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Novel Fibre-metal Laminates based on Thermoplastic Matrices

W.J. Cantwell
P. Cortes
, R. Abdullah
, G. Carrillo-Baeza
L. Mosse
, M. Cardew-Hall
, P. Compston

and S. Kalyanasundaram

Impact Research Centre, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3GH, UK,
Fax: 00 44 151 794 4675 Email:
Dept. of Engineering, FEIT, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200 Australia.

This paper presents the results of an on-going international collaboration to investigate the properties and
manufacturing characteristics of fibre-metal laminates based on fibre-reinforced thermoplastics. Initial
attention focuses on evaluating the tensile properties of these FML systems. The impact response of these
lightweight materials is then investigated through a series of high velocity impact tests using a simple nitrogen
gas gun. Finally, the possibility of forming FMLs into complex shapes is investigated using a stamping
procedure similar to that used in the automotive industry.

Fibre-metal laminates (FMLs) are hybrid structures based on thin sheets of aluminium alloy and plies of fibre-
reinforced polymeric materials. At present, epoxy-based FML systems such as GLARE (glass
fibre/aluminium), and ARALL (aramid fibre/aluminium) are finding use in a number of load-bearing
aerospace applications. Fibre-metal laminates combine the durability and ease of fabrication associated with
aluminium alloys with the outstanding specific properties and excellent fatigue and fracture resistance of high
performance composite materials [1]. Previous work has shown that GLARE-type fibre-metal laminates can be
formed into single and double curved components and machined using similar tools and procedures to those
used in the manufacture of aluminium alloys [2].
Extensive testing on a number of systems has shown that FMLs offer an outstanding resistance to fatigue
loading [1]. Young et al [3] compared the fatigue behaviour of two grades of GLARE to that exhibited by a
traditional aluminium alloy. Their results showed that multi-layered fibre-metal laminates offered
improvements in fatigue life of up to one hundred times relative to an aerospace-grade aluminium alloy.
Alderliesten [4] studied the effect of high temperatures on the fatigue resistance of a GLARE laminate. He
showed that exposure to elevated temperatures caused softening of the thermosetting matrix leading to a
reduced level of fibre bridging and an increased crack growth rate. In spite of this, the fatigue performance of
GLARE was still superior to that of a 2024-T3 aluminium alloy.
One of the disadvantages of the first generation of epoxy-based fibre-metal laminates is the long processing
cycle associated with curing the matrix material. In contrast, thermoplastic-based composites can be moulded,
bonded to the aluminium plies and shaped in a simple stamping operation. This approach can potentially
shorten the manufacturing cycle and reduce the associated manufacturing costs. In addition, many
thermoplastic-based composites offer an outstanding interlaminar fracture resistance, a superior resistance to
aggressive environments and can be readily repaired.
The aim of the present work is to investigate the fracture properties of a range of fibre-metal laminates based
on thermoplastic matrices. Initial attention will focus on optimising the interface between the aluminium and
composite plies. Once this has been achieved, the impact response of a series of 3/2 laminates (three layers of
aluminium/two layers of composite) will be investigated over a wide range of incident energies. Finally, the
possibility of forming FMLs using a time-efficient stamping procedure will be investigated.

Experimental Procedure
Laminate Fabrication
The laminates examined in this study were based on an aluminium alloy (2024-T3) and a fibre-reinforced
thermoplastic. Six thermoplastic systems were selected for study, details of which are given in Table 1. For
comparison, tests were also conducted on a thermosetting glass fibre reinforced phenolic resin. The laminates
were fabricated by stacking the composite and aluminium alloy sheets in a picture frame mould as required,
followed by heating to the appropriate processing temperature in an air-circulating oven. In the case of the
thermoplastic-matrix composites, optimum adhesion between the aluminium and composite plies was achieved
by placing a suitable interlayer material at the composite-aluminium interface. When the laminate reached the
desired temperature, the mould was removed from the oven and stamped in a cold press.
Single Cantilever Beam Tests
Single cantilever beam (SCB) specimens for measuring the degree of adhesion between the composite and the
aluminium alloy were prepared by incorporating a 50 mm long piece of folded aluminium foil at the interface
between the upper aluminium sheet and the interlayer material. Here, specimens were clamped in a steel rig
and the protruding composite arm loaded, forcing a crack to propagate along the bi-material interface, Fig. 1.
Tests were undertaken at a crosshead displacement rate of 1 mm/min using an Instron 4505 universal test
machine. Crack advance was monitored using a graduated scale applied along the bi-material interface. The
interfacial fracture energy, G
, was determined using the compliance calibration technique [5].

Uniaxial Tensile Tests
Uniaxial tensile tests were conducted on 3/2 laminates (3 layers of aluminum/2 layers of composite) at a
crosshead displacement rate of 1 mm/min. Tests were undertaken on dog-bone samples with dimensions 20 x
170 mm (width x length) and gauge length 12 x 60 mm. The tensile moduli and ultimate tensile strength of the
FMLs were determined from the resulting stress-strain curves, the former with the aid of an extensometer
attached directly to the specimen gauge length. Similar tests were performed on plain composite and the plain
aluminium alloy samples. Prior to testing, individual batches of the plain aluminium alloy were subjected to
the same thermal cycle as that employed to fabricate the FMLs to yield appropriate data for predicting the
tensile properties of the FMLs.

High Velocity Impact Tests
The high velocity impact response of a series of 3/2 laminates was investigated using a nitrogen gas gun. Here,
100 mm square plates were bolted between two steel frames with a 75 mm square window and impacted by a
50 gram steel projectile with a 12.7 mm diameter hemispherical head. The velocity of the projectile was
measured immediately prior to impact by determining the time required for the projectile to pass between two
photo-electric sensors. After testing, the damaged laminates were sectioned through the point of impact,
polished and examined using a low power Wild optical microscope.

Stamp Forming
The laminates for the stamp forming investigation were based on a 2/1 FML configuration. The outer layers
were 0.5 mm thick aluminium alloy (5005 H34) and the composite core consisted of either one 0.9 mm thick
self-reinforcing polypropylene or two layers the woven glass-fibre/polypropylene. A hot-melt polypropylene
adhesive (Gluco) was placed at the bi-material interface. For channel forming, the laminates were sectioned
into 20 x 150 mm strips using carbide tipped slitting wheel. In addition, plain aluminium samples were
prepared using 2mm thick 5005 H34 aluminium sheet.

The Channel Forming Process
During the stamp forming process, the blank typically undergoes bending and unbending deformations as well
as experiencing significant in-plane membrane stresses. These processes were investigated under plane strain
conditions through a channel-forming study. Channel forming studies are also useful in determining the spring
back that occurs after forming due to elastic recovery. Figure 2 shows a schematic of the channel forming
process showing the blankholder, die, punch and the blank. The laminated strips were pre-heated to 160C in
the platen press before being transferred to the stamping press. The die and blank holder were pre-heated to
the desired temperature and the punch was at room temperature (25C). This provided a temperature stamping
window between 130C and 150C. A heat resistant polymer film was placed on both sides of the laminate to
provide lubrication. After applying a preset blank holder force, the channel was formed to a depth of 41 mm at
the desired feed-rate. Channels were held in the press for 60 seconds to allow them to reach steady state
temperature conditions before being removed.

Results and Discussion
Single Cantilever Beam Tests
Figure 3 shows typical load-displacement curves following single cantilever beam tests on the glass fibre
reinforced nylon. From the figure, it is clear that crack propagation in this sample occurred in a stable manner.
Indeed, crack propagation in all of the nylon and polypropylene samples was stable and similar to that shown
in Fig. 3. In contrast, crack propagation in the glass fibre reinforced phenolic FML occurred in an unstable
manner with the crack propagating in small jumps along or close to the bi-material interface. An examination
of the edges of the test samples highlighted the presence of significant fibre bridging in the unidirectional glass
fibre reinforced polypropylene. Here, fibres from the composite adherend remained bonded to the aluminium
substrate as the crack propagated along the test sample. Fibre bridging is known to increase the interlaminar
fracture resistance of composite materials and also to promote stable crack growth at quasi-static rates of
loading. The glass fibre reinforced nylon sample also exhibited significant bridging during crack propagation.
A closer inspection of the test samples showed that these bridges resulted from significant plastic drawing of
the thermoplastic interlayer material as the crack front opened.

Figure 4 shows typical resistance curves for three systems at a crosshead displacement rate of 1 mm/minute. It
is clear that the polypropylene and Nylon systems exhibit a pronounced R-curve effect with the value of G

rising with increasing crack length. Clearly, adhesion between the Nylon-based composite and the aluminium
substrate is extremely impressive with the interfacial fracture energy reaching values in excess of 7000 J/m
The unidirectional glass fibre/PP SCB also exhibits an R-curve with the fracture energy rising rapidly before
stabilising at approximately 3500 J/m
. As mentioned earlier, significant fibre bridging was observed in these
samples, an effect that has probably resulted in the distinct R-curve in Fig. 4. The glass fibre/PEI system,
although based on the same interlayer material as the glass fibre/Nylon laminate, offered lower values of G

than its Nylon counterpart, with the plateau values approaching 4000 J/ m

Table 2 summarises the interfacial fracture data following SCB tests on these FML systems. The superiority of
the Nylon-based system is immediately apparent with the average plateau values during crack propagation
averaging over 7000 J/m
. The fracture properties of the two polypropylene systems and the glass/PEI samples
were similar, with average plateau values being in the range of 3000 to 4000 J/m
. Table 2 also highlights the
low interfacial fracture energies associated with the thermosetting system, with average values of G
around 800 J/m

Uniaxial Tensile Tests
The measured FML data and the values predicted by a rule of mixtures approach are shown in Fig. 5. It is
apparent that the tensile moduli of the FMLs agree reasonably well with the predicted values tending to be
below those predicted by a rule of mixtures approach. It is worth noting the predictions include contributions
from the interlayer materials where appropriate. The level of agreement between the tensile strengths is less
good, however, and here the data obtained from the FML tensile tests are on average fifteen percent lower than
predicted from a simple rule of mixtures. This is perhaps a result of residual stresses present in the laminates
after manufacture, as well as the sensitivity of the tensile specimens to stress concentrations associated with
the grips of the test machine. This evidence suggests that more detailed failure criteria are required to predict
the tensile strength characteristics of these multi-layered materials.

High Velocity Impact Tests
The high velocity impact response of the TFMLs was investigated on a series of square 3/2 laminates. Here,
the impact resistance of the laminates was characterised by determining the specific perforation energy,
defined as the perforation energy normalised by the areal density of the target. Figure 6 compares the specific
perforation energies of the TFMLs investigated in this study with that offered by the woven glass fibre
reinforced phenolic. Included in the figure is the specific perforation energy of the plain aluminium alloy. The
data indicate that the TFML based on the self-reinforced polypropylene plies offers a specific perforation
resistance that is significantly higher than that offered by the other systems. It is surprising to note that the
woven Kevlar fibre/PA 6,6 TFML offered the lowest specific perforation energy. The reasons for this are not
clear although it is possible that the superior energy-absorbing-characteristics of the Kevlar fibres have been
adversely affected by the relatively high processing temperature. Figure 7 shows polished sections of several
woven glass fibre/PP laminates at energies between 22 and 143 Joules [5]. An examination of the micrographs
indicates that all of the samples exhibit permanent out of plane bending suggesting that energy has been
absorbed in plastic deformation in both the aluminium and composite plies. It is interesting to note that little
delamination-type damage is evident in the micrographs suggesting that adhesion between the constituent
materials is still good at very high rates of loading.

Channel Forming Tests
Springback is a term used to describe the change in shape of a monolithic metal formed component. However,
in FML systems the change in shape from the intended shape can be attributed to several other factors such as
the residual stress distribution and difference in the thermal coefficient of expansion. The shape error that
occurs can be attributed to the individual material responses of the metal and composite and the combined
synergistic response of the system. This will be quantified by scanning the die-side surface of the channels
using a three-dimensional laser scanning arm (Faro Platinum) and cross-referencing a cross-sectioned profile
with an ideal profile from a CAD model. While shape variations quantified by this method can be attributed to
a number of factors such as unloading of elastic stresses in the metal and damage and anisotropic effects in the
composite, it is a useful measure of formability and will be referred to simply as shape error. From Figures 8
and 9, it can be seen that the tool temperature has a significant effect on the level of shape error of both a glass-
fibre reinforced and a self-reinforced FML channel from an idealised perfectly formed channel, however the
effect of the tool temperature is less substantial for the self-reinforced FML. The punch feed rate affects the
level of influence that the tool temperature has on the formability by reducing the differences between the
results for the different tool temperatures to within scatter of each other. An additional increase in the punch
feed rate from 28 mm/s to 53 mm/s further reduces the collective error for all tool temperature results.
Monolithic sheet aluminium is an alternative lightweight material for automotive panels. In comparing the
shape error of aluminium to both FML systems it is clear that while it displays little sensitivity to forming rate,
it demonstrates four times the level of shape error compared to an FML stamped at high feed rate.

A range of novel lightweight thermoplastic fibre-metal laminate structures have been manufactured and tested.
Single cantilever beam tests have shown that a high degree of adhesion between the composite and metallic
plies can be obtained by incorporating a thermoplastic interlayer material at the composite-metal interface.
Impact tests on these hybrid materials have shown that the PP-based TFMLs offer an outstanding resistance to
localised high velocity impact loading. Here, a self-reinforced PP composite was shown to exhibit a
particularly impressive resistance to perforation by a hard projectile. It has also been shown that it is possible
to form these multi-layered materials using a stamp forming process.

The authors are grateful to Derek Riley (BP Amoco Fabrics) for supplying the self-reinforced polypropylene
(Curv) and Dave Robinson for the supply of the Gluco interlayer.

1. Krishnakumar S, Fibre-metal laminates, the synthesis of metal and composites, Materials and
Manufacturing Processes, 9, 1994, pp295-354.
2. Roebroeks GHJJ., Glare Features, Chapter 2 in Fibre-Metal Laminates: An Introduction, Eds Vlot A
and Gunnick JW, Kluwer Academic Publ. 2001.
3. Young JB., Landry JGN. and Cavoulacos VN, Composite Structures 27, 1994, pp457-469.
4. Alderliesten RC, Fatigue, Chapter 11 in Fibre-metal Laminates: An Introduction, Eds Vlot A and
Gunnick JW, Kluwer Academic Publ. 2001.
5. Reyes G, The fracture properties of fibre-metal laminates, PhD, University of Liverpool, Liverpool

Composite Material



Processing Temp (C)
Unidirectional glass/polypropylene (PP) 35 Modified PP 185
Woven glass/PP 35 Modified PP 185
Woven glass/Nylon-6,6 35 Modified ionomer 285
Woven Kevlar/Nylon-6,6 45 Modified ionomer 285
Woven glass/polyetherimide (PEI) 62 Modified ionomer 340
Self-reinforced polypropylene - Modified PP 160

Table 1. Summary of the composite materials used to manufacture the FML specimens

Composite Material

Interfacial fracture
energy (J/m
Stable or unstable crack
Unidirectional glass/polypropylene (PP) 3420 Stable
Woven glass/PP 3610 Stable
Woven glass/Nylon-6,6 7150 Stable
Woven glass/polyetherimide (PEI) 3950 Stable
Self-reinforced polypropylene 3500 Stable
Woven glass/phenolic 805 Unstable

Table 2. Summary of the interfacial fracture energies and crack propagation modes following SCB tests.