Loughborough University
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Numerical modelling of the compression-after-impact behaviour of composite sandwich panels

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posted on 2015-06-24, 08:00 authored by Chris T. James
Sandwich panels using fibre-reinforced composite skins and low-density cores are being increasingly used in the aerospace industry due to their superior specific strength and stiffness, and increased design flexibility over traditional metallic and composite structures. However, it is well-known that sandwich panels are highly vulnerable to the effects of impact damage, with even low-energy impacts potentially causing very severe reductions in the in-plane compressive strength of these structures. The objective of this project was to produce a faithful and reliable numerical model for the simulation of the compression-after-impact strength of composite sandwich panels. An in-depth literature review revealed that delamination within the skins of a sandwich panel is a damage mechanism that has gone almost entirely neglected in previous efforts at modelling this problem, despite the proven significance of this mechanism in the failure of impact damaged sandwich panels in compression. Consequently, the use of the cohesive zone model for delamination initiation and propagation is the key unique feature of this model, with Hashin s criteria being used for intra-laminar damage formation, and a simple plasticity response capturing core crushing. An experimental study is performed to produce a thorough dataset for model validation, featuring differing levels of damage induced via quasi-static indentation, and novel asymmetric panels with skins of unequal thickness (the thinner skin being on the unimpacted side). The experimental study revealed that the use of a thinner distal (undamaged) skin could improve the strength of mildly damaged sandwich panels over undamaged sandwich panels using the same asymmetric configuration. It is believed that this effect is due to the movement of the neutral plane of the sandwich panel caused by the reduction in the stability of the damaged skin through stiffness reduction and geometric imperfections. This removes the eccentricity of the compressive loading that exists in the undamaged asymmetric panels, which has mismatched axial stiffness between the indented skin and the thinner distal skin, and thus a noticeably lower ultimate strength than the undamaged symmetric panels. The sandwich model is developed using pre-existing experimental and material data, and trialled for a variety of different skin lay-ups, core thicknesses and indenter sizes. The numerical model generally agreed well with the ultimate stress found in the experiments for these different configurations, but is quite poor at estimating the magnitude of the damage induced by the indentation. When used to model the experimental study, the model gave generally good, conservative estimates for the residual compressive strength of both the symmetric and asymmetric panels. The tendency of the asymmetric panels to become stronger with mild damage was not captured by the model per se, with the numerical results instead showing an insensitivity to damage in the asymmetric panels, which was not shared by the symmetric panels. However, the numerical model did exhibit erroneous strain-stress responses for both panel configurations, particularly for the undamaged and mildly damaged cases. Investigations revealed that this erroneous behaviour was caused by inconsistency in the material data, which had been collected partially via experimentation and partly from literature sources. Overall, the model developed here represents a promising advancement over previous efforts, but further development is required to provide accurate damage states.


Loughborough University



  • Aeronautical, Automotive, Chemical and Materials Engineering


  • Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering


© Christopher T. James

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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The open access file has had copyright material removed. Closed access version may be viewed in the Library. A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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