A regularized extended finite element method for modeling the coupled cracking and delamination of composite materials

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering


Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering


Advisor: Robert A. Brockman


As the use of composite materials in aerospace structures continues to increase, the need to properly characterize these materials, especially in terms of damage tolerance, takes on additional importance. The world wide failure exercises (WWFE) are an example of the international interest in this issue. But though there has been a great deal of progress in understanding the initiation of damage and modeling damage propagation along known interfaces, methods that can capture the effects of interactions among various failure modes accurately remain elusive. A method of modeling coupled matrix cracks and delamination in laminated composite materials based on the finite element method has been developed and experimentally validated. Damage initiation is determined using the LARC03 failure criterion. Delamination along ply interfaces is modeled using cohesive zones. Matrix cracks are incorporated into the discretization of the problem domain through a robust Mesh-Independent Cracking (MIC) technique. The matrix cracking technique, termed the Regularized Extended Finite Element Method (Rx-FEM), uses regularized forms of the Heaviside and Dirac Delta generalized functions to transform the crack surface into a volumetric crack zone. The Regularized Extended Finite Element method is compared to benchmark cases. The sensitivity of the solution to mesh size and parameters within the cohesive zone model is studied. Finally, the full method with delamination is employed to study a set of experimental tests performed on open-hole quasi-isotropic laminates. The trends of hole-size and ply thickness are well predicted for the laminates. Rx-FEM is also able to simulate the pattern of damage, as demonstrated by comparisons to x-ray images. From the results of this series of analyses it can be concluded that failures occur when delamination originating at the hole links up with delamination originating at the edge along the path of matrix cracks.


Composite materials Delamination Simulation methods, Composite materials Delamination Testing, Laminated materials Deterioration Simulation methods, Laminated materials Deterioration Testing, Aerospace planes Materials Testing, Finite element method

Rights Statement

Copyright 2011, author