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Ultrasonic evaluation of matrix damage in impacted composite laminates


F. Aymerich*, S. Meili
Dipartimento di Ingegneria Meccanica, Universita Degli Studi di Cagliari, Piazza dArmi, 09123 Cagliari, Italy Received 19 January 1999; received in revised form 5 October 1999; accepted 2 November 1999

Abstract Conventional ultrasonic inspection methods are largely used for detection of delaminations in composite materials while only recently new techniques have been proposed to identify matrix cracks in simple tension loaded coupon specimens. In this study delaminations and matrix cracking caused by low-energy impacts on quasi-isotropic carbon/PEEK laminated plates are examined by means of different pulse-echo techniques: conventional time-of-ight and amplitude C-scans at normal incidence are used to check for the presence of delaminations, while backscattering C-scans (in which the transducer is set at an angle to the laminate plane) allow the detection of matrix cracks through the laminate thickness. Selected results from full waveform ultrasonic analysis of impacted carbon/PEEK laminates are discussed and compared with X-ray data in order to demonstrate the efciency of the proposed inspection technique. 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: D. Non-destructive testing; D. Ultrasonics; Backscattering; B. Impact behavior

1. Introduction The detection of load-induced disbonds or cracks in composite structures is of primary importance when determining performance levels and serviceability of tested components. The higher strength-to-weight ratio of laminated carbon-ber composites as compared to metallic structures is counterbalanced by a lower impact damage tolerance mainly due to the layered and heterogeneous conguration of laminates [13]. Composite laminates do not allow signicant energy dissipation by plastic deformation, and this leads to weaker through-the-thickness than in-plane mechanical properties for the structure. Damage assessment cannot therefore disregard the occurrence of both low- and high-velocity impact loadings during the structures life cycle. The latter lead to easy-to-detect forms of damage, since high-speed impactors, interacting with the material for a short time period, cause evident external damage. The former though (which is likely to occur during manufacturing, service and maintenance) can bring about invisible front surface damage but signicant internal degradation, with inner damage spreading over a wider area starting from the contact point; mechanical properties can thus be seriously lowered, leading to sudden and unexpected failure of the component. For these reasons,
* Corresponding author. Tel.: 39-070-6755707; fax: 39-0706755717. E-mail address: aymerich@iris.unica.it (F. Aymerich).

accurate non-destructive techniques are required to detect and quantify damages resulting from low-velocity impacts on composite laminates. 2. Damage assessment techniques Impact damage in composite materials consists of different fracture modes which combine giving rise to a quite complex three-dimensional pattern [46]. Experiments indicate that an impact energy threshold exists below which no damage occurs; above that level matrix cracks generated by shear or tensile exural stresses around the indentation area develop mainly in the intermediate and backface layers. Matrix cracks are then followed by interface delaminations growing from the crack tips; delaminations occur between plies of different orientations and are elongated along the ber direction of the lower layer at that interface, with the largest delaminations developing between layers with the highest orientation mismatch. Delaminations appear in regular patterns producing altogether a typical three-dimensional spiral staircase. As the impact energy is further increased, supercial ber fractures initiate at the tensile side of the impacted sample and may propagate through the remaining layers, leading to total perforation of the laminate. Due to the complex features of damage mechanisms, more than one method is usually required for a complete non-destructive evaluation of impact induced damage. Advantages and disadvantages of different available

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techniques depend on the type of damage to be detected and on the test conditions in which sophisticated laboratory techniques can give highly accurate results, but may not be able to assess the state of the structure under in-service conditions. Several inspection techniques (acoustic emission, thermography, dye penetrant, stereo X-ray radiography, ultrasonics), with different sensitivity levels, can be used for non-destructive evaluation of composite materials [710]. Acoustic emission involves the detection of energy released by the material under stress during cracking events; the method proves very efcient for monitoring structures under service but a precise identication of size, shape and location of aws is still impossible, particularly in composite materials, characterized by a distinct anisotropy. Thermographic inspection, based on the analysis of thermal patterns induced either by heating the specimen or by applying a mechanical oscillatory load, is sensitive to delamination-type defects but is not able to give information on the through-thickness location of the aw. Liquid penetrantstypically limited to surface examinations and then with very limited applications to composite materialsare used to inltrate aws of damaged components; after application the excess dye is removed while the remaining penetrant indicates the presence of surface cracks. Penetrant-enhanced X-radiography, which utilizes a radio-opaque liquid to inltrate the examined area, can easily detect matrix cracks and delaminations; single broken bers are below the limit of resolution, but localized paths of broken bers can be revealed due to their characteristic jagged appearance. The main drawback of this technique is that it can resolve only damage connected to the surface, while internal defectsimpossible to ll with the dye may remain undetected. When the exact through-the-thickness position of the defect is required, stereoscopic X-radiography techniques can be adopted, in which two X-ray images are obtained from two different angles and then optically recombined to reconstruct a three-dimensional view of the damage state. The interpretation of the resulting stereoscopic image is however difcult, particularly in the presence of numerous superposed damage planes, due to the difculty of precisely locating the different delaminated and cracked layers. Ultrasonic through-transmission or pulse-echo techniques rely on the use of high-frequency mechanical oscillations for the detection of damage mechanisms; by measuring the signal amplitude and/or the time-of-ight of the ultrasonic signal the location and size of the defects can be estimated. The usually adopted normal incidence technique [1113] is most sensitive to aws that lie parallel to the surface (delaminations); on the contrary, matrix cracks, lying perpendicularly to the surface, and ber fracture paths are difcult to detect because they do not offer a wide enough reecting surface as delaminations. A few workers [1417] have shown that by orienting the transducer at an

angle to the tested surface, so as to acquire the energy backscattered from damage, transverse cracks running parallel to the ber direction can be detected in specimens with simple lamination sequences loaded in tension. In this study it is demonstrated how a combination of normal and oblique incidence pulse-echo ultrasonic techniques can be used to produce a highly detailed volumetric image of complex damage states dominated by transverse matrix cracks and delaminations, as those resulting from low-energy, lowvelocity impacts on composite laminates. 3. Experimental The specimens used for impact tests were 90 90 mm2 square plates cut from 420 420 mm2 carbon/polyetheretherketone (PEEK) panels (16-ply quasi-isotropic laminate with 61% by volume of continuous AS4 bers) supplied by Fiberite Europe. PEEK is a thermoplastic resin, which achieves a degree of crystallinity of about 33% after using the manufacturers processing procedures. The lamination sequence was 0= ^ 45=902s with ply thickness of 0.125 mm and a total thickness of 2.2 mm. Impact tests were performed on a purpose-built drop weight impact testing machine, with specimens clamped between two rings of 70 mm internal diameter. By varying the falling mass and the drop height, different impact energies and velocities could be obtained. The impactor was instrumented with a semiconductor strain-gage full bridge bonded to the tup, provided with a hemispherical nose of 12.5 mm diameter. Impact and rebound velocities were measured by an infrared sensor, which sees a threestripe ag attached to the impactor. In this study results are reported for 3.6 and 5 J impacts, each representing a particular state of damage which will be completely described in terms of matrix cracks and delaminations. 4. Ultrasonic testing procedure and results The tested specimens, immersed in water, were scanned at normal (to detect delaminations) and oblique (to identify matrix cracks) incidence in pulse-echo mode by means of a focussed broadband transducer (3.2 mm diameter, 18 mm focal length) with a center frequency of 22 MHz. The testing device consists of a 0.025 mm resolution scanning bridge, a 150 MHz Krautkramer HIS2 ultrasonic pulser/ receiver, and a 500 MHz Hewlett Packard 54520A digital oscilloscope used for radio frequency echo signal acquisition. A personal computer with in-house developed software controls the scanning sequence and triggers the pulser/ receiver for emission of ultrasonic pulses and acquisition of reected echoes. During scanning the complete ultrasonic waveform is digitized at each point, stored on the internal buffer of the oscilloscope and, once the buffer is lled, transferred to the computer hard disk. In this way a database

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Fig. 1. Ply-by-ply amplitude C-scans of delaminations and matrix cracks in a 3.6 J impacted plate.

representing the three-dimensional internal structure of the sample is built which allows post-processing of data for reconstruction of damage on a ply-by-ply basis by selecting the appropriate gate location and width. Since delaminations are located parallel to the laminate plane, they can be easily detected by normal incidence tests; scans were performed focussing on the middle plane so as to obtain a good lateral resolution within the specimen thickness. Both amplitude C-scans showing delaminations at the desired interface and time-of-ight C-scans displaying damage depths were reconstructed by consulting the acquired database. In order to limit the masking effect brought about by delaminations close to the probe to deeper damage, all the samples were examined from the two sides and the information obtained recombined to a single image. A typical C-scan image consisting of a 150 by 150 array, with a spatial sampling step of 0.1 mm, requires an acquisition time of about 15 min. Matrix cracks, running parallel to the bers, are virtually impossible to detect with conventional normal incidence

techniques, due to the fact that they mainly lie in a plane parallel to the path of the ultrasonic beam. When the transducer axis is oriented at an angle to the surface of the laminate most of the beam energy is reected (from the front surface of the specimen or from inner delaminations) in directions away from the transducer; the acquired echo is in this case much weaker than that obtained at normal incidence since it contains only low-level signals backscattered by matrix cracks and, to a smaller extent, by ber bundles. By adjusting the angle of incidence so as to maximize the amplitude of the signal received from cracks, patterns of multiple matrix cracks in different layers can be obtained and mapped with an appropriate analysis of the acquired data. In this study the transducer was attached to the vertical z-axis of the scanning bridge through a rotatable head. The probe direction was chosen to be normal to the ber direction of the layer investigated and at an angle of 26 to the normal, selected by rotating the ultrasonic transducer by successive adjustments until the matrix cracks signal was maximized.

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Fig. 2. X-ray image (left) and time of ight C-scan (right) of damage in a 3.6 J impacted plate.

5. Test results The ultrasonically reconstructed damage pattern of a 3.6 J impacted sample, displayed as amplitude C-scans on a plyby-ply basis, is shown in Fig. 1. Delaminations were obtained by orienting the probe at a normal incidence and setting a 40 ns software-based gate at the desired interface. Matrix cracking was imaged from ultrasonic data acquired at oblique incidence using a 50 ns width gate. The radiographic image and the time of ight C-scan (with gray levels corresponding to damage depths) of the same specimen are shown in Fig. 2. The ply-by-ply maps clearly show the characteristic twolobed shape of single delaminations, which combine to give a staircase appearance closely dependent on the stacking sequence. Moreover, by a comparison of Figs. 1 and 2, we can observe that some delaminations, impossible to inltrate with the penetrant, remain entirely undetected by radiographic analysis. As concerns matrix cracks, they mainly develop in the backface layer at the tensile side and are easily resolved by the ultrasonic backscattering technique (Fig. 1). If we compare the ultrasonic images with the information resulting from radiographic analysis (Fig. 2) we can conclude that the ultrasonic techniques adopted lead to a complete

characterization of the matrix damage for laminates impacted at this energy level, with matrix cracks individually detected by backscattering procedures. A proper selection of gate settings in terms of width and location is however essential: a narrow time gate produces a high-resolution image of matrix cracks but also requires a careful choice of its position if the depth of the defect is not known in advance. The inuence of gate width on the quality of backscatter imaging of matrix cracking is clearly evident from the observation of the two scans of Fig. 3, reconstructed by using respectively a 50 and a 300 ns gate. Figs. 4 and 5 show the results of tests on a laminate impacted at 5 J. Damage consists of a network of matrix cracks distributed in the lower layers and delamination areas coupled at adjacent interfaces; some ber breakage, undetected by ultrasonic analysis, develops as well in the 0 and 45 plies at the backface. Again the backscatter technique proves sensitive to the presence of matrix cracks, even in the presence of a complicated damage scenario and with different fractured layers. By the adoption of a sufciently short gate, backscattering analyses produce very detailed information on matrix fractures induced by impact, which can be located and detected with a resolution higher than 3 cracks per mm.

6. Conclusions Normal and oblique incidence ultrasonic techniques with full waveform acquisition proved very sensitive to matrix damage induced by low-velocity, low-energy impacts. Traditional normal-incidence pulse-echo procedures can be used to precisely characterize extension and throughthickness location of delaminations. Oblique incidence techniques provide a highly detailed description of matrix cracking at various thickness levels in the laminate, on condition that the entire backscattered echo is acquired and the appropriate software-based gate is adopted to select the required information at the desired depth.

Fig. 3. Inuence of gate width on the quality of crack imaging from backscattered echoes. (Top: 50 ns gate width; bottom: 300 ns gate width.)

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Fig. 4. Ply-by-ply amplitude C-scans of delaminations and matrix cracks in a 5 J impacted plate.

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Fig. 5. X-ray image (left) and time of ight C-scan (right) of damage in a 5 J impacted plate.

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