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L. Mishnaevsky Jr.

Risø National Laboratory, Technical University of Denmark, AFM-228, P.O. Box 49, Frederiksborgvej 399, DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark


Numerical investigations of the mechanical behavior and strength of interpenetrating phase composites are presented in this work. A series of micromechanical models of IPCs is developed, using the voxel array based code for 3D FE model generation. The deformation and damage evolution in composites with interpenetrating isotropic (3D random chessboard) and graded microstructures are numerically simulated. The tensile stressstrain curves, fraction of failed elements, and stress, strain and damage distributions at different stages of loading are determined for different random microstructures of the composites. It was shown that the stiffness, peak and yield stresses of a graded composite decrease with increasing the sharpness of the transition zone between the region of high volume content of the hard phase and the reinforcement free region.


Interpenetrating phase composites, damage modelling, percolating microstructures, micromechanics, finite element analysis



Materials, in which one or both phases forms an interconnected network, present a rather large and industrially important group. This group of materials includes, for instance, various biomaterials, tool materials and other sintered composites, porous materials and foams, polymer composites, containing conducting filler particles (e.g., graphite) as well as other dielectric composites. If both phases of a composite form completely interconnected networks (infinite percolation clusters), the materials are referred to as interpenetrating phase composites (IPCs) [1] , [2] . The oldest approach to the analysis of materials with a skeleton is based on the topological parameters of continuity and contiguity. The contiguity parameter was introduced by Gurland [3] to characterize the microstructures of cemented carbides, and is defined as an averaged ratio of the grain/grain boundary surface to the total surface of a particle [4] . Fan et al. [5] expanded the concept of contiguity, and introduced several other parameters of microstructure (the degree of separation of the phases, numbers of intersepts of interfaces). They developed a method of estimation of the modulus of

composites, based on the topological transformation of a two-phase microstructure into a three microstructural element body. Aldrich et al. [6] applied this model to the analysis of nickel-alumina interpenetrating phase composites. Several micromechanical unit cell models have been developed for the analysis of the mechanical behavior of materials with percolating/ interpenetrating microstructures. Ravichandran [7] proposed a simple cubic unit cell model of interpenetrating microstructures to study the deformation of composites with two ductile phases. The 3D simple cubic model was used by Daehn et al. [8] to analyze the deformation behavior of the C4 materials (interpenetrating mixture of elastic perfectly plastic Al and elastic Al 2 O 3 ). Lessle et al. [9] introduced the “matricity” parameter defined as “the fraction of the skeleton lines of one phase S, and the length of the skeleton lines of the participating phases”. Using the approach, based on the combination of two unit cell models, Lessle and colleagues incorporated the matricity parameter into the embedded cell model. Feng et al. [10] developed unit cell models for the estimation of elastic moduli of interpenetrating multiphase composites, and considered special cases of interpenetrating two- and three-phase composites. The unit cells for n phases are decomposed into series and parallel subcells, and their elastic moduli are determined using the Mori-Tanaka method, and the Reuss and Voigt estimations. Wegner and Gibson [11] modeled an interpenetrating phase composite as a hexagonal array of intersecting spheres. The triangular prism unit cell model was designed by analyzing symmetries of the close- packed array of spheres. Wegner and Gibson demonstrated that the composites with interpenetrating phases have the improved Young modulus, strength and thermal expansion, as compared with composites with non-interpenetrating microstructures. In this work, we seek to analyze the effect of the formation of interpenetrating structures (percolation clusters) on the strength and mechanical behavior of composites. In order to model the near-percolating and percolating microstructures, we use the voxel array based representation of microstructures of materials [2] , [12] . The advantage of this method (as compared with the unit cell models, listed above) is that it allows to analyze both interpenetrating microstructures, gradient interpenetrating microstructures and transition microstructures (close to the percolation threshold) in the framework of one and the same approach. Further, it allows to take into account the random arrangement of microstructural elements in the interpenetrating microstructures.


GENERATION OF 3D FE MODELS OF MATERIALS In order to carry out the numerical analysis of arbitrarily complex 3D microstructures, an approach, based on the voxel array description of material microstructures, was suggested, and realized in the framework of a new program “Voxel2FEM” [2] [12] . The representative volume is presented as an N x x N y x N z array of points (voxels), each of them can be either black (1 st phase) or white (2 nd phase) (for a twophase material). The program defines the geometry and boundary conditions of the model, and produces a command (session) file for the commercial software MSC/PATRAN, which generates a 3D FE microstructural model of the representative volume of material. The designed microstructures are meshed with brick elements, which are assigned to the phases

automatically according to the voxel array data. Several built-in subroutines in the program allow reading the microstructure data from an external file (for the case of real microstructures), generation of different pre-defined phase arrangements, as well as the percolation theory analysis of the microstructures. Subroutine for generating random microstructures and multiparticle unit cells. The program can generate voxel arrays for multiparticle unit cells with different arrangements of round particles in a matrix, or for the random and percolating structures (3D random chessboard). The voxel arrays for multiparticle unit cells with many round particles are generated, using the algorithms described in [13] . Subroutine for generating graded composite microstructures. This subroutine defines the distribution of black voxels as a random distribution both in X and Z directions, and a graded distribution in Y direction. The volume content of the black voxels (hard phase) is taken as a function of the Y coordinate, proportional to 1/(1+exp(g-2*g*Y/L)) [14] (where L cell length, g gradient parameter). This formula allows to vary the smoothness of the gradient interface of the structures (highly localized arrangements of inclusions and a sharp interface versus a smooth interface), keeping the volume content of hard phase constant. Subroutines for the percolation theory analysis of 3D microstructures. When generating the representative unit cells, the availability of infinite percolation clusters in the generated microstructure is checked, using the burning algorithm [15] . Another subroutine, built-in in the program, carries out the percolation analysis of the generated or reconstructed microstructures with the use of the alternative algorithm of the cluster labeling, suggested in [16] . These subroutines allow to carry out the complete percolation analysis of the microstructures, as well as to compare the results obtained with the use of different techniques.


Let us consider the effect of microstructures of gradient composites with regions of interpenetrating phases on the deformation and damage resistance. Using the program “Voxel2FEM” [12] , we generated a series of 3D FE models of graded composites (with different gradient parameter g and different volume contents of the inclusions). Figure 1 shows some examples of the designed gradient interpenetrating phase microstructures. The deformation and damage in the materials were simulated numerically. Thhe material consisting of two phases was considered: ductile damageable Al matrix, and elastic- brittle SiC hard phase. The material properties are given in [13] and [14] . Cubic unit cells (of the sizes 10 x 10 x 10 mm) were subject to the uniaxial tensile displacement loading, 1.0 mm. The damage in the composites was simulated using the ABAQUS subroutine UserDefined Field [2, 12-14]. Figure 1 shows typical tensile stress-strain curves for the different gradient degree of the composites. One can see from Figure 1 that the peak stress of the stress-strain curve increases with increasing the sharpness of the transition regions between the regions of high and low volume contents of hard phase.

Figure 1 Typical tensile stress-strain curves for the different gradient degree of the composite (VC=20%
Figure 1 Typical tensile stress-strain curves for the different gradient degree of the composite (VC=20%
Figure 1 Typical tensile stress-strain curves for the different gradient degree of the composite (VC=20%
Figure 1 Typical tensile stress-strain curves for the different gradient degree of the composite (VC=20%



Typical tensile stress-strain curves for the different gradient degree of the composite (VC=20% ) (a), and examples of the considered graded microstructures of the material: g=3, g=6, g=100 (b)


Now, the effect of contiguous clusters of hard phase on the deformation, strength and damage of the composites should be clarified. In order to solve this problem, a series of 3D FE models of composites with random distribution of the hard phase grains and different volume content of the inclusions (3D “random chessboards”) were generated using the program “Voxel2FEM”. Figure 2 shows some typical tensile stress-strain curves and the fraction of failed elements in the hard phase plotted versus the far-field applied strain for the different volume contents of the hard phase. The falling branches of the stress-stress curves begin, when the intensive failure of hard phase goes on. After some part of the hard material fails, the damage growth slows down, and the stiffness of the materials is not reduced further. One can see from Figure 2 that the critical strain, at which the falling branches of the stress-strain curve begin, decreases with increasing the volume content of the hard phase. It is of interest to correlate the strength, deformation and damage resistance of the composites with the formation of contiguous, interpenetrating network of hard phase. When generating the FE models, the percolation analysis for all three directions (X, Y, Z) and for both phases (hard grains, matrix) was carried out, and the availability or non- availability of the infinite percolation clusters of the hard grains and the matrix in each direction in the considered representative volume was checked. As expected, infinite percolation clusters of hard phase do not form at the volume content of hard phase (VC) below 31%, but were detected (in 1 direction) at VC =32%. Infinite clusters of hard phase form in all three directions at VC =70%, but infinite clusters of matrix can be detected only in two directions at this volume content.

Figure 2 Typical tensile stress-strain curves and the fraction of failed elements in the hard
Figure 2 Typical tensile stress-strain curves and the fraction of failed elements in the hard
Typical tensile stress-strain curves and the fraction of failed elements in
the hard phase plotted versus the far-field applied strain for the
different volume contents of hard phase [12]
Critical applied strain, at which the intensive damage growth in hard
phase begins and goes on, plotted versus the maximum size of a cluster
of hard phase [12]

If the volume content is between 32% and 69%, the microstructure is interpenetrating, and both phases form infinite clusters. Comparing these data with the results shown in Figure 3, one can draw a conclusion that metal matrix composites (normally, elasto- plastic-damageable materials) start to behave as an elastic-brittle material (i.e., the linear stress-strain dependence up to the peak stress and then vertical falling branch of the stress-strain curve), when the infinite percolation cluster from the hard phase is formed

(i.e., at VC>32%). Figure 3 shows the peak stresses of the stress-strain curves plotted versus the maximum size of a percolation cluster of hard phase. One can see from Figure 3 that the stiffness and the peak stress of a composite increase almost linearly with increasing the linear size of the largest hard phase cluster up to the percolation threshold. The formation of clusters of hard grains therefore plays an important role for the stiffness and strength of composites.



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