Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10

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Composite Structures
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/compstruct

Crashworthiness of aluminum/CFRP square hollow section beam under
axial impact loading for crash box application
Hee Chul Kim, Dong Kil Shin, Jung Ju Lee ⇑, Jun Beom Kwon
Mechanical Engineering, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Daehak-ro 291, Daejeon 305-701, Republic of Korea

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Available online 5 February 2014
Keywords:
Al/CFRP hybrid
Square hollow section (SHS) beam
Axial dynamic crushing test
Crash box application

a b s t r a c t
Crashworthiness characteristics and axial collapse with damage propagation behavior of an aluminum/
CFRP hybrid square hollow section beam were investigated under dynamic axial crushing load for crash
box application. The low speed impact test referred to the RCAR regulations was performed with five different lay-up sequences and two different laminate thicknesses. Both tip ends of hybrid specimen were
clamped by a specially designed jig to assign a similar boundary condition with an auto-body crash test
model. Each different direction of carbon fibers offers respective crashworthiness characteristics, and the
characteristics from each direction were mixed when stacked together. The specific energy absorbed and
crush force efficiency were improved simultaneously up to 38% and 30%, respectively in the Al/CFRP
hybrid SHS beam with a [0°/90°]2n lay-up sequence, and they were slightly improved by increasing the
thickness of the CFRP laminate.
Ó 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
The crash box located between bumper and side rails protects
passengers and expensive vehicle components by absorbing initial
kinetic energy in a frontal vehicle crash event by ensuring a low
plastic flow stress level on the auto-body frame [1]. The performance of the crash box can be evaluated on the basis of the Research Council for Automobile Repairs (RCAR) regulations [2].
Numerous previous works have attempted to determine the cross
section shape of the crash box by experimental and numerical analyses. They considered rectangular, octahedral, and hexagonal cross
sections [3]. A rectangular cross section showed the best crashworthiness in a full car model crash test involving a bumper, crash
boxes, front side members, and sub-frames. The reduced mean
width of hexagonal and octahedral cross sections caused torsion
and global buckling collapse behavior. Therefore, in this work, we
focus on a rectangular cross section beam for crash box application.
Fiber reinforced laminate composites have been widely used for
optimization of super-lightweight vehicle body structures to improve stiffness and crashworthiness characteristics with less
weight increment [4]. Composites with specially designed lay-up
sequences can absorb much more energy than metal in the
anticipated loading direction [5]. However, composites are brittle
and consequently it is impossible to apply composites structures
⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +85 350 3033; fax: +82 350 3210.
E-mail address: leejungju@kaist.ac.kr (J.J. Lee).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compstruct.2014.01.042
0263-8223/Ó 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

as collapsible energy absorbers. On this background, a metal/composites hybrid SHS beam was considered in this work for crash box
application in super-lightweight electric vehicles (EVs). A hybrid
SHS beam is one of the most conventional ways to improve the
stiffness, strength, and crashworthiness characteristics of energy
absorption members simultaneously [6] regardless of load direction. The catastrophic failure mode of composites with brittle
behavior is caused by unstable interlaminar and interlayer crack
propagation. However, it can be changed to a progressive failure
mode when the fracture of the composites is guided by the plastic
deformation of aluminum, and as a result the composites can show
ductile failure behavior in a hybrid SHS beam [7]. Therefore, a metal/composites hybrid SHS beam can also be used as collapsible energy absorbers.
Numerous researchers have investigated the axial crushing
behavior and crashworthiness characteristics of metal/composites
hybrid tubes by considering various factors: geometry and shape,
composites lay-up sequence, metal surface treatment, loading
speed, foam filling, specimen length, etc. [8–16].
In previous works [11,12,14–16], many researchers investigated
the crashworthiness characteristics of metal/composites hybrid
tubes depending on the composites lay-up sequence. However,
they focused on hybrid specimens reinforced by angle-ply (±h)
laminated composites, and they were fabricated by a filament
winding method. The ply angle was related to the direction of reinforcement fibers based on the axis of the specimen. The axial direction of the specimen was parallel to the crushing load direction. A

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H.C. Kim et al. / Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10

previous work reported that the crashworthiness characteristics
were enhanced when the ply angle was increased, and the authors
concluded that the [90°] lay-up sequence was optimal in terms of
energy absorption [11,15,17]. However, few studies have been conducted on hybrid specimen with [0°] angle-ply laminated composites and multi angle-ply (different ply angles) laminated
composites [16]. In this work, the axial collapse and damage propagation behavior were observed depending on the reinforcement
fiber direction and their combination: [0°]2n, [90°]2n, [0°/90°]n,
[90°/0°]n, [+45°/45°]n. Each direction of carbon fibers has different reinforcement characteristics for an Al SHS beam, and the
crashworthiness characteristics are mixed when prepregs with different direction of carbon fibers are stacked together.
In the metal/composites hybrid tubes of many previous works,
the reinforcement composites were limited to GFRP [10–13,16].
The absorbed energy was improved in metal/GFRP hybrid tubes,
but the specific energy absorption (SEA) was decreased compared
to pure metal tubes. This trend was caused by the high density
of GFRP, 1.8 g/cm3. Therefore, in this work, CFRP was considered
as the reinforcement composites for the Al SHS beam crash box,
because it has much higher specific stiffness and specific strength
than GFRP. The material characteristics and failure behavior of
CFRP were considered. The crashworthiness characteristics of Al
SHS beam specimens can be improved with thin composites reinforcement when CFRP is used for composites reinforcement.
The quasi-static axial crushing load test was performed in many
previous works, and they compared the absorbed energy in hybrid
specimens based on the same crushed length [10–13,16]. However,
in this work, a dynamic axial crash test was performed so that the
same amount of crash energy was applied in all hybrid specimens,
and the crushed lengths were compared. The dynamic crash test
is required to evaluate the performance of hybrid SHS beam to the
crash box.
In most of the previous works, boundary conditions at both tip
ends of the hybrid tubes were not applied [9,10,14,16]. Furthermore, a 45° chamfer and a triangular pattern hole were suggested
at one tip end of the hybrid tube to lower the peak crushing load
[11–13]. A clamped boundary condition at the tip end of hybrid
specimen was not considered in any previous works. The boundary
condition influences the crashworthiness characteristics of hybrid
specimens severely in the dynamic crash test. The clamped boundary condition is required for crash box application because the
crash boxes are connected to the bumper and side rails in autobody structures. Therefore, in this work, we clamped the 10 mm
tip ends of all specimens to evaluate the accurate crashworthiness
performance for crash box application.
According to the aforementioned literatures, the crashworthiness problem of metal/composites hybrid beam has been reported
by many previous researchers. However, there is few research to
demonstrate the effectiveness of Al/CFRP hybrid beam for crash
box application which can be a part of energy absorbing auto-body
structure. Therefore, in this paper, we developed a complex experimental set up to guarantee the similarity between the specimen
boundary conditions and the actual situation of a crash box joined
to the bumper and car structure. The energy absorption characteristics of Al/CFRP hybrid crash box was evaluated by dynamic axial
crushing test referred to the RCAR regulations. As a result, the SEA
and CFE were improved up to 38% and 30% respectively compared
to Al crash box. The energy absorption characteristics of hybrid
crash box could be highly improved by considering several factors.
Al crash box was reinforced by CFRP not by GFRP, because many
researchers reported that the SEA was decreased in the metal/GFRP
hybrid beam compared to the pure Al beam. The CFRP has superior
specific stiffness and specific strength compared to the GFRP so
that the failure mechanism can be different in the hybrid beam.
Furthermore, the CFRP was proved to have much higher energy

absorption capability than GFRP. The failure mechanism of Al/CFRP
hybrid crash box was observed by high-speed video camera to
understand the improvement of energy absorption characteristics
depending on the CFRP lay-up sequence. The Al/CFRP [0°/90°]n hybrid crash box showed much higher SEA than Al/CFRP [90°]2n hybrid crash box under the clamped boundary conditions. However,
many previous researchers concluded that [90°]2n lay-up sequence
was optimal in the metal/composites hybrid beam without special
boundary condition. Based on this work, we can expect to extend
the Al/CFRP hybrid beam research for energy absorption characteristics of auto-body frame parts like side rails.
2. Specimen fabrication and experimental set-up
2.1. Aluminum/CFRP hybrid SHS beam
An extruded Al SHS beam whose material was Al6063T5 was used
for the crash box. Al6063T5 material has been widely used in light
weight vehicle body structures [18]. The outer section dimensions
of
the
Al
SHS
beam
are
60 mm  60 mm  250 mm
(width  height  length), and the thickness is 1.96 mm. The width/
thickness ratio of the Al SHS beam was 30.6, and this value is similar
to that of the crash box. A unidirectional CFRP (UD-CFRP) prepreg,
USN150B, produced by SK Chemical Corporation, was used for the
reinforcement composites. The mechanical properties of Al6063T5
and CFRP designed with different lay-up sequences were measured
by a tension test according to ASTM B557 and ASTM D3039, respectively. The mechanical properties are shown in Table 1.
The surface of the Al SHS beam was prepared by sand blasting,
and the treated Al specimen was immersed in an acetone bath excited by ultrasonic waves for 5 min. The surface of the Al specimen
was then coated by primer, BR127, produced by CYTEC Corporation,
and 1 layer of film adhesive, FM300, produced by CYTEC was
wrapped to improve the joint strength between aluminum and CFRP
in the hybrid SHS beam specimen. The Al SHS beam with film adhesive was then wrapped by CFRP prepregs sequentially which were
cut to the designed fiber angle directions. Each prepreg layer has
an overlap of 20 mm to avoid premature fracture. Finally, the specimen was cured in an autoclave supported by a carefully designed
vacuum bag as shown in Fig. 1. The recommended curing cycle supplied by the prepreg and film adhesive manufacturer was applied.
For the experimental parameters that affect the crashworthiness
characteristics and axial collapse behavior, two different laminate
thicknesses were applied for each of the five different lay-up sequences. The two laminate thicknesses were 0.304 mm and
0.608 mm, resulting from stacking 2 or 4 plies of prepreg. The corresponding thickness ratios of aluminum:CFRP were 1:0.16 or 1:0.31,
respectively. The five lay-up sequences were [0°]2n, [90°]2n, [0°/
90°]n, [90°/0°]n, and [+45°/45°]n where n is 1 or 2 as a function of
the number of stacking layers, 2 or 4, respectively. The detailed
dimensions of each specimen are summarized in Table 2.
The crashworthiness characteristics and axial collapse with
damage behavior of the hybrid specimens would be comprehensively different depending on the reinforcement direction of carbon fibers. Therefore, hybrid specimens with [0°]2n, [90°]2n, and
[+45°/45°]n lay-up sequences are compared to identify the effect
of reinforcement direction of carbon fibers on the crashworthiness
characteristics. The [0°/90°]n and [90°/0°]n lay-up sequences are
compared to ascertain the merging of the reinforcement effect
from different directions of carbon fibers.
2.2. Dynamic axial crash test
Development of a crash box using an Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam
is part of the super-lightweight electric vehicle project (P3DigiCar
project, Republic of Korea). The target mass of the P3DigiCar body

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H.C. Kim et al. / Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10

structure is 300 kg. To meet the low speed crash test conditions referred to the RCAR regulations [2], P3DigiCar strikes into a rigid
wall at 16 km/h velocity such that crash energy of 2960 J should
be sustained by the bumper and crash box. Each of these components was assumed to sustain the same amount of crash energy,
1480 J [3]. The controlled crash energy of 1531–1620 J was applied
to the pure aluminum specimen and hybrid specimen by a 250 kg
rigid carrier horizontally moving at 3.5–3.6 m/s as shown in Fig. 2.
In the dynamic crash test, the same amount of crash energy is applied to all specimens so that the crushed length related to the
crashworthiness characteristics is comprehensively different
depending on the hybrid specimen and its lay-up sequence.
A dynamic crash testing machine was designed to evaluate the
axial collapse behavior with damage propagation and crashworthiness characteristics of the Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam [19]. As shown
in Fig. 2, the testing machine is composed of 4 parts: a hydraulic
unit that triggers the carrier; a rail; a specially designed jig for
applying the clamped boundary condition to the hybrid specimen;
and a damper for shock-absorption of excess energy. The stroke of
the hydraulic piston is 1000 mm, and the piston is triggered by a
compressed flow inside two accumulators with a capacity of 37 l.
A 250 kg rigid carrier can move along the rail and crash into the
specimen.
Boundary conditions are a very important issue in a dynamic
crash test, because they affect the crashworthiness characteristics
of energy absorption members. The crash box is connected with
other structural members, side rails and bumper, by a clamped
boundary condition in the vehicle body structure. However, it is
impossible to apply the clamped boundary condition to the hybrid specimen by welding, because of the externally laminated
CFRP and difficulties in spot welding for aluminum. Therefore,
we specially designed a wedge type jig, as shown in Fig. 3. We
clamped the pure aluminum specimen and hybrid specimen between the inner and outer holders on the die set, and 16 M8 bolts
and 5 fixers were used to clamp both 10 mm end tips of specimen. We could thereby set the clamped boundary condition.
The dynamic axial crushing load was measured by 4 piezoelectric quartz crystal commercial load cells (9071A), and the 4 load
data sets were combined. A high-speed video camera was used
to observe the axial collapse with damage propagation behavior,
and it also measured the displacement between the rigid carrier
and specially designed jig. The video camera could record each
test over 5000 frames/s so that detailed collapse behaviors could
be observed. The axial crushing load and displacement results
against time were merged to produce the load–displacement
curve results, and the response time was on average
28 ms, resulting in an average of 3300 load data points being recorded during the axial crash event. Three specimens were tested,
and they were averaged to compare the crashworthiness
characteristics.

Table 1
Material properties of the aluminum (Al6063T5) and CFRP with different lay-up
sequence.
Materials

Young’s modulus
(GPa)

Tensile strength
(MPa)

Density (kg/
m3)

Al6063T5
CFRP [0°]2n
CFRP [90°]2n
CFRP [0°/90°]n
CFRP [+45°/ 
45°]n

57.1
142.9
7.8
78.7
17.1

221.4
2063.8
62.5
1244.6
231.7

2700
1600

Al: Aluminum.
CFRP: Carbon fiber reinforced plastic.

Al SHS beam
Film adhesive
CFRPs laminate
Silicone mold (inside)
Silicone mold (outside)
Vacuum bag
Breather
Plate
Vacuum tube

Fig. 1. Schematic diagram of vacuum bagging for the Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam
with film adhesive application ready to go inside an autoclave.

3. Experimental results and discussion
The catastrophic failure mode of CFRP can be guided by the plastic deformation of aluminum, and it can thereby be changed to a
progressive failure mode. The progressive failure mode of the Al/
CFRP hybrid SHS beam is dependent on the axial collapse behavior
of Al SHS beam with the formation of progressive buckling. Therefore, a pure Al SHS beam without CFRP reinforcement was investigated prior to assessing the hybrid specimen. Fig. 4 shows the axial
collapse behavior of the pure Al SHS beam through its load–displacement curve and progressive buckling behavior observed at
each separate point. The local peak load points, as shown in
Fig. 4(a), are consistent with the moment of layer of lobes formation
in Fig. 4(b). Plastic buckling behavior was observed on all sides of
the pure Al SHS beam immediately after the peak crushing load,
and it caused the formation of a layer of lobes. The peak crushing
load decreased drastically by the decline of stiffness and structural
rigidity of the Al SHS beam specimen, caused by plastic deformation
of the Al layer. The crushing load was increased again when the
stacking behavior was observed after the formation of the first layer
of lobes. The second layer of lobes with plastic buckling behavior
then formed at around the second local peak crushing load.
The axial collapse behavior of the Al SHS beam is quite different
depending on the width to thickness ratio. According to Ref. [20],
metal SHS beams whose width to thickness ratios are under 7.5,
over 40.8, and between 7.5 and 40.8 will show an extensional crushing mode, symmetric crushing mode, and asymmetric mixed crushing mode, respectively. In this research, the width to thickness ratio
of the pure Al SHS beam is 30, falling in the range of asymmetric
mixed crushing mode noted in Ref. [20]. The width to thickness ratio
of the Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam is 22.2–25, and this is also in the
range of asymmetric mixed crushing mode. However, in the experimental results, the symmetric crushing mode was observed in all of
the pure Al SHS beam and hybrid SHS beam specimens. In addition,
the formation of a layer of lobes started at the end tip of the specimen that comes into contact with the moving carrier, and the crushing mechanism propagated to the opposite end tip. This mechanism
was observed in the all specimen.
3.1. Axial collapse and damage propagation behavior
Axial collapse behavior was analyzed by the load–displacement
curve and macroscopic observation of damage propagation in the
CFRP layer. Depending on the hybrid specimen with different
lay-up sequence, the axial collapse behavior was vastly different.
The load–displacement curve results for each specimen are presented in Fig. 5 and the progressive buckling behavior with damage
propagation on the CFRP layer is presented in Fig. 6 depending on
the lay-up sequence. The failure shape of hybrid specimens with
different lay-up sequences after the axial crash test is presented
in Fig. 7.

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H.C. Kim et al. / Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10

Table 2
Dimension information of the Al SHS beam specimen and Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam specimen.
Specimen type

Dimension
c  c  h  l (mm)

Weight (g)

c/h

Without CFRP laminate

Al SHS beam

60

60

1.96

250

305.2

30.6

mm laminate thickness

Al/CFRP
Al/CFRP
Al/CFRP
Al/CFRP
Al/CFRP

[0°]2 SHS beam
[90°]2 SHS beam
[0°/90°] SHS beam
[90°/0°] SHS beam
[+45°/45°] SHS beam

65.11
65.07
65.07
65.07
65.07

65.11
65.07
65.07
65.07
65.07

2.42
2.4
2.4
2.4
2.4

250
250
250
250
250

347.7
348
342.5
343.5
348

26.9
27.1
27.1
27.1
27.1

mm laminate thickness

Al/CFRP
Al/CFRP
Al/CFRP
Al/CFRP
Al/CFRP

[0°]4 SHS beam
[90°]4 SHS beam
[0°/90°]2 SHS beam
[90°/0°]2 SHS beam
[+45°/45°]2 SHS beam

65.71
65.65
65.69
65.63
65.71

65.71
65.65
65.69
65.63
65.71

2.72
2.69
2.71
2.68
2.72

250
250
250
250
250

374.1
369
372.8
372.5
374

24.2
24.4
24.2
24.5
24.2

Al: Aluminum, CFRP: carbon fiber reinforced plastic, SHS beam: square hollow section beam.
c: Width, h: thickness, l: length.

In the Al/CFRP [0°]2n specimen (Fig. 5(a)), the Al SHS beam was
reinforced by carbon fibers parallel to the crushing load direction
and consequently the axial stiffness superior to that of the other
hybrid specimens with different lay-up sequences. The highest
peak crushing load was recorded, because the plastic buckling
behavior of Al SHS beam was highly resisted by the CFRP [0°]2n
laminate, which had the highest axial bending resistance at the initial crash moment, as shown in Fig. 6(B.1), and the crushing load
increased very sharply. Severe debonding failure between Al and
CFRP was observed when plastic buckling occurred on the Al layer
immediately after the peak crushing load, and is attributed to the
absence of carbon fibers in the hoop direction. A splaying failure
mode, ascribed to crack propagation between carbon fibers, was
observed on the CFRP layer, as shown in Fig. 7(B.5). Some parts
of the debonded CFRP laminate were folded with the Al layer of
lobes, and the CFRP laminate that remained bonded at the opposite
clamped end of the specimen maintained a high level of strength in
the axial direction. Therefore, this specimen recorded the shortest
crushed length.
In the Al/CFRP [90°]2n specimen (Fig. 5(b)), the Al SHS beam was
reinforced by carbon fibers in the hoop direction, which was perpendicular to the crushing load direction, and as a result the
mechanical properties of the epoxy matrix mainly was dominant
to the axial direction. The stiffness of the epoxy matrix was lower
than that of aluminum. Therefore, the axial bending resistance of
the hybrid specimen was low so that a similar level of peak crushing load with that of the pure aluminum specimen was recorded.
Also, the gradient of the crushing load increase to the peak crushing load was also similar to that of the pure Al specimen. It was
anticipated that formation of a layer of lobes would be resisted
by carbon fibers in the hoop direction. However, the carbon fibers
were broken on the local sides and edges where the first layer of
lobes started to form, as shown in Fig. 6(C.3 and C.4). As a result,
the carbon fibers could not exert a sufficient reinforcement effect.
However, the crushed length was decreased, due to the carbon fibers in hoop direction effectively resisted the formation of the second layer of lobes. Matrix cracks propagated only in the hoop
direction between carbon fibers and did not propagate to the wide
area, as shown in Fig. 7(C.5). Debonding failure between the Al and
CFRP layers and delamination failure between CFRP laminas occurred in the smallest area among the hybrid specimens with different lay-up sequences. However, the crushed length was very
long, due to the low strength of the epoxy matrix in the axial
direction.
In the Al/CFRP [0°/90°]n specimen (Fig. 5(c)), the Al SHS beam
was reinforced by carbon fibers both in the axial and hoop directions. The CFRP laminate with a [0°/90°]n lay-up sequence has rel-

atively high stiffness and bending resistance in the axial direction,
and consequently the plastic buckling behavior of the Al SHS beam
was highly resisted, and a high peak crushing load was recorded.
The gradient of the crushing load increase to the peak crushing
load was also relatively high. The CFRP [0°] ply wrapped the Al
SHS beam, and then the CFRP [90°] ply was laminated. Therefore,
the severe debonding and delamination failure observed in the
CFRP [0°] ply could be suppressed by the hoop directional carbon
fibers of the CFRP [90°] ply, and there was relatively little debonding and delamination failure immediately after the peak crushing
load, as shown in Fig. 6(D.2 and D.3). The CFRP layer was folded
with the layer of lobes on the Al SHS beam, but some carbon fibers
on each side and edge of the SHS beam were damaged, as seen in
Fig. 7(D.5). Although 50% fewer CFRP [0°] plies were laminated in
the CFRP [0°/90°]n hybrid specimen compared to the CFRP [0°]2n
hybrid specimen, high stiffness, strength, and bending resistance
in the axial direction were obtained by suppressing the debonding
and delamination failure of the CFRP [0°] ply, and the crushed
length was quite short as a result.
In the Al/CFRP [90°/0°]n specimen (Fig. 5(d)), the mechanical
properties of the CFRP [90°/0°]n laminate are the same as those
of the CFRP [0°/90°]n laminate. However, the CFRP [0°] ply was
wrapped after laminating the CFRP [90°] ply on the Al SHS beam,
and delamination failure between the [0°] ply and [90°] ply was
consequently observed, as shown in Figs. 6(E.2) and 7(E.5). The absence of carbon fibers suppressing the delamination failure of [0°]
ply, which was laminated at the outermost layer, severely reduced
the reinforcement effect of the [0°] ply carbon fibers. The bending
resistance and strength in the axial direction decreased greatly as a
result, and the crushed length of the Al/CFRP [90°/0°]n specimen
was longer than that of the Al/CFRP [0°/90°]n specimen.
In the Al/CFRP [+45°/45°]n specimen (Fig. 5(e)), the Al SHS
beam was reinforced by carbon fibers in the oblique direction to
both the axial and hoop directions. The CFRP [+45°/45°]n laminate has relatively low mechanical properties, as shown in Table
1. Therefore, the stiffness of the Al SHS beam in the axial direction
was not increased significantly so that the gradient of the crushing
load increase in hybrid specimen was similar to those of the pure
Al specimen. Double initial peak crushing load was recorded only
in the Al/CFRP [+45°/45°]n specimen as shown in Fig. 5(e). It
was caused by the scissoring effect of ±45° carbon fibers [21],
which induced to deform the CFRP layer in plastic manner with
large failure strain during the plastic buckling behavior of Al SHS
beam (Fig. 7(F.5)), and the carbon fibers scissoring effect also increased the initial peak crushing load. The tearing failure mode
was observed on the edge of the Al SHS beam in the layer of lobes
formation process after the initial peak crushing load (Fig. 6(F.5)).

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H.C. Kim et al. / Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10
Carrier
Damper

Al / CFRP SHS beam specimen

Hydraulic unit

Carrier

Rail

High-speed video camera

Fig. 2. Dynamic crash testing machine to evaluate the axial collapse behavior with damage propagation and crashworthiness characteristics of Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam.

Al / CFRP SHS beam specimen

Al / CFRP SHS beam specimen

Inner holder
Outer holder

Die set
Inner fixer

M8 bolt
Crash box Jig

Outer fixer

Al / CFRP SHS beam specimen
Inner fixer
Die set

Outer fixer

Inner holder

Outer holder

Fig. 3. Specially designed wedge type dynamic crash test jig for Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam to apply a clamped boundary condition similar to the real connection between the
crash box and other structural members.

The tearing failure occurred by the increased torsional load, which
was caused by crushing load transfer through the [45°] or [45°]
carbon fibers. The crushed length was consequently very long in
the Al/CFRP [+45°/45°]2 specimen.
The specimen with CFRP laminate thickness of 0.61 mm (4 plies
of prepreg) showed more severe delamination and debonding failure than the specimen with CFRP laminate thickness of 0.3 mm (2
plies of prepreg), especially with the CFRP lay-up sequence of
[0°]2n, [0°/90°]n, and [90°/0°]n, which had [0°] ply reinforcement
and higher mechanical properties than the Al layer in the axial
direction. There are several reasons for this. The bending resistance
of the CFRP layer became higher as the thickness of the CFRP laminate was increased. When the bending resistance exceeded the
adhesion strength between the Al and CFRP upon large deformation
of the Al SHS beam during progressive buckling, debonding failure

occurred. In addition, the interlaminar shear stress between the
plies of CFRP laminate increased when the thickness of the laminate
was increased, and this caused delamination failure. Therefore, the
reinforcement effect of CFRP in the hybrid specimen was not proportional to the thickness of the CFRP layer in all lay-up sequences,
because the debonding and delamination failure lowered the reinforcement effect.
3.2. Crashworthiness characteristics
Several parameters were measured from the load–displacement
curves presented in Fig. 5 to compare the crashworthiness characteristics of the pure Al SHS beam and Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beams
with different lay-up sequences. The crashworthiness characteristics are compared in Table 3.

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H.C. Kim et al. / Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10

(a) The load-displacement curve of pure
Al SHS beam from dynamic crash test results.

A.1

A.2

A.3

First layer of lobes
formation

A.4

A.5

Second layer of lobes
formation

Symmetric crushing mode

(b) The axial collapse behavior of pure
Al SHS beam observed by a high-speed video camera.
Fig. 4. Representative load–displacement curve and progressive buckling behavior
observation of pure aluminum SHS beam under axial dynamic crushing load.

through fiber breakage, matrix cracking, delamination, and debonding, but they were not significant.
The crushed length (DL) significantly affected the crashworthiness characteristics, because the same amount of crash energy was
applied. The crushed length was defined by the difference in the
specimen length between before and after the dynamic axial crash
test. Long crushed length means that more material is used to absorb the same amount of crash energy, and the mass of the crushed
part of specimen was calculated by comparing the specimen length
ratio between before and after the dynamic axial crash test. Short
crushed length means that damage to the vehicle body structure is
small and a sufficient safety zone for passengers can be secured.
The shortest crushed length was obtained, in order, with layup sequences of [0°]2n, [0°/90°]n, [90°/0°]n, [90°]2n, and [+45°/45°]n in
the hybrid specimen, and the hybrid specimen with high strength
in the axial direction recorded short crushed length. However,
when comparing the hybrid specimens with [0°/90°]n and [90°/
0°]n lay-up sequences, which had the same mechanical properties,
the [0°/90°]n specimen had smaller crushed length. This is attributed to resistance to debonding failure between Al and CFRP [0°]
ply by the CFRP [90°] ply. Therefore, the position of each CFRP
ply with designed fiber angle direction is also important for the
crashworthiness characteristics. The crushed length was decreased
when the thickness of the CFRP layer was increased from n = 1 to
n = 2 except in the [+45°/45°]n lay-up sequence, which showed
the tearing failure mode on the edge side. However, the crushed
length was not decreased sufficiently, because the debonding and
delamination failure were severe with increasing thickness of the
CFRP layer.
The mean crushing load (Pmean), which is an important design
variable for a crash box, could be defined by the ratio of absorbed
energy and crushed length. The variation trend of the mean crushing load depending on the lay-up sequence and laminate thickness
was the same as that of the crushed length (DL). The hybrid specimen with high mean crushing load can absorb energy with less
deformation of structural members.
The peak crushing load (Pmax) is related to the possibility of
damage to connected members and the injury of passengers, and
it was defined as the initial maximum crushing load in the load–
displacement curves of Fig. 5. Some previous works tried to reduce
the peak crushing load by using a 45° chamfer at the end of the
specimen [11–13]. However, a clamped boundary condition should
be applied for the crash box application in this work. The peak
crushing load was related to the mechanical properties of CFRP
in the axial direction, and a high peak crushing load was recorded
in the order of [0°]2n, [0°/90°]n, [90°/0°]n, [+45°/45°]n, and [90°]2n.
Furthermore, the peak crushing load was higher in the specimen
with thick CFRP (4 plies of prepreg) than the specimen with thin
CFRP (2 plies of prepreg).
To evaluate the crashworthiness performance of pure Al SHS
beam and Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam, parameters of specific energy
absorption (SEA) and crush force efficiency (CFE) were defined as
follows:

SEAðEs Þ ¼
The absorbed energy (E), which is the area under the load–displacement curves in Fig. 5, was calculated by numerical integration. In all pure Al and Al/CFRP hybrid specimens, energy of
1560 J (±20 J) was absorbed, because the same amount of crash energy was applied by the 250 kg rigid carrier horizontally moving at
3.5–3.6 m/s. Among the crash energy of 1531–1620 J from the rigid
carrier, only average 1560 J of crash energy was absorbed in the
specimen. The remaining energy was absorbed in the damper installed to protect the dynamic crash test machine. Furthermore,
the hybrid specimen also absorbed the crash energy non-linearly

CFEðgÞ ¼

E

lDL

Pmean
Pmax

¼

Pmean

l

ð3:2-1Þ

ð3:2-2Þ

Es: SEA, g: CFE, E: absorbed energy, l: mass/unit length of the specimen, DL: crushed length, Pmean: mean crushing load, and Pmax: peak
crushing load. To consider the material or geometry variation in the
specimen, the normalized total absorbed energy by mass needs to
be considered to compare the energy absorption capability, and it
is determined from the SEA. A high SEA value means that the crash
box can become lighter. The CFE is related to the energy absorption

7

H.C. Kim et al. / Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10

(a)

(b)

Al / CFRP [0o]2n hybrid SHS beam

160

B.1

Al SHS beam

150

Al SHS beam

140

Al / CFRP [0 ]2 SHS beam

140

Al / CFRP [90 ]2 SHS beam

130

o

130

150

o

Al / CFRP [0 ]4 SHS beam

B.2

120

o
o

Al / CFRP [90 ]4 SHS beam

C.1

120

110

110

100

Load (kN)

Load (kN)

Al / CFRP [90o]2n hybrid SHS beam

160

90

B.4

80
70
60

B.5

100
80

C.4

70
60

50

50

40

40

30

30

20

C.2

90

C.5

20

B.3

10

C.3

10

0

0

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

0

5

10

15

Displacement (mm)

(c)

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

Displacement (mm)

(d)

Al / CFRP [0o/ 90o]n hybrid SHS beam

160

Al / CFRP [90o/ 0o]n hybrid SHS beam

160

Al SHS beam

150
140

o

o

o

E.1

130
110

Load (kN)

100
90
80

D.4

70

D.5

60

o

o

o

Al / CFRP [90 /0 ]2 SHS beam

120

D.2

110

o

Al / CFRP [90 /0 ] SHS beam

140

Al / CFRP [0 /90 ]2 SHS beam

120

Al SHS beam

150

o

Al / CFRP [0 /90 ] SHS beam

D.1

130

Load (kN)

20

E.2

100
90
80

E.4

70
60

50

50

40

40

E.5

30

30

20

20

D.3

10

E.3

10
0

0
0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

(e) Al /

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

Displacement (mm)

Displacement (mm)

CFRP [+ 45o/ -45o]n hybrid SHS beam

160

Al SHS beam

150

F.1

130
120

o

o

o

Al / CFRP [+45 /-45 ]2 SHS beam

F.2

110

Load (kN)

o

Al / CFRP [+45 /-45 ] SHS beam

140

100
90
80
70

F.5

60

F.4

50
40
30
20

F.3

10
0
0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

Displacement (mm)

Fig. 5. Representative load–displacement curves of Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam depending on the lay-up sequence and the laminate thickness of CFRP layer.

efficiency, and a high value of CFE indicates that the behavior of the
specimen is close to the ideal energy absorber and the fluctuations
of the load–displacement curve are less and thus we can guarantee
less injury to the occupants [16].
The crashworthiness performances (SEA and CFE) are presented
in Table 3, and they are compared in Fig. 8 by the normalized value
to the pure aluminum specimen results. The crashworthiness performances were changed by the specific direction of carbon fibers
when comparing the specimens with [0°]2n, [90°]2n, and [+45°/ 
45°]n lay-up sequences. In the Al/CFRP [0°]2n specimen, even
though the SEA was highly improved, the CFE was relatively low,
because the high strength of carbon fibers in the axial direction reduced the crushed length and increased the peak crushing load at
the same time. In the Al/CFRP [90°]2n specimen, the CFE was highly

improved, but the SEA was relatively low. This trend was opposite
to that of the Al/CFRP [0°]2n specimen. The low mechanical properties of epoxy matrix which was dominant in the axial direction
caused a similar level of peak crushing load to that of the pure Al
specimen. And, the crushed length could also be reduced a little
bit by resisting the formation of the second layer of lobes. In the
Al/CFRP [+45°/45°]n specimen, both the SEA and CFE could not
be improved. The peak crushing load was increased by the scissoring effect of ±45° carbon fibers, and the crushed length was not reduced by the occurrence of tearing failure behavior on the edge of
the Al SHS beam as shown in Fig. 7(F.5). The multi angle-ply (different ply angles) laminated hybrid specimen, [0°/90°]n and [90°/
0°]n, showed mixed crashworthiness performance from each reinforcement direction: axial and hoop directions. In the Al/CFRP [0°/

8

H.C. Kim et al. / Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10

B.1

C.1

D.1

E.1

F.1

B.2

C.2

D.2

E.2

F.2

Debonding

B.3

Delamination

C.3

D.3

E.3

F.3

Delamination
Aluminum
Carbon fiber
failure

B.4

C.4

CFRP

D.4

E.4

F.4

D.5

E.5

F.5

Carbon fiber
failure

B.5

Splaying
failure mode

C.5

Crack propagation

Carbon fiber
failure

Carbon fiber
failure

Tearing failure mode at
edge of Al SHS beam

Fig. 6. Representative progressive buckling behavior of Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam and the damage propagation on CFRP layer depending on the lay-up sequence at each
separate point: the separate points are coincident with the marked points in Fig. 3.1-1. (B.: CFRP [0°]2n, C.: CFRP [90°]2n, D.: CFRP [0°/90°]n, E.: CFRP [90°/0°]n, F.: CFRP [+45°/ 
45°]n).

90°]n specimen, both the SEA and CFE were improved simultaneously. The SEA and CFE were improved by 28% and 22%, respectively, in the specimen with a 0.304 mm (2 plies of prepreg) CFRP
layer and 38% and 30%, respectively, in the specimen with a
0.608 mm (4plies of prepreg) CFRP layer. However, in the Al/CFRP
[90°/0°]n specimen, the reinforcement effect of the outermost [0°]
ply was lost by delamination failure at the initial crash event and
the crashworthiness performances were thus not improved greatly
compared to Al/CFRP [0°/90°]n. As the thickness of the CFRP layer
was increased (from n = 1 to n = 2), both the SEA and CFE were
slightly increased in the Al/CFRP [0°/90°]n specimen. However, in
the other specimen, similar or lower SEA and CFE values were recorded, due to the weight increment of specimen and severe debonding and delamination failure by increasing the thickness of the
CFRP laminate.
4. Conclusion
An Al SHS beam, a representative light weight auto-body frame
component, was externally reinforced by CFRP composites to
simultaneously improve its lightweightness, stiffness, and crashworthiness. The Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam was applied to the crash
box, which is located between the bumper and the side rails in an
auto-body structure to protect occupants and vehicle components
during an axial crash event. Five different CFRP lay-up sequences
and two CFRP thicknesses ([0°]2n, [90°]2n, [0°/90°]n, [90°/0°]n,
[+45°/45°]n, where n is 1 or 2) were applied to consider the crashworthiness characteristics of Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beams, depending on the reinforcement direction of carbon fibers and the
thickness ratio of the Al layer and the CFRP layer. The surface of

the Al SHS beam was treated by sand blasting and a film adhesive
was adopted to improve the adhesive strength. The low speed
crash test referred to the RCAR regulations was performed, and
the 10 mm end tips of the hybrid specimen were clamped by a specially designed jig to simulate the connection between the crash
box and side rails and bumpers in an auto-body structure.
The axial collapse and damage propagation behavior of hybrid
specimens were analyzed by load–displacement curves and macroscopic observation of damage propagation in the CFRP layer. Stable symmetric crushing mode accompanying one or two layers of
lobes with plastic hinge were observed in the all specimen except
Al/CFRP [+45°/45°]n specimen. Each direction of carbon fibers,
parallel, perpendicular, and oblique to the load direction, offers
respective crashworthiness characteristics in the Al/CFRP hybrid
SHS beam, and the characteristics from each direction were mixed
when stacked together. In the Al/CFRP [0°]2n specimen, even
though the SEA was highly improved, the CFE was not, because
the carbon fibers were parallel to the crushing load direction and
consequently the material properties of carbon fiber were dominant in the axial direction. On the contrary, in the Al/CFRP
[90°]2n specimen, the CFE was highly improved but the SEA was
not, because the carbon fibers reinforced the Al SHS beam in the
hoop direction and the material properties of the epoxy matrix
were dominant in the axial direction. In the Al/CFRP [0°/90°]n specimen, the SEA and CFE were highly improved simultaneously, because the carbon fibers reinforced the Al SHS beam in both the
axial and hoop directions. However, in the Al/CFRP [90°/0°]n specimen, the SEA and CFE were lower than that of the [0°/90°]n lay-up
sequence due to the severed delamination failure on the CFRP [0°]
ply at the outermost layer. In the Al/CFRP [+45°/45°]n specimen,

9

H.C. Kim et al. / Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10

A.5

B.5

C.5

Fiber failure

Debonding
Crack propagation
Crack propagation

D.5

E.5

F.5
Plastic deformation
manner of CFRP layer

Debonding
Fiber failure
Delamination
Tearing failure mode at
edge of Al SHS beam

Fig. 7. Failure shapes of the pure aluminum specimen and hybrid specimen with different lay-up sequence after the axial crash test. (A.5: pure aluminum, B.5: CFRP [0°]2n,
C.5: CFRP [90°]2n, D.5: CFRP [0°/90°]n, E.5: CFRP [90°/0°]n, F.5: CFRP [+45°/45°]n).

Table 3
Crashworthiness characteristics of pure aluminum SHS beam and Al/CFRP hybrid SHS beam with different lay-up sequences.
Specimen type
Al SHS beam
Al/CFRP [0°]2 SHS beam
Al/CFRP [90°]2 SHS beam
Al/CFRP [0°/90°] SHS beam
Al/CFRP [90°/0°] SHS beam
Al/CFRP [+45°/45°] SHS beam
Al/CFRP [0°]4 SHS beam
Al/CFRP [90°]4 SHS beam
Al/CFRP [0°/90°]2 SHS beam
Al/CFRP [90°/0°]2 SHS beam
Al/CFRP [+45°/45°]2 SHS beam

Mass/length, l
(g/mm)

Crushed length, DL (mm)

1.22
1.39
1.39
1.37
1.37
1.39
1.5
1.48
1.49
1.49
1.5

56.9
37.3
45.3
40.9
43.4
50
33
43.2
34.7
39.5
50.1

the SEA and CFE were not improved, because of the carbon fibers
scissoring effect increased the peak crushing load and tearing failure behavior on the edge of Al SHS beam changed the crushing

Absorbed energy,
E (J)

SEA, Es (J/g)

1520
1550
1560
1590
1530
1560
1510
1580
1590
1560
1560

22.2
29.8
24.7
28.4
25.7
22.4
30.6
24.7
30.7
26.5
20.8

Mean load, Pmean (N)

Peak load, Pmax (N)

CFE,

g (–)
27.2
41.5
34.4
38.9
35.3
31.2
45.8
36.5
45.8
39.4
31.1

102.5
145.8
101.2
119.9
111.1
111.7
160.7
105.3
132.8
131.5
126.5

0.265
0.285
0.34
0.324
0.318
0.279
0.285
0.347
0.345
0.3
0.246

mode. The crashworthiness performances were improved by
increasing the thickness of CFRP laminate in Al/CFRP [0°/90°]n
specimen. However, the degree of improvement was not signifi-

10

H.C. Kim et al. / Composite Structures 112 (2014) 1–10

References

(a) 1.6

Al SHS beam
n=1 (2Ply)
n=2 (4Ply)

1.5

Normalized SEA

1.4
1.3
1.2
1.1
1.0

Reference
0.9
0.8
o

[0 ]2n

o

[90 ]2n

o

o

[0 /90 ]n

o

o

[90 /0 ]n

o

o

[+45 /-45 ]n

Stacking Condition

(b) 1.6

Al SHS beam
n=1 (2Ply)
n=2 (4Ply)

1.5

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1.4
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1.1
1.0

Reference

0.9
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[0 ]2n

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[90 ]2n

o

o

[0 /90 ]n

o

o

[90 /0 ]n

o

o

[+45 /-45 ]n

Stacking Condition
Fig. 8. Comparison of crashworthiness characteristics depending on the lay-up
sequence and laminate thickness of Al/CFRP SHS beam specimen. (a) Normalized
specific energy absorbed (SEA). (b) Normalized crush force efficiency (CFE).

cant due to the weight increment and the severed debonding and
delamination failure.
Acknowledgements
This work was supported by the National Research Foundation
of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (MSIP) (No.
2010-0028680).

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