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Polymers and composites



K. J. Cain and A. Plumtree
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Waterloo
200 University Ave. W., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada,
An experimental study was performed on a 45o off-axis HTA/6376 carbon fibre-epoxy composite
with a 60% nominal fibre volume fraction by testing under cyclic three-point bending loading
conditions at a stress ratio of 0.1. This allowed a fundamental study to be carried out on the
continuous damage evolution in the matrix without the influence of delamination.
Damage was assessed using three techniques: measuring crack density and permanent bending
as well as monitoring the fatigue modulus degradation of the composite. The general trends of the
results of these damage measurements were similar, as seen in Fig. 1.
The damage can be divided into main two stages, with rapid growth at the onset of loading
(stage I) and a leveling off after about 10-20% of life (stage II). The transition from stage I to stage
II appears to indicate that there is a change in the damage mechanism. During this second stage,
each monitoring method shows an approximately equal increase in the amount of damage,
accumulating at a similar rate. Since stage II relates to bulk damage, the effect of the fatal crack is
not apparent.
Considering three-point bending, the amount of permanent deflection is related to the crack
density which increases with increasing cyclic stress [2]. However, fatigue modulus degradation
monitors another form of damage that includes a shift in the hysteresis curve, known as strain
ratcheting [3]. This shows the effect viscoelastic behaviour of the matrix; i.e. the effect of chemical
bonding as opposed to mechanical bonding. In the present case, the fatigue modulus damage is
dominated by this viscoelastic effect and is cycle dependent. Obviously, it is a very significant
factor in polymer-based composites that undergo long lives.
Crack density measurements are an indication of the bulk damage. They may become less
important as fracture approaches. The initial crack density appears to be stress dependent and as
number of cycles increase, the number and length of longitudinal cracks increase giving the overall
effect that the crack densities at different stress levels tend to become similar [4]. Further work on
the amount of cracked area is required to give a more details. However, it would appear that the
significant damage evolution factor at the end of the second stage is the distribution of the cracks.
Only one region of favourable crack coalescence is required to result in the formation of the fatal
fatigue crack.

K. J. Cain and A. Plumtree


FIGURE 1: Types of damage in CFRP tested in cyclic 3-pt bending at R=0.1. (a) Damage based on
the number of transverse cracks in 16 000 Pm2 on the tensile side. (b) Damage based on the
amount of permanent bending in the composite. (c) Damage based on the degradation of fatigue


Plumtree A. and Shen G., Polymers and Polymer Composites, vol. 2, 83-90, 1994


Plumtree A. and Ostagathe M., In Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on

Fracture, edited by A. Carpinteri, Politecnico di Torino, Italy, 2005, Paper 3342, 1-5


Cain, K.J., Damage Characterization of A Unidirectional Off-Axis Graphite-Bismaleimide

Laminate, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Waterloo, 2002


Sorensen, L. and Plumtree A., Composite Materials: Testing and Design Fourteenth Volume,
ASTM STP 1436, edited by C.E. Bakis, ASTM International, 336-348, 2003