in this study, causing
the overestimated stiffness. The underestimated load magnitude
was also observed in the sandwich structure with 20 mm core
and can be attributed to a combination of a core size effect and a
Saint-Venant’s principle effect. The core size effect in constrained
deformation as observed by Chen et al.  is likely to be highly
signiﬁcant to this thin core geometry. The load–displacement
response of the model can be increased to match the experiment
data by increasing the core input parameters by a factor of 2.
This is higher than the factor of 1.5 used with the 20 mm core,
Fig. 6. Typical strain distribution at peak load ($2.7 mm displacement) for the sandwich structure with 20 mm thick core; (a) FE model and (b) real-time experimental
Fig. 7. Typical strain distribution at 10 mm displacement for the sandwich structure with 20 mm thick core; (a) FE model and (b) real-time experimental measurement .
Fig. 8. Deformation shape for the sandwich structure with 5 mm thick core; (a) FE model and (b) observation from experimental work .
Fig. 9. Load–displacement curves for the sandwich structure with 5 mm thick al-
uminium foam core; from the experimental work , the initial FE model, and
after modifying material parameters (plateau stress (r
), c and a
the aluminium foam core in the FE model.
M. Styles et al. / Composite Structures 86 (2008) 227–232 231
indicating the importance of size effect in developing constitutive
models for the foam material.
4.4. Strain distribution of the sandwich structure with 5 mm core
Fig. 10 provides a comparison of Von Mises strain contours be-
tween simulation and experiment at a crosshead displacement of
10 mm. There are regions of higher strain beneath the load rollers
corresponding to the regions where skin failure and core cracking
were visually observed. There is a good agreement between simula-
tion and experiments of the strain distribution of the structure.
Overall, this study has illustrated that an existing constitutive mate-
rial model for aluminium foam can be effectively utilised to model
the behaviour of a complex sandwich structure with two different
core thicknesses under ﬂexural loading. The model underestimated
the peak load magnitude for both thicknesses. However, the general
deformation behaviour and load–displacement curve shapes were
well matched. The discrepancy between the load magnitudes and
its possible relationship to a core size effect needs to be further
investigated. The strain distributions produced by the model were
in good agreement with those recorded from the experiments. Fu-
ture investigations are needed to further examine the behaviour
of the model across a greater range of core and skin thicknesses.
A ﬁnite element model of an aluminium foam composite sand-
wich structure undergoing 4-point ﬂexural testing was produced
using an existing foam material model based on the Deshpande–
Fleck yield surface. The ability of the model to replicate the behav-
iour of structures for two different core thicknesses was investi-
gated. The performance of the model was evaluated using
experimental observations including data from an optical full-ﬁeld
strain distribution system. The damage progression and deforma-
tion of each of the models reﬂected the physical testing results
although the load–displacement response was underestimated.
This underestimation can be attributed to the non-inclusion of
the size effect in the constitutive material model. The strain distri-
butions produced by the models matched well with the experi-
mental contours, providing a valuable alternative method of
validating the deformation performance of the models. Further
investigations and improvements are required to develop the mod-
el towards a useful FE design tool.
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Fig. 10. Typical strain distribution at 10 mm displacement for the sandwich structure with 5 mm thickness; (a) FE model and (b) real-time experimental measurement .
232 M. Styles et al. / Composite Structures 86 (2008) 227–232