The introduction, originally in 2009, by the FAA of a ‘slow growth’ approach to the certification of polymer-matrix fibre composites has focused attention on the experimental data and the analytical tools needed to assess the growth of delaminations under cyclic-fatigue loads. Of direct relevance is the fact that fatigue tests on aircraft composite components and structures reveal that no, or only little, retardation of the fatigue crack growth (FCG) rate occurs as delamination/impact damage grows. Therefore, of course, the FCG data that are ascertained in laboratory tests, and then employed as a material-allowable property to design and life the structure, as well as for the development, characterisation and comparison of composite materials, must also exhibit no, or only minimal, retardation. Now, in laboratory tests the double-cantilever beam (DCB) test, using a typical carbon-fibre reinforced-plastic (CFRP) aerospace composite, is usually employed to obtain fracture-mechanics data under cyclic-fatigue Mode I loading. However, it is extremely difficult to perform such DCB fatigue tests without extensive fibre-bridging developing across the crack faces. This fibre-bridging leads to significant retardation of the FCG rate. Such fibre-bridging, and hence retardation of the FCG, is seen to arise even for the smallest values of the pre-crack extension length, ap − a0, that are typically employed. The results from the DCB tests also invariably exhibit a relatively large degree of inherent scatter. Thus, a methodology is proposed for predicting an ‘upper-bound’ FCG curve from the laboratory test data which is representative of a composite laminate exhibiting no, or only very little, retardation of the FCG rate under fatigue loading and which takes into account the inherent scatter. To achieve this we have employed a novel methodology, based on using a variant of the Hartman-Schijve equation, to access this ‘upper-bound’ FCG rate curve, which may be thought of as a material-allowable property and which is obtained using an ‘A basis’ statistical approach. Therefore, a conservative ‘upper-bound’ FCG curve may now be calculated from the DCB laboratory test data for material development, characterisation and comparative studies, and for design and lifing studies.
- Delamination growth
- Fracture mechanics