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MATERIALS

CHARACTERIZATION
& TESTING

Composites
Testing for Aerospace Applications
Fig. 4. Short-beam shear test

Westmoreland Mechanical Testing & Research;


Youngstown, Pa.
Composite materials are changing the face of
manufacturing and product development, and no
industry has seen this more than aerospace. Aerospace
designers are incorporating composite materials to help
make their vehicles lighter, faster and more fuel-efficient.

oeing and Airbus, two leaders in the aviation industry,


are heading the composite charge. Half of the Boeing
787 and the Airbus A350 aircrafts are constructed
of composite materials. Other manufacturers are
increasingly using composites for a variety of aircraft sections
and components.
The aviation giants, as well as aerospace-focused
organizations like SpaceX and NASA, are drawn to composites
for their very high stiffness-to-weight ratio and their resistance
to fatigue and corrosion.
In the broadest sense, a composite material is amaterial
made from two or more constituent materials with different
properties. When these materials are combined, they produce
a material with improved characteristics from the individual
components.
The many types of composite materials used in aerospace
applications include thermoset and thermoplastic composites,
laminates, fiber-reinforced composites, sandwich-core materials,
resins, films and adhesives. Thanks to materials scientists, these
materials are evolving and improving at an incredible rate. The
future of materials science appears to involve a heavy focus on
composites.

Mechanical Testing of Composites


Composite materials used in aerospace applications will face
incredibly harsh conditions and must be thoroughly tested to
ensure safety and reliability. Because composite materials are
anisotropic and inhomogeneous, full characterization of the
material properties must be conducted if they are to be used in
structural aerospace situations.
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Fig. 1. Compression test

Determination of bulk properties requires tension,


compression and shear tests. In qualification and materials
development, other test types such as open-hole tension/
compression, interlaminar fracture toughness, compression
after impact and fatigue are used to explore more complex
properties. Tests need to be conducted over a range of
temperatures on materials that may have been conditioned in

MATERIALS
CHARACTERIZATION
& TESTING

a variety of environmental conditions (e.g., high humidity and


immersion in fluids).
Tensile Testing
In-plane tensile testing of laminates is one of the most common
mechanical tests completed on composite materials. Other
tensile-tested composite materials include resin-impregnated
bundles of fibers and sections of sandwich-core materials.
Examples of common standards for the tensile testing of
laminates are ASTM D 3039, EN 2561, EN 2597, ISO 527-4
and ISO 527-5. The specimens are parallel-sided with bonded
tabs to prevent the grip jaws from damaging the material and
causing premature failures. Gripping mechanisms include
manual and hydraulic wedge grips.
Compression Testing
In composite compression test methods, a compressive load is
introduced into the material while preventing it from buckling.
Composite materials are often laminate panels, and the test
specimens are frequently in the form of relatively thin and flat
rectangles (Fig. 1).
Compressive loads are introduced into a test specimen by the
following methods.
End loading: All of the load is introduced into the flat end

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of the test specimen.


Shear loading: The load is introduced into the wide faces of
the test specimen.
Combined loading: A combination of shear and end loading
is used.
Shear Testing
In-plane shear properties can be measured on a tensile test
specimen with a 45-degree fiber orientation. The specimens
axial and transverse strain is measured using either strain gauges
or a biaxial extensometer. Standards for this test include ASTM
D3518 and ISO 14129.
The interlaminar shear-strength test, sometimes referred to
as short-beam shear, is a simple test performed using a small
specimen loaded in a three-point-bend configuration (Fig. 4).
The ratio of the specimen thickness to the support span is high.
This helps generate large shear loads along the centerline of the
specimen. Interlaminar shear-strength standards include ASTM
D2344, EN2563 and ISO 14130.
Fatigue Testing
Compared to the large number of well-defined static tests on
composite materials, fatigue testing of laminates is much more
open. It is important to have accurate alignment and correct

gripping to avoid failures near the grip jaws. Also, high lateral
stiffness is paramount to prevent buckling in tests that include
compressive loading. It should be noted that some of the antibuckling guides used in static testing are problematic if used
in cyclic testing due to friction effects. When conducting fatigue
tests on polymer composites, the maximum test frequency is
restricted by the need to limit the temperature rise in the test
piece (e.g., the maximum temperature rise recommended by the
ISO 13003 fatigue standard is 10C).
Other Mechanical Tests
A variety of other standardized mechanical tests on composite
materials include: flexure testing; tension and compression tests
on specimens with open and closed holes; bearing-strength tests
(Fig. 2); and interlaminar fracture-toughness tests.

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Fig. 2. Bearing-strength test


IndustrialHeating.com NOVEMBER 2015

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MATERIALS
CHARACTERIZATION
& TESTING

Thermal Analysis and Testing


Thermal analysis covers a range of techniques used to determine
the physical or chemical properties of a substance as it is heated,
cooled or held at constant temperature. Typical thermal-analysis
tests for aerospace composites include dynamic mechanical
analysis (DMA), thermomechanical analysis (TMA),
differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and thermogravimetry
(TGA).
DMA measures the mechanical and viscoelastic properties
of materials such as thermoplastics, thermosets, elastomers,
ceramics and metals. It involves the performance on glass
transition tests on larger materials and increases the number
of variables for those tests. DMAs other highlights include
a -190C to 600C (-310 to 1112F) temperature range, as
well as humidity control and fluid-bath options. Similar to a
mechanical test frame, DMA can perform bend, shear and
tension tests.
The TMA instrument, which can reach temperatures
ranging from -80C to 1600C, tests for coefficient of thermal
expansion. It also performs glass transition tests on smaller
samples.
In addition to performing glass transition tests on
homogenous materials, DSC measures enthalpy internal energy
changes in samples due to variations in their physical and
chemical properties as a function of temperature or time. It
can also determine heat flow. DSCs temperature range is from
-80C to 550C (-112 to 1022F).
The TGA device measures the change in weight of a sample
as it is heated, cooled or held at a constant temperature. It is
primarily used to characterize material composition and has a
temperature range of 23-1600C (73-2912F).
One key aspect of the TMA and DSC machines is their
ability to be purged with an inert, dry gas such as helium,
argon or nitrogen. This feature is key when tests are taken
to subambient temperatures. The gas keeps the furnace and
specimens as dry as possible.

Physical-Properties Testing
Physical properties testing of composites helps ensure that the
material complies with industry specifications and meets safety
standards. Common physical-properties tests include resin,
fiber and void content. The constituent content of a composite
material must be known in order to analytically model its
material properties, which are affected by the reinforcement or
matrix. Other physical-properties tests include hardness, water
absorption, density and specific gravity, and moisture content.

Test Environments
The most common test environment for composite materials is
temperature (generally in the range of -80 to 250C). Specimens
are often pre-conditioned in different environments prior to
testing. Pre-conditioning is often in hot/wet conditions, but
exposure to fluids (e.g., water, fuel and hydraulic fluids) is also
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Fig. 3. Flatwise tension test

used. The time taken for polymer composite materials to achieve


equilibrium with a conditioning medium is usually a few days
or weeks. So, short-duration testing, including tensile testing of
pre-conditioned composite materials, can generally be conducted
in a temperature-only environment. Chambers designed for
testing at low and high temperatures are generally equipped
with forced convection for heating and liquid-nitrogen injection
systems for cooling.
For more information: Contact Westmoreland Mechanical Testing &
Research, P.O. Box 388, 221 Westmoreland Drive, Youngstown,
PA 15696; tel: 724-537-3131; fax: 724-537-3151; e-mail:
us.sales@wmtr.com; web: www.wmtr.com

References
1. McEnteggart, Ian, Mechanical Testing of Composites, Quality
Magazine, July 2014
2. Yancey, Robert, How Composites are Strengthening the Aviation
Industry, Industry Week, June 2012