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Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878

An experimental investigation into the tensile strength scaling

of notched composites
B.G. Green 1, M.R. Wisnom, S.R. Hallett *

Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol, Queens Building, University Walk, Bristol, BS8 1TR, UK

Received 10 March 2006; received in revised form 28 June 2006; accepted 26 July 2006


An extensive experimental program has been performed to investigate the eect of scaling on the tensile strength of notched compos-
ites. Hole diameter, ply and laminate thickness, were investigated as the independent variables, whilst keeping constant ratios of hole
diameter to width and length, over a scaling range of 8 from the baseline size. In most cases strength decreased as specimen size increased,
with a maximum reduction of 64%. However the reverse trend of strength increasing with in-plane dimensions was found for specimens
with plies blocked together. As well as the variation in strength, three distinct failure mechanisms were observed: bre failure with and
without extensive matrix damage, and complete gauge section delamination. Despite these dierences, similar sub-critical damage mech-
anisms were seen in all specimens, with the extent of the damage determining the failure stress and mechanism. Damage propagated
across the gauge section via delamination at the hole, which was controlled by the ply thickness to hole diameter ratio. This same mech-
anism can explain both the increasing and decreasing strengths observed. Simple analytical criteria for determining notched strength were
found to be accurate for bre failure in the absence of extensive sub-critical damage, but could not account for those conditions where
delamination propagated across the width prior to failure.
2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: A. Carbon-bre; B. Stress concentrations; Strength; C. Analytical modelling

1. Introduction All of these factors aect the mechanical properties by

changing the extent of damage growth during loading,
The notched strength of composite materials has been and interact with each other to enhance the individual
investigated extensively over the past 30 years because of eects. Within this paper, the eect of notch size (in the
its importance to designers. The complex damage and form of a circular hole), and laminate and ply thickness,
failure mechanisms present during the loading cycle of a are investigated with respect to the open hole tensile
laminate are exaggerated due to the presence of a stress strength of quasi-isotropic composite laminates.
concentration, causing a wide range of eects not present One of the most widely researched phenomena in terms
in unnotched components. The sensitivity of a laminate of notched strength is the hole size eect, whereby the
to a notch, in terms of its mechanical performance, is strength of a laminate decreases with increasing hole
dependent on many factors, including: laminate size and diameter for a constant stress concentration across the
thickness, notch size and geometry, ply orientation and width of a specimen. Early work in the eld of scaling
thickness, machining quality, and material constituents. of notched composites focussed on developing semi-
empirical analytical models for the prediction of notched
strength. A comprehensive review of these is given by
Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 117 331 7098; fax: +44 117 927 2771.
E-mail address: (S.R. Hallett).
Awerbuch and Madhukar [1]. One of the earliest models
Present address: Gurit UK, St Cross Business Park, Newport, Isle of was developed by Waddoups et al. [2], who applied a
Wight, PO30 5WU, UK. characteristic length to a fracture mechanics argument

1359-835X/$ - see front matter 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
868 B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878

to predict notched strength with respect to notch size. Harris and Morris [15] investigated the eect of increas-
Whitney and Nuismer [3] followed a stress-based ing the thickness of a laminate while keeping a constant ply
approach to develop two similar models, the widely used thickness by repeating the sub-laminate blocks. This
Average and Point Stress Criteria. These assume that lam- resulted in decreasing strength with increasing thickness
inate failure occurs when the stress across a region next for quasi-isotropic laminates, because the damage prior to
to, or at a point some distance from, the notch reaches failure was conned to a boundary close to the surface.
the unnotched material strength. Both the fracture- Hence, for thicker laminates there was less stress redistribu-
mechanics and stress-based models were developed further tion throughout the laminate. They also saw that discrete
by various authors [410], with varying levels of complex- jumps in the crack-opening displacement curve corre-
ity and success. However, Awerbuch and Madhukar con- sponded to gauge section delaminations. Vaidya et al. [16]
cluded that so long as the empirical parameters required increased the thickness of their laminates by blocking plies
are determined accurately, all of the models t the data of the same orientation together to increase the eective ply
equally well. Eriksson and Aronsson [11] developed a thickness. Quasi-isotropic [0n/90n/45n/ 45n]s laminates
closed form solution called the Damage Zone Criterion, with n = 1 and 2 showed similar amounts of sub-critical
based on the assumption that a homogeneous damage damage during loading and also similar fracture toughness
zone grows from a hole, perpendicular to the direction values (derived from the failure stress). However, with n = 4
of loading. The projected damage zone length is deter- the amount of sub-critical damage increased dramatically,
mined empirically, and the model was seen to be slightly so that the failure mechanism changed from bre- to delam-
better at predicting notched strength than the point stress ination-failure along the 0/90 interface. This was accompa-
criterion in the cases reported. The projected damage zone nied by a marked decrease in fracture toughness. Hallett
length was also close in value to the characteristic distance and Wisnom [17] observed that the maximum load carried
of the point stress criterion. by edge-notched E-glass/ 913 [45/90/ 45/02]s specimens
Awerbuch and Madhukar also concluded that notch corresponded to failure of the o-axis plies present, leaving
sensitivity must be related to the damage occurring within a 0 ligament to carry the load. This then failed at a lower
the laminate, at the notch, prior to failure (referred to here load than that at which delamination occurred.
as sub-critical damage), the detail of which is ignored in the In the present study an extensive experimental program
above models. Subsequent work in the eld, some of the has been designed to investigate the eects of scaling on the
earliest of which was reported by Kortschot and Beaumont strength of notched composites. The most important vari-
[12], focussed on understanding the sub-critical damage ables have been identied as notch size, and ply and lami-
that was occurring, and how it aected the notched nate thickness. These have been scaled both independently
strength of composites. The damage was found to take and simultaneously over as large a range as possible. The
the form of matrix cracking in the o-axis plies, delamina- strength results obtained have been compared to simple
tion, and axial-splitting in the 0 plies. It is this damage models for the prediction of notched strength to assess
occurring at the notch, especially the 0 splits, which redis- their applicability. The study is part of a wider project at
tributes the stress concentration and thus delays the onset the University of Bristol to understand scaling eects,
of failure. and develop accurate methods for predicting their impact
Lagace [13] investigated the eect of stacking sequence on composite structures. A detailed nite element model
and hole diameter upon the notched strength of a laminate, has been developed in parallel [18], using results from this
although a constant specimen width was used, giving a study for both development and validation.
varying stress concentration across the width. He found
that for [0/902]s laminates, the fracture changed from 2. Experimental procedure
a matrix-dominated to a bre-dominated failure with
increasing hole diameter. This was due to interlaminar The material used was IM7/8552, a unidirectional (UD)
stresses in the region around the hole boundary, which carbon-bre/epoxy pre-preg system supplied by Hexcel,
decrease in importance with increasing hole radius to lam- with a nominal ply thickness of 0.125 mm. Quasi-isotropic
inate thickness ratio. Laminates with large amounts of laminates with a centrally located circular hole were tested
delamination prior to failure showed non-linear stress in quasi-static tension. Constant width (w) to hole diameter
strain curves during loading, as opposed to those with little (d) and length (l) to hole diameter ratios were used as
or no delamination (a clean tensile break), whose stress shown in Fig. 1 (a constant tab length is used throughout
strain curve was linear to failure. It was also seen that the the experimental program).
Mar-Lin fracture mechanics based model [9,10] for notched A quasi-isotropic laminate with stacking sequence [45m/
strength prediction was slightly more accurate than the 90m/ 45m/0m]ns was used, with 0 being in the direction of
point-stress criterion. Chang et al. [14] found that for the applied loading. The testing matrix is shown in Fig. 2.
quasi-isotropic [0/45/ 45/90]2s laminates, damage propa- The subscripts m and n refer to the number of plies of each
gated from a circular hole via matrix failure in the o-axis orientation present, and represent two dierent ways of
plies. When the damage reached the 0 plies, bre breakage increasing the thickness of the laminate. The product of
and hence laminate failure ensued. m and n is equal to the laminate thickness, i.e. m, n = 1
B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878 869

Gripping region Gauge section

w/d = 5

l/d = 20
Fig. 1. Specimen geometry.

Sublaminate-level Scaling Ply-level Scaling

Hole diameter (mm) Hole diameter (mm)
t (mm) 3.175 6.35 12.7 25.4 3.175 6.35 12.7 25.4
2 3D
4 2D

= configuration tested

Fig. 2. Testing program matrix.

for a 1 mm thick laminate; m = 2, n = 1 or m = 1, n = 2 for stant cutting speed was used. Six specimens for each condi-
a 2 mm thick laminate; etc. Increasing m increases the num- tion were loaded to failure. A nominal strain rate of 0.78%/
ber of plies of the same orientation blocked together, i.e. it min was used, which equates to constant displacement
increases the eective ply thickness. From herein this is rates of 0.5, 1, 2 and 4 mm/min being used for hole diam-
referred to as ply-level scaling. Increasing n keeps a con- eters of 3.175, 6.35, 12.7 and 25.4 mm, respectively. Many
stant ply thickness, but increases the laminate thickness of the tests were recorded with a video camera using a high
by increasing the number of sublaminates present. From magnication lens, so that the ply-level damage during the
herein it is referred to as sublaminate-level scaling. The test could be determined.
dimensions of the baseline specimen are scaled by a factor
of 2 each time up to a maximum of 8. Three dierent scal-
3. Results
ing routines are used: one-dimensional, two-dimensional
and three-dimensional scaling. In the case of one dimen-
Tables 2 and 3 show the strength results for the dierent
sional scaling only the thickness of the laminate is
laminates tested. Failure is taken as being the rst signi-
increased; in two dimensional scaling, the in-plane dimen-
cant load drop on the load-displacement curve (greater
sions (hole diameter, and hence width and length) are
than 5%). The dierences in failure mechanism present
increased but the thickness kept the same. Gauge section
are explained below. The percentage decrease in strength
dimensions for the dierent hole diameters used are given
from a baseline specimen size to one that is scaled up by
in Table 1. Three-dimensional scaling is where all dimen-
a factor of 8 in all dimensions is 42% for the sublami-
sions are scaled simultaneously.
nate-level scaling method and 59% for the ply-level scaling
Laminates were autoclave cured according to Hexcels
method. For scaling in-plane dimensions by a factor of 8
recommended cure cycle [19], and specimens were cut from
there is a 31% decrease for sublaminate-level scaling and
these using a water-cooled diamond saw. The holes were
notably a 51% increase for ply-level scaling. The decrease
drilled with tungsten carbide drill bits, with the drill speed
being scaled according to the hole diameter so that a con-
Table 2
Average failure stress of sublaminate-level scaled specimens (MPa) (cv, %)
Table 1
Gauge section dimensions for dierent hole diameters t (mm) Hole diameter (mm)
Hole diameter (mm) Specimen width (mm) Gauge length (mm) 3.175 6.35 12.7 25.4
3.175 16 64 1 570 (7.69)
6.35 32 128 2 500 (3.95) 438 (2.44)
12.7 64 256 4 478 (3.09) 433 (2.03) 374 (1.01) 331 (2.98)
25.4 128 512 8 476 (5.06) 332 (1.31)
870 B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878

Table 3 the 2 mm thick specimens with a 6.35 mm diameter hole

Average failure stress of ply-level scaled specimens (MPa) (cv, %) (1), ve specimens showed a pull-out type failure mecha-
t (mm) Hole diameter (mm) nism, while one failed via delamination; for the 4 mm thick
3.175 6.35 12.7 25.4 laminates with a 25.4 mm diameter hole (2), four of the
1 570 (7.69) specimens failed via delamination, while the other two dis-
2 396 (5.18) 498 (6.45) played a pull-out type mechanism.
4 275 (5.56) 285 (5.17) 362 (2.60) 417 (4.10) The pull-out failure mechanism was caused by bre fail-
8 202 (7.90) 232 (1.87) ure within the 0 plies, accompanied by delamination
between some of the o-axis plies, one or more of which
for thickness scaling by a factor of 8 is 17% for sublami- failed via matrix cracking. A typical specimen is shown
nate-level scaling and 64% for ply-level scaling. in Fig. 4(a). The delamination and o-axis ply-cracking
occurred across the entire width of the specimen, but in
3.1. Failure mechanism some cases was limited to plies close to the surface. The
splitting failure of the o-axis plies propagated from the
Examination of the specimens post-failure showed hole, and occurred roughly where the bre direction was
three distinct types of failure mechanism. These have been tangential to the hole boundary. In the 90 plies, the failure
termed pull-out (bre dominated failure with extensive sub- occurred at the point where the loading axis was tangential
critical damage), brittle (bre dominated failure with little to the hole boundary. The line of bre failure of the 0 plies
sub-critical damage) and delamination (matrix dominated generally followed that of the splitting failure of the adja-
failure) type failures. The congurations for which they cent 5 ply. Typically, specimens showed extensive non-
occurred are shown in Fig. 3. Most of the congurations linearity on their loaddisplacement curves prior to failure,
showed a consistent failure mechanism across all tests, as shown in Fig. 4(b). The linear nature of the loaddis-
except for the two ply-level scaled series with labels1,2 in placement curves of other specimens (see below) suggests
Fig. 3 that showed a variation in failure mechanism. For that this is due to damage rather than external eects. How-

Fig. 3. Failure mechanisms present in the testing program.


0 Crosshead displacement

Fig. 4. (a) Pull-out type failure showing delamination across the width (8 mm thick sublaminate-level scaled specimen with a 3.175 mm hole diameter), (b)
loaddisplacement curve for same specimen.
B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878 871

ever, it was not possible to correlate the non-linearity with a this type being conned to an area close to the hole bound-
particular damage mechanism through visual observation. ary. Failure occurred adjacent to the hole, creating a clean
Similar to the pull-out type failure, the brittle mechanism fracture surface across the width of the specimen, at the
was bre-dominated. However, there was little delamina- mid-plane of the laminate, as shown in Fig. 5(a). Every
tion or splitting present in the specimens, with damage of ply in the laminate failed on this fracture plane, by bre

0 Crosshead displacement

Fig. 5. (a) Brittle failure mechanism showing a clean fracture surface (4 mm thick sublaminatelevel scaled specimen with a 12.7 mm hole diameter),
(b) loaddisplacement curve for same specimen.

Fig. 6. Schematic of delamination failure at the 45/0 interface, with o-axis ply failure also present.

-45/0 0 ply fibre
delamination failure

0 Crosshead displacement

Fig. 7. Typical loaddisplacement curves for delamination failure mechanism (note how bre failure exceeds delamination stress only in one graph).
872 B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878

failure in the 0, 45 and 5 orientations, and matrix Table 4

cracking in the 90 plies. The loaddisplacement curves of Ultimate failure of ply-level scaled specimens showing delamination type
failure (MPa) (cv, %)
these specimens were linear to failure, as shown in Fig. 5(b).
The third type of failure mechanism present was delam- t (mm) Hole diameter (mm)
ination. This consisted of an extensive delamination 3.175 6.35 12.7 25.4
between the 45 and 0 plies (covering a large proportion 1 n/a
of the gauge section), accompanied by failure via splitting 2 429 (7.53) 128 (n/a)a
of the o-axis plies. This is shown schematically in Fig. 6. 4 450 (9.91) 390 (8.93) 360 (6.27) 169 (57.34)b
8 441 (5.94) 238 (11.29)
The o-axis plies have failed in a similar manner to the
pull-out mechanism, i.e. via cracks and delaminations Only one specimen showed such failure.
Only four specimens showed such failure.
propagating from the hole. The 45/0 delamination occurs
as a load drop on the loaddisplacement curves as shown
in Fig. 7. Depending upon hole size this can either be a sin- and may therefore be higher or lower than the delamina-
gle load drop or a series of smaller drops. When a series of tion stress. This also explains the large scatter observed
load drops are observed, the delamination propagates in Table 4 for some of the congurations. In many cases,
asymmetrically and in stages; when the delamination cov- the delamination stress is the maximum recorded load,
ers the entire gauge section instantaneously, a single load and delamination in all specimen sizes consists of extensive
drop is observed. Once the entire 45/0 interface has dela- gauge-section damage that causes a loss of structural integ-
minated, and the 0 splits have propagated back to the rity. Failure is therefore taken as being the rst load drop
grips, two unnotched 0 ligaments remain, and continue greater than 5% on the loaddisplacement curve, corre-
to carry load. Table 4 gives the ultimate failure stresses sponding to extensive 45/0 delamination. A typical
of the specimens that suered delamination type failure, loaddisplacement curve for a 4 mm thick ply-level scaled
dened as the maximum load achieved following complete specimen with a 3.175 mm diameter hole can be seen in
delamination of the 45/0 interface; hence, it corresponds Fig. 8(a). Although the nal failure stress is much higher
to failure of the 0 ligaments. The 0 failure stress is deter- than the delamination peaks, the delaminations cause large
mined by the extent of damage incurred in the bres during drops in the load. The damage present after the rst load
the delamination, and the stress concentration at the grips, drop can be seen in Fig. 8(b), using dye-penetrant on the

Fig. 8. (a) Typical loaddisplacement curve and (b) picture of the free edge after the rst delamination load drop, for 4 mm thick ply-level scaled
specimens with a 3.175 mm diameter hole.
B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878 873

edge of the specimen. There is delamination across the

45o matrix
complete width of the specimen at the location of the hole, o
-45 matrix crack
while the 45/0 delamination on the right hand-side of the crack
90o matrix
picture continues all the way to the grips. After the second crack
load drop, the delamination is along the length of the entire
gauge section. 0o split

Inner delamination
3.2. Sub-critical damage regions Outer delamination
Despite the variations in failure mechanism and stress
seen over the range of laminate sizes tested, qualitatively
similar sub-critical damage was seen to develop during Fig. 9. Damage zones associated with the specimens (not to scale).
the loading of the specimens. This was observed via the
high-magnication lens and video camera described previ-
ously. The damage can be split into four separate stages, [20]. All of the failure mechanisms described so far can
occurring in the following order: isolated damage at the be seen in schematic form in Fig. 10(a).
hole, extensive damage at the hole (inner delamination In the second stage of damage development, the isolated
regions), damage across the width of the specimen in a cracks, splits and associated delaminations join together to
zone of inuence of the hole (outer delamination cover the region within 45 of the hole centreline, as
regions), and nally damage occurring along the length shown in Fig. 10(b). Plies clearly pulled apart from each
of the gauge section, not associated with the hole. These other at the hole edge, and large cracks were visible
damage zones are shown in Fig. 9. through the thickness of plies where the delamination
The rst failure observed in the laminates was matrix passed from one interface to another. These delaminations
cracking in the 90 plies at the hole boundary. This was fol- were seen to allow the cracks to propagate across the width
lowed by isolated matrix cracks occurring in all of the o- of the laminate. In the sublaminate-level scaled specimens,
axis plies, within the bounds of the inner delamination the delamination propagation through the thickness was
regions. The o-axis ply cracking was followed by splitting arrested by the 0 ply closest to the surface. In some cases
in the 0 plies tangential to the hole boundary. All of these the damage passed into the second sublaminates from the
splits and cracks were accompanied by local delaminations surface prior to failure, after damage had propagated
in the adjacent interfaces, of a size similar in magnitude to across the width of the specimen.
the ply thickness. Such delaminations are controlled by the Damage then propagated across the width of the speci-
high interlaminar normal and shear stresses that exist at the men, through the outer delamination regions to the speci-
intersection of a matrix crack and free-edge, within a dis- men edge. From observation of the free edge, isolated
tance of roughly one ply-thickness from the matrix crack matrix cracks with small amounts of delamination appeared

Fig. 10. (a) Isolated matrix cracking, splitting and delaminations at the hole edge, (b) join up into extensive damage in the regions 45 either side of the
hole centreline.
874 B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878

rst, propagating into extensive damage along the edge of Table 5

the specimen when the stress had increased suciently. Predicted strength using the average stress criterion (r0= 929 MPa,
a0= 3.22)
The extensive delaminations remained within the region
bounded by the 45 and 45 matrix cracks shown in Fig. 9. Hole diameter (mm) Predicted strength (MPa)
Finally, matrix cracking and associated delaminations 3.175 528
were seen at the edge of the specimen in the o-axis plies, 6.35 438
12.7 375
away from the outer delamination regions. 25.4 338

4. Analysis
SACMA open-hole tensile strength test specimen [21],
The experimental results have been compared to the and shows an acceptable failure mechanism (bre failure
Average Stress Criterion (ASC) of Whitney and Nuismer with little sub-critical damage). The unnotched quasi-iso-
[3]. The ASC was chosen because of its ease of use com- tropic strength was found to be 929 MPa in a related series
pared to other analytical methods, which have been of experiments [22]. A nite width correction factor of
reported to give only slightly better accuracy in some cases. 1.046 was also incorporated from the equation given in
A characteristic distance, a0, of 3.22 mm has been deter- [23]. The predicted stresses based on these parameters are
mined from the 2 mm thick sublaminate-level scaled shown in Table 5.
specimen with a 6.35 mm hole diameter. This condition They are compared to the experimental strengths of the
was chosen because it has the closest dimensions to the two- and three-dimensional scaling results, respectively,

Sublaminate-level scaling
500 Ply-level scaling
Average stress criterion
Strength (MPa)





0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Hole diameter (mm)

Fig. 11. Experimental vs analytical notched strength with respect to hole diameter (two-dimensional scaling).


550 Ply-level scaling

Sublaminate-level scaling
500 Average stress criterion
Strength (MPa)






0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Hole diameter (mm)

Fig. 12. Experimental vs analytical notched strength with respect to hole diameter (three-dimensional scaling).
B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878 875

for both the ply- and sublaminate-level scaling routines in ously [20] that at the intersection of a matrix crack and free
Figs. 11 and 12. edge, there is a small triangular area of delamination result-
ing from the high interlaminar normal and shear stresses
5. Discussion occurring here. The size of these delaminations is con-
trolled by the ply thickness. Hence, for a small hole these
As previously described, similar sub-critical damage was delaminations are relatively large, and grow instanta-
seen across all specimen sizes, with the amount of damage neously to form the extensive delaminations which allow
varying across the size range tested. The dierences in the damage to propagate through the gauge section. However,
amount of damage explain the dierences in failure stress for a larger hole diameter (assuming a constant ply thick-
and mechanism present. ness), the delaminations are relatively smaller, and the
extensive delamination around the hole boundary grows
5.1. Ply-level scaling in a more stable manner. This extensive delamination at
the hole allows cracks and delaminations to propagate
Ply-level scaled specimens showed either a pull-out or, from the hole to the specimen edge. This in turn will hap-
in most cases, delamination type failure. An increase in pen at a lower stress for a smaller hole.
specimen thickness with constant hole diameter led to a When the delamination reaches the specimen edge, it
decrease in failure stress, while an increase in hole diameter propagates along the length and steps through the thickness
at constant thickness led to an increase in failure stress. of the laminate until it reaches the 45/0 interface (forming
Three-dimensional scaling showed a decrease in strength extensive delamination across the width of the laminate).
as size increased, but not by as much as thickness scaling. The increase in the stress at which the extensive delamina-
This is because the thickness and in-plane scaling eects tion across the width reaches the 45/0 interface for larger
act in opposition to each other. However, the fact that hole diameters is the reason for the increasing failure stress
the strength decreases as size increases shows that the eect as hole diameter increases, and also causes two other eects.
of increasing the thickness is dominant over that of increas- For a small hole diameter, the delamination will occur in
ing the in-plane dimensions. stages, with dierent sides of the specimen delaminating at
As previously reported in the literature [16], the decrease dierent stresses. This is seen on the loaddisplacement
in failure stress with increasing ply thickness is due to the curve to correspond to a series of load drops. As the hole
extra energy available for delamination to propagate. size increases, the area covered by the rst occurrence of
When the 45/90 delamination at the hole propagates across gauge-length delamination increases, until the entire gauge
the width and reaches the specimen edge, the delamination length delaminates instantaneously: this corresponds to a
propagates along the 45/90 and 90/ 45 interfaces, via 90 single load drop on the loaddisplacement curve. Secondly,
and 45 matrix cracks, to the 45/0 interface, isolating as the delamination stress increases, the stress in the 0 ply
the 0 plies. At this point, for the 2, 4 and 8 mm thick lam- at delamination increases and approaches its bre failure
inates with a 3.175 mm hole diameter, complete gauge sec- stress. At the point of 45/0 delamination, more bre dam-
tion delamination of the 45/0 interface ensues. However, age occurs in the 0 ply for a larger hole size, and hence the
due to the higher delamination stress in the 1 mm thick post-delamination bre failure stress decreases (see Table
laminate, the stress in the 0 ply has reached the bre fail- 4). As the hole diameter increases further, the bre failure
ure stress, and a pull-out type failure ensues. stress is reached at the point of 45/0 full-width delamina-
In-plane scaling of ply-level scaled specimens was the tion, and a pull-out type failure ensues.
only series of laminates to show an increasing failure stress
with increasing size. There was also a change in failure 5.2. Sublaminate-level scaling
mechanism from a delamination to bre controlled pull-
out failure for an increasing hole diameter. This was most Sublaminate-level scaled specimens failed by bre failure
obvious for 2 mm thick laminates, however the variable for all specimen sizes, with either a pull-out or brittle
failure mechanism observed for 4 mm thick laminates with appearance. In all three cases (one-, two- and three-dimen-
a 25.4 mm hole diameter suggests that at a larger hole sional scaling) an increase in size led to a decrease in failure
diameter, the failure mechanism will change to a pull-out stress, which became asymptotic at larger sizes. For hole
one. The main cause of the size eect can be attributed to diameters of 6.35 mm and greater, strength was indepen-
the extensive delamination at the hole which was visible dent of thickness. Thus, in contrast to the ply-level scaled
during testing (see Fig. 10(b)). The stress at which delami- specimens, hole diameter was the major factor in causing
nation occurred increased from 215 MPa for a 4 mm thick the size eect.
laminate with a 3.175 mm hole diameter to 258 MPa for a When increasing the thickness of the specimens, increas-
4 mm thick one with a 25.4 mm hole diameter (these values ing the number of sublaminates distributes 0 plies
were taken from one specimen only, whose failure stresses throughout the thickness. These plies were seen to arrest
were within 5.5% of the averages for the relevant series of the propagation of the sub-critical damage through the
specimens). The reason for this increase is due to the ratio thickness, conning it to the outer one or two sublami-
of ply thickness to hole diameter. It has been shown previ- nates. In 4 and 8 mm thick specimens with a 3.175 and
876 B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878

6.35 mm hole diameter, the inner sublaminates had a brittle ing to the extent of damage present. A brittle failure mech-
failure appearance post-testing. Thus, as laminate thickness anism will be present when the bre failure stress (r) is
increases, the amount of sub-critical damage present reached before the 45/90 delamination (r45/90) in the outer-
decreases relatively, causing less stress relief and a reduc- most interface propagates across the width of the specimen
tion in failure stress. However the damage only ever prop- (i.e. extensive delamination at the hole has not occurred,
agates through the two outermost sublaminates on each and the sub-critical damage has not propagated across
surface prior to failure, and thus failure stress approaches the width of the specimen). Pull-out failure will occur when
a constant value as thickness increases. the bre failure stress is reached, at any stage between the
As with ply-level scaled specimens, extensive delamina- rst 45/90 delamination propagating across the full width,
tion at the hole edge was delayed for sublaminate-level and the innermost 45/0 interface delaminating across the
scaled specimens as the hole diameter to ply thickness ratio full width. If the bre failure stress has not been reached at
increased. This means that the propagation of the splits in the point of 45/0 delamination (r 45/0), then the 45/0
the 0 plies is delayed for a larger hole, reducing the stress interface delaminates completely, and delamination failure
redistribution, and causing the specimen to fail at a lower ensues. These rules can be summed up as follows:
stress. The stress concentration factor of a circular hole in
an isotropic body of this width is 3.14 at the hole boundary. Brittle failure: r < r45/90
Dividing the unnotched strength (929 MPa) by the stress Pull-out failure: r45/90 < r < r 45/0
concentration factor gives a value of 295 MPa, the expected Delamination failure: r 45/0 < r
strength in the absence of any sub-critical damage. Hence,
for the laminates with a 25.4 mm diameter hole, whose fail- The dierences in failure mechanism can be used to
ure stresses are c. 330 MPa, it is likely that very little sub- explain the dierences in the size eects seen for the subla-
critical damage is occurring, preventing the 0 splits from minate- and ply-level scaling routines. In both cases, exten-
propagating to a signicant length. Another eect of delay- sive damage at the hole occurs at a higher stress for a larger
ing the stress at which damage propagates across the gauge hole. For sublaminate-level scaling, this leads to less stress
section is that the damage has not crossed the width of the relief as hole size increases, and a subsequent reduction in
specimen when the bre failure stress is reached, and the failure stress. In contrast, for ply-level scaled specimens
failure mechanism changes from a pull-out to a brittle one. above a certain ply thickness, the extensive damage at the
hole propagates so much that it becomes the failure mech-
5.3. Failure mechanism anism, and thus leads to an increasing failure stress with
increasing hole diameter, as seen for in-plane scaling.
The failure that occurs has been categorised into three The comparison of the experimental results to the ana-
discrete mechanisms: brittle, where all plies fail via bre lytical ones (Figs. 11 and 12) show that the average stress
failure; pull-out, where bre failure controls the laminate criterion is accurate for sublaminate-level scaled specimens
failure, but some or all of the o-axis plies fail via splitting; with a hole diameter of 6.35 mm and greater, and thickness
and delamination, where extensive 45/0 delamination of at least 2 mm, where the strength is independent of
over the entire gauge section causes failure of the laminate. thickness. Fig. 13 compares the analytical results of the
Bounds can be placed on these failure mechanisms accord- average stress criterion to the failure mechanism that is


500 Sublaminate-level
Scaled, Brittle

400 Sublaminate-level
Strength (MPa)

Scaled, Pull-out
Ply-level Scaled,
Ply-level Scaled,
200 Delamination
Average Stress
100 Criteria

0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Hole Diameter (mm)

Fig. 13. Failure mechanism vs strength for sublaminate- and ply-level scaled specimens.
B.G. Green et al. / Composites: Part A 38 (2007) 867878 877

occurring for the dierent conditions of the testing matrix, ure can occur, depending on the relative delamination and
for both two- and three-dimensional, sublaminate- and ply- bre failure stresses.
level scaling routines. The graph shows that the average The decreasing delamination stress with increasing ply
stress criteria is most accurate for a brittle failure mecha- thickness is due to the greater energy available in a thicker
nism, as well as sublaminate-level scaled specimens with a ply, and will cause a change in failure mechanism from
hole diameter of 6.35 mm. These latter specimens have pull-out to delamination. For the sublaminate-level scaling
been categorised as having a pull-out type failure, however routine, the extensive delaminations at the hole edge were
only the surface 45 plies failed via splitting, with a brittle arrested in their propagation through the thickness of the
fracture surface observed throughout the rest of the lami- laminate by the 0 ply. Hence, proportionally less of the
nate. This suggests that failure here occurred when the 0 plies split in a thicker laminate, thus accounting for
45 matrix crack propagating from the hole reached the the reduction in failure stress as thickness increased.
specimen edge: hence, this condition is on the transition Delamination failure stress increases with increasing hole
from a brittle to a pull-out type failure. size for the ply-level scaling routine, assuming a constant
The average stress criterion is not accurate for congu- thickness, because of the increasing ratio of hole diameter
rations that show extensive delamination prior to failure, to ply thickness. This delays the onset of extensive delam-
or fail via delamination. When specimens show extensive ination at the hole, and hence failure due to the propaga-
delamination prior to failure, failure stress becomes depen- tion of delamination across the width of the specimen. As
dent upon thickness. Thickness scaling of sublaminate-level the delamination stress increases, the bre failure stress is
scaled specimens shows a reduction in strength of 17% over approached, and a mechanism change from delamination
a scaling range of 8. The average stress criterion however to pull-out failure is seen. For sublaminate-level scaled
assumes that strength is independent of thickness, and specimens, this same eect of increasing delamination
dependent only on hole size. This could cause erroneous stress as hole size increases causes the decrease in strength
results if a designer used a notched strength curve for thick and change from pull-out to brittle failure due to reduced
laminates based on data from a thin laminate. The average stress redistribution. Both the expected hole size eect
stress criterion should not be expected to predict the failure reported here for the sublaminate-level scaled specimens
stress of a delamination failure, as it is based upon an and the reversed trend for the 4 mm thick ply-level scaled
unnotched bre failure stress. specimens appear to be controlled by the same local delam-
ination mechanism, with the ratio of ply thickness to in-
6. Conclusion plane dimensions being the critical parameter in both cases.
The experimental results were compared to the average
An extensive experimental investigation into the eects stress criterion, using a characteristic distance calculated
of scaling notched composites has conrmed that failure from a single testing conguration. The analytical prediction
stress and mechanism are dependent upon hole size and was found to be accurate for a brittle failure mechanism, i.e.
thickness. Over a scaling range of 8 from the baseline spec- in the absence of signicant delamination across the speci-
imen, both decreases and increases in notched strength men width prior to failure. When damage does propagate
were noted, with a maximum reduction of 64% observed across the width, the laminate strength becomes dependent
over the scaling range tested. Three distinct failure mecha- on thickness, and may be accompanied by a change in failure
nisms were observed: brittle, where bre failure occurs mechanism from a bre- to matrix-dominated one.
throughout the thickness of the laminate; pull-out, where
some or all of the o-axis plies fail via delamination and Acknowledgements
matrix cracking; and delamination, where complete gauge
section 45/0 delamination occurs. The authors would like to acknowledge the support of
Despite the dierences in failure stress and mechanism, Airbus UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
similar sub-critical damage mechanisms were seen for all Council, MoD and Hexcel for their support of this work.
specimen sizes. Damage initiated in the form of isolated
matrix cracks and delaminations at the hole edge, which References
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