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Polymer Testing 20 (2001) 677–683

Property Modelling
Modelling the behaviour of plastics for design under impact
G. Dean, B. Read
Centre for Materials Measurement and Technology, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex TW11 0LW, UK

Received 9 October 2000; accepted 19 December 2000


Computer methods based on finite element analysis are able to predict the performance of plastics under impact
loading. Although the accuracy of results depends on the model used to describe the deformation behaviour of the
polymer, whichever model is used, the analysis requires stress/strain data over a wide range of strain rate. These data
are most conveniently measured in tension, but procedures are currently not available for determining results at high
strain rates. ISO standards for tensile property measurement are applicable for strain rates up to around 0.1 s⫺1. To
simulate behaviour under impact, data are required at rates that are 3 or 4 orders of magnitude higher than this. For
accurate data acquisition at these higher rates, attention needs to be paid to apparatus design in order to minimise
contributions from transient forces arising from resonances and the propagation of shock waves in the apparatus. In
addition, procedures and extensometers are not routinely available for determining strains at the higher rates of defor-
mation. This paper illustrates the acquisition of data over a wide range of strain rates through a combination of measure-
ments at low and moderate strain rates with extrapolation of these data to higher rates. In order to maximise accuracy
at moderate strain rates, suitable designs need to be selected for the transducers, the test specimen geometry and the
test assembly. Extrapolation is achieved by the use of mathematical functions to model the stress/strain curves and
their rate dependence. Reference is also made to the development of a new materials model for describing the defor-
mation behaviour of toughened plastics at large strains.  2001 NPL. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights

Keywords: Measurement; Plastics; Modelling; Impact; Materials; FEA

1. Computer aided design competent design rather than the moulding and testing
of prototypes. Computer methods are available based on
Most modern grades of plastics are very tough finite element analysis that enable predictions to be made
materials that are capable of sustaining large strain levels of performance under realistic loading situations.
prior to failure, making them an attractive option for There are two factors that limit the wider use of these
many applications. Such applications include housings computer methods. Firstly, a lack of recognised and rou-
for domestic and electronic appliances, which may have tine test methods for measuring some of the data required
to sustain accidental impact without showing signs of by the analysis, and secondly, limited knowledge of the
damage, and interior components of motor vehicles, validity for plastics of the materials models employed by
which may be impacted by occupants in a crash and must the computer analysis, and thus uncertainty in the accu-
minimise damage to the human body part involved. In racy of derived results.
these applications and others, it is important that the per- This paper discusses the experimental issues associa-
formance and the safe operating limits of the component ted with data measurement, and a procedure for
under impact are known. Substantial savings can be determining properties by modelling and extrapolation
made in both time and cost if this can be done through is proposed. The limitations of elastic–plastic materials

0142-9418/01/$ - see front matter  2001 NPL. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 1 4 2 - 9 4 1 8 ( 0 1 ) 0 0 0 0 3 - 4
678 G. Dean, B. Read / Polymer Testing 20 (2001) 677–683

models for describing non-linear deformation in plastics A simpler approach to determining strain in such tests is
are also discussed and the basis for a new model is to derive values from cross-head movement or the
explained. change in grip separation. An apparent or average strain
is obtained from the ratio of the change in grip separation
to the length of the specimen between the grips prior to
2. Determination of data required for impact load application. [Note, if the measurement of cross-head
analysis movement is used then a correction will, in general, be
necessary arising from the compliance of the test
2.1. Materials models and data assembly.] Since the test specimen is usually waisted in
the gauge region, this average strain will differ from
Non-linear stress/strain behaviour of plastics is gener- actual strain in the gauge region of the specimen, where
ally associated with an enhanced stress–relaxation, or the corresponding stress is calculated. It is possible to
creep arising from an increase in molecular mobility estimate the actual strain values from the average strain
induced by elevated stresses. Much of the strain is recov- using a correlation of these quantities determined from
erable at levels below the yield strain. Satisfactory mod- lower speed tests, where actual strain can be measured
els of non-linear viscoelasticity have yet to be developed, with extensometers. The correlation obtained will be spe-
and most FE packages consider material non-linearity in cific to a particular test machine, the specimen size and
terms of elastic–plastic models that were developed for geometry and the strain level in the specimen when this
metals and adapted for use with plastics and other is above the limit for linear behaviour. There will also
materials. be a small dependence upon material properties and
With elastic–plastic models, calculations of stress and hence test speed.
strain distributions at low strains (ⱕ0.01) are based on There remains some concern over the use of this
the theory of linear elasticity using, for isotropic approach for determining strain in materials where the
materials, values of the Young’s modulus E and elastic strain is not uniform in the gauge section of the specimen
Poisson’s ratio ne. The onset of non-linearity in a stress– beyond the peak in the stress/strain curve. Materials that
strain curve is then ascribed to plastic deformation and show a visible neck region are an extreme example of
occurs at a stress level regarded as the first yield stress. this.
The subsequent increase in yield stress with strain is In this way, it is generally possible to obtain valid
associated with the effects of strain hardening. The hard- tensile data up to test speeds of around 1 m/s which will
ening behaviour is required by the computer analysis and correspond to strain rates of typically 10 s⫺1. At test
is most commonly defined by a plot of tensile yield stress speeds above this, additional problems arise. Owing to
against the tensile plastic strain. This is derived from a the finite time for the hydraulic ram to accelerate to the
measured tensile stress/strain curve by subtracting the set speed, the test will not be performed under constant
elastic component of strain at each stress level. Since strain rate. In general, this is not a major problem since
plastics are viscoelastic materials, the hardening curves in the initial part of the test where the behaviour is linear,
are dependent upon the strain rate associated with the the strain rate is less than in the latter part where plastic
applied load. deformation is dominant. Hence, elastic and plastic
behaviour should be analysed using different values of
2.2. Experimental methods strain rate. A more serious problem arises with the rapid
accelerations associated with load application that give
Much of the material property data required by a finite rise to transient forces. Such forces are recorded by the
element analysis of the performance of a component force transducer and superimposed onto the measured
under impact loading can be derived from a series of force on the specimen. These transient forces arise from
tensile stress/strain curves measured over a range of excitation of a resonance of the force transducer and
strain rates. For many applications, the strain rate should from multiple reflections of the acoustic pulse generated
reach or exceed 100 s⫺1. Standard test methods for meas- at one end of the specimen by the sudden load appli-
uring tensile behaviour are confined to strain rates below cation. The influence of these forces on the accuracy of
0.1 s⫺1. Using servo-hydraulic test machines, smaller measurements can be minimised by using components
specimens and light weight extensometers, reliable of low mass in the test assembly and a high stiffness
results can generally be obtained to strain rates around force transducer and by filtering or smoothing the
1 s⫺1. Above this value experimental difficulties, force signal.
especially with strain measurement, can significantly
reduce the accuracy of results. 2.3. Data acquisition by materials modelling
The development of high-speed extensometers that
operate at higher strain rates has been reported, although The measurement of data characterising rate-depen-
these devices are not used routinely for data acquisition. dent behaviour suitable for impact analyses is laborious
G. Dean, B. Read / Polymer Testing 20 (2001) 677–683 679

and prone to errors unless suitable precautions are taken.

An alternative approach to obtaining plastic strain hard-
ening behaviour at high strain rates is to use mathemat-
ical models of stress/strain curves measured at low and
intermediate strain rates to extrapolate behaviour to
higher rates where experimental difficulties arise. The
advantages of this approach are:

1. Data acquisition is achieved with the use of minimal

testing effort and expensive apparatus. The testing
procedures required for data extrapolation are rela-
tively straightforward.
2. Extensive materials property data can be readily cal-
culated from a mathematical function together with
values for the material parameters in this function that Fig. 1. Tensile stress–strain curves for a propylene–ethylene
have been derived from selected tests. This is a con- copolymer measured at different test speeds. The values for the
venient and efficient way of accessing materials plastic strain rate for each test are shown with each curve.
properties in a package that allows a user to define
the expression for rate-dependent hardening.
3. If valid functions are available for modelling rate-
dependent behaviour, then materials properties at deformation is dominant. At strain rates between 0.0003
high strain rates derived by extrapolation will be more s⫺1 and 0.03 s⫺1 measurements were obtained using the
accurate than measured values. This may be parti- ISO multipurpose test specimen and cross-head speeds
cularly relevant for those materials in which the strain of 1, 10 and 100 mm/min. Strain measurements at low
distribution in the gauge length of the specimen is not values (ⱕ0.01) were made using contacting exten-
uniform after the peak load has been reached. Meas- someters to measure both the longitudinal and transverse
ured stresses and strains are then average values strains. At higher strains, a contacting lateral exten-
which can depart significantly from true stress and someter was used for transverse strain measurements,
strain in regions of strain localisation. and a video extensometer was used to obtain longitudinal
strains. From these measurements, Poisson’s ratio was
derived over the strain range and used to calculate values
To address this latter problem, true stress and strain for the true tensile stress. No significant variation of
measurements can be made using a video extensometer Poisson’s ratio with strain rate was discernible from
and multiple, short gauge regions along the specimen. these tests.
By measuring lateral strain as well as longitudinal strain, Data at strain rates between 0.2 and 30 were obtained
in these discrete regions in the tensile specimen, values using tensile specimens having the same geometry as the
for Poisson’s ratio and thus true stresses can be calcu- standard multipurpose specimen but scaled to half the
lated. Video extensometers can only be used at low or size. A servohydraulic test machine was used to achieve
moderate strain rates but by extrapolating precise cross-head speeds in the range 10 to 1000 mm/s. Con-
measurements at these rates to higher rates, it should be tacting extensometers were used to measure longitudinal
possible to achieve higher accuracy in true stress and strain up to a strain of about 0.1 in tests carried out at
strain values than is possible by measurement of aver- speeds of 10 and 100 mm/s. At higher strains, and in
age values. tests at the higher speed of 1 m/s, longitudinal strains
The realisation of these objectives depends critically were derived from measurements of cross-head move-
on the validity of the model functions used to describe ment. Data at the highest strain rate were obtained from
strain and strain-rate dependence. Some suitable func- falling weight impact tests at a speed at contact of 4 m/s.
tions are proposed below and their application illustrated Lateral strain measurements were not made in tests at
using extensive property data measured on a propylene– strain rates above 0.03 s⫺1. Since tests at lower rates
ethylene copolymer containing 8% ethylene. showed that any variation of Poisson’s ratio with strain
rate was small, true stresses in the higher rate tests were
2.4. Modelling plastic strain hardening calculated using Poisson’s ratio data obtained at the
lower rates.
Fig. 1 shows true stress/true strain curves for the pro- Values for tensile modulus E were obtained at each
pylene copolymer measured in tension at strain rates strain rate from measurements below a strain level of
ranging from 3×10−4 s⫺1 to 90 s⫺1. These strain rates 0.005. These were used to derive curves of stress s
refer to strain levels of 0.03 and above where plastic against plastic strain ep based on the assumption that the
680 G. Dean, B. Read / Polymer Testing 20 (2001) 677–683

parameters b and q are essentially rate independent for

this material and can be assumed to take average values
of 0.69 and 0.6 respectively without any loss of predic-
tive accuracy.
The parameter eps decreases with strain rate and
reflects a shift in the strain at which the peak in stress
occurs with increasing strain rate as observed in Fig. 2.
This dependence can be either modelled as shown below
or assumed constant for convenience, if the associated
loss of precision is acceptable.

2.5. Modelling rate-dependent behaviour

The variation of the yield stress of polymers with

strain rate is generally described using the Eyring equ-
Fig. 2. True tensile stress/true tensile plastic strain curves ation [1]. In its most simple form, this can be written
derived from the data in the figure.
sy⫽A⫹B log ėp (3)
where sy is usually the peak stress in a tensile test carried
total strain e is the sum of elastic and plastic compo-
out at the strain rate ėp and A and B are temperature-
nents. Thus
dependent materials parameters. The rate-dependence of
s the parameters so and sf in Table 1 have accordingly
ep⫽e⫺ (1)
E been modelled using the expressions
The resulting curves are shown in Fig. 2 and are the rate- sf⫽sfo⫹b log ėp (4a)
dependent hardening data required by a finite element and
Each of these curves can be accurately modelled by a so⫽soo⫹c log ėp (4b)
function of the form
Plots of sf and so taken from Table 1 against log ėp
s⫽[so⫹(sf⫺so)(1⫺exp⫺(ep/eps)b)](1⫺qep) (2)
are shown in Fig. 3. Eq. (4) gives a satisfactory fit to

With this curve, stress values range between so (the first

yield stress) corresponding to zero plastic strain and a
value of around sf (the initial flow stress) corresponding
approximately to the plateau stress. The parameter eps
represents some mean strain within the strain range over
which the stress rises rapidly between so and sf, and the
parameter b influences the width of that range. The term
containing the parameter q describes a small decrease of
stress with plastic strain beyond the strain at which the
peak in stress occurs. Values for these parameters giving
the best fit of Eq. (2) to each of the curves in Fig. 2 are
shown in Table 1.
It is evident from Table 1 that the main strain rate Fig. 3. Plots of the parameters sf, so and eps shown in Table
dependence occurs in the parameters so and sf. The 1 against log plastic strain rate.

Table 1
Values for the parameters in Eq. (2) giving the fits shown to the data in Fig. 2

ėp (s⫺1) 0.00035 0.004 0.027 0.20 2.1 29 91

so (MPa) 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
sf (MPa) 27 29.3 31.7 35.4 39.5 42.5 46.5
eps 0.013 0.010 0.009 0.008 0.0075 0.006 0.005
b 0.63 0.63 0.70 0.68 0.70 0.75 0.75
q 0.56 0.51 0.47 0.70 0.76 0.59 0.54
G. Dean, B. Read / Polymer Testing 20 (2001) 677–683 681

It can be seen that the comparison between the func-

tion and experimental data is very satisfactory except at
the highest rate of 91 s⫺1. The departure here may arise
from experimental error in the data which were determ-
ined using the falling weight impact method. Alterna-
tively, it may indicate the onset of a breakdown of Eq.
(4a) at this rate. With any predictive method, it is neces-
sary to establish the limitations in the functions
especially when used for extrapolation. The validity of
Eq. (4a) over a wider range of strain rate can be explored
through the use of measurements at lower temperatures
as discussed below.
Evidence that Eqs. (3) and (4) represent an over sim-
plification of yielding kinetics has been reported for
Fig. 4. Comparisons of tensile data with calculated values some polymers [2,3] and attributed to a contribution to
using Eq. (7) and the parameters in Table 2. the yield stress from a secondary (lower temperature)
relaxation process. Assuming that this process gives an
additive contribution to the yield stress, it follows that
the data and yield values for sfo and soo of 38 MPa and
the sf vs log ėp plot (Fig. 3) will show a change to a
10.6 MPa respectively. The parameters b and c are 3.6
steeper gradient at a strain rate dependent on the kinetics
MPa and 1.1 MPa respectively. The variation of the para-
of the secondary relaxation. This change of gradient
meter eps can also be adequately described by a linear
occurs at lower strain rates if the temperature is lowered,
dependence on log ėp as also shown in Fig. 3. Thus tak-
as shown in Fig. 5. In this figure, the maximum stress
sy at each strain rate is identified from tensile tests at
eps⫽eso⫺d log ėp (5) different absolute temperatures T and is plotted as the
ratio sy/T against log strain rate. By normalising with
values for eso of 0.0077 and for d of 0.0013 have been
derived. respect to the absolute temperature T, the analysis shows
that the gradients of both regions (with and without con-
In general it will be possible to simplify Eq. (4) with
tributions from the secondary relaxation respectively) are
negligible loss of accuracy. It can be seen from the para-
meters derived from Fig. 3 that Eq. (4) can be written
sf⫽sfo(1⫹a log ėp) (6)
so⫽soo(1⫹a log ėp)
where a is approximately 0.090. Eq. (2) then takes the
s⫽(sfo⫺(sfo⫺soo)exp⫺(ep/eps)b)(1⫺qep)(1⫹a log ėp)

It is worth noting that if eps is assumed constant, inde-

pendent of strain rate, then the strain and strain-rate
dependencies of s in Eq. (7) are separable. This can
make implementation of materials properties as a user-
defined hardening function easier in certain FE packages.
Fig. 4 shows comparisons of Eq. (7) with the experi- Fig. 5. Plots of sy/T against log strain rate for the propylene–
mental data using values for the parameters given in ethylene copolymer at different temperatures. Here, sv refers to
Table 2. the peak value of stress on a stress/strain curve.

Table 2
Values for the parameters in Eqs. (7) and (5) used to model strain and strain-rate dependent yield in the propylene copolymer

sfo (MPa) soo (MPa) a q b eso d

38 10.6 0.090 0.6 0.69 0.007 0.0013

682 G. Dean, B. Read / Polymer Testing 20 (2001) 677–683

the same at each temperature. The transition to a steeper

gradient is then easier to identify, and it is possible to
estimate where this will occur at temperatures around
and above ambient.

3. The application of materials models

3.1. Limitations of elastic–plastic models

For an elastic–plastic model which assumes that plas-

tic deformation is described by a von Mises yield cri-
terion, the only data requirements are elastic properties
and a hardening curve represented by a plot of yield
stress against plastic strain. If rate dependent behaviour Fig. 6. Experimental stress/strain curves for an acrylonitrile–
butadiene–styrene (ABS) polymer obtained from tests under
is to be modelled then curves spanning a range of strain
uniaxial compression, uniaxial tension and shear.
rate are needed, as shown in Fig. 2. However, in order
to establish how valid the von Mises criterion is for a
particular material, it is necessary to compare hardening
functions obtained under different stress states. In this the tensile curve. Clearly plastic deformation under a ten-
way, the sensitivity of yielding to the hydrostatic compo- sile stress is different from that under compression or
nent of stress can be investigated. Tensile data are gener- shear. The plastic deformation mechanism that deter-
ally used for this purpose as data acquisition is relatively mines behaviour under tension is associated with the
straightforward, together with results from shear or uni- nucleation of multiple crazes or cavities in the polymer.
axial compression tests. Results are analysed using a Since this requires a dilatational component of stress or
yield criterion with sensitivity to the hydrostatic compo- strain, the process is not observed in compression or
nent of stress [4,5]. The simplest of these is shear. In the case of ABS, the rubber phase acts as
centres for nucleation of cavities which serve to produce
冑3(l+1) (l−1) enhanced yielding around the rubber particles leading to
sT ⫽ 2D ⫹
J1/2 J (8) a reduction in the tensile yield stresses relative to equiv-
2l 2l 1
alent stresses in shear and compression. This behaviour
where J1/2
2D is the 2nd invariant of the deviatoric stress is revealed by measurements of Poisson’s ratio with
tensor and is a measure of the effective shear stress in strain as shown in Fig. 7. Initially, Poisson’s ratio is
the material. J1 is another stress invariant and is the observed to rise slightly with strain consistent with a
hydrostatic stress component. The parameter sT is a ten- plastic deformation mechanism that is predominantly
sile yield stress and will depend upon plastic strain ep. shear in character. At a strain of around 0.02, the Pois-
The function sT(ep) is the plastic strain hardening func- son’s ratio decreases as cavities start to nucleate, and a
tion and is shown at different strain rates by the data in deformation mechanism is initiated that involves sig-
Fig. 2. The parameter l is a measure of the sensitivity nificant dilatational strain. This cavity nucleation process
of yielding to the hydrostatic stress. Its magnitude can
be determined by analysis of the tests under different
stress states and lies typically in the range 1.1–1.2.
The yield behaviour of many materials cannot be read-
ily modelled using Eq. (8). Such materials are character-
istically multiphase polymers that have been specially
formulated by blending or copolymerisation to improve
toughness. A common example of such a material is
acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Results of tests
carried out on a typical grade of this material under uni-
axial tension, uniaxial compression and shear are shown
in Fig. 6. If the results of the shear and compression tests
are analysed using Eq. (8), then a value for l=1.2 is
obtained. However, if tension and compression data or
tension and shear data are compared, then the derived Fig. 7. Comparison of tensile and shear test data for the ABS
values for l are significantly higher and must vary with polymer showing the onset of dilatational plastic deformation
plastic strain as a consequence of the different shape of in the tensile test at a strain of about 0.02.
G. Dean, B. Read / Polymer Testing 20 (2001) 677–683 683

parisons of the measured tensile behaviour with calcu-

lations based on the new model.

4. Conclusions

Computer methods based on finite element analysis

are able to calculate the performance of plastics compo-
nents under impact. For these calculations, tensile
stress/strain data are needed that have been determined
over a wide range of strain rate up to, and ideally,
beyond 100 s⫺1.
There are problems with the measurement of
stress/strain curves at strain rates above around 1 s⫺1. At
Fig. 8. Comparison of tensile stress/strain data for the ABS rates above this, errors in measurement occur associated
polymer with the curve predicted usng the new model with with the generation of transient forces and with difficult-
hardening data from a shear test. ies in the measurement of strain.
The data required by a finite element analysis are ten-
sile stress as a function of plastic strain and are derived
from measured stress/strain curves. Mathematical func-
is responsible for the observed reduction in tensile tions have been proposed here that accurately model
yield stresses. stress/plastic strain curves for a propylene–ethylene
copolymer and the dependence of these curves on
3.2. A new model for toughened plastics strain rate.
Using this model, stress/strain curves at high strain
An alternative elastic–plastic model is currently being rates can be calculated by extrapolation of measurements
developed based on the Gurson model [6] for porous made at low and moderate strain rates where measure-
plasticity in metals. The Gurson model describes ment accuracy is adequate. The validity of the extrapol-
enhanced yielding caused by the nucleation of cavities ation can be verified by selected measurements at a
around rigid inclusions in the material. These are lower temperature.
nucleated by the debonding of the inclusions and the A new materials model has been developed for plas-
matrix at a critical level of plastic strain. This model is tics that acquire high toughness through the nucleation
being modified to take into consideration three important of cavities under dilatational stress. The model is able to
features of toughened plastics. predict tensile behaviour from a knowledge of behaviour
under shear. Further work is needed to make additional
1. A modification of the yield criterion to include a sen- refinements to the model and assess its applicability to
sitivity to the hydrostatic component of stress in the a wider range of types of polymer.
absence of cavities.
2. A modification of the hardening function of the
material so that it changes progressively from the Acknowledgements
function for a toughened polymer (without cavities)
This work was carried out with funding from the DTI
to the function appropriate to the matrix polymer as
as part of their programme on the Characterisation of the
cavities are nucleated and the toughening phase
Performance of Materials.
becomes ineffective.
3. A change in the criterion for cavity nucleation so that
the critical factor is the volumetric strain. In this way, References
cavities will not be formed under compressive or
shear stress states. [1] H. Eyring, J. Chem. Phys. 4 (1936) 283.
[2] J.A. Roetling, Polymer 6 (1965) 311.
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Sci. A2 7 (1969) 735.
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[4] S.S. Sternstein, L. Ongchin, Am. Chem. Soc. Polym. Prepr.
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using the model to analyse data from the ABS polymer [5] R. Raghava, R.M. Caddell, G.S. Yeh, J. Mater. Sci. 8
shown in Fig. 6. The hardening function used in the (1973) 225.
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curve measured in a shear test. Fig. 8 then shows com- (1977) 2.