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In situ tomography investigation of crack growth in carbon fiber laminate composites during monotonic and cyclic loading

As the use of fiber-reinforced polymer composites grows in aerospace structures, there is an emerging need to implement damage tolerant approaches. The use of in-situ synchrotron X-ray tomography enables direct observations of progressive damage relative to the microstructural features, which is studied in a T650/5320 laminate composite with varying layup orientations (using 45o and -45o plies) in a compact tension specimen geometry. Specifically, the interactions of micromechanical damage mechanisms at the notch tip were analyzed through 3D image processing as the crack grew. First, monotonic tests were conducted where X-ray tomography was acquired incrementally between the unloaded state and maximum load. The analysis of the monotonic tension specimens showed intralaminar cracking was dominant during crack initiation, delamination became prevalent during the later stages of crack progression, and fiber breakage was, in general, largely related to intralaminar cracking. After the monotonic tension analysis, modifications were made to the specimen geometry and the loading assembly, and fatigue tests were conducted, also using in-situ synchrotron X-ray tomography. Specifically, tomography images were acquired after select intervals of cyclic loading to examine the crack growth behavior up to 5802 cycles. The analysis of the fatigue tests showed that intralaminar cracking was also dominant, while localized delamination allowed ply cross-over. A finite element analysis was conducted by comparing the crack profile at varying intervals of loading, and the change in stored energy per cycle, dU/dN, was calculated. The combined experimental and simulation analysis showed that when the per ply values of dU/dN were examined, the intralaminar cracking rate collapsed to one curve regardless of the ply orientation, where direct observations of fiber bridging were characterized and associated with a reduction in crack growth rate for the influenced ply. Overall, this work provides a physical understanding of the micromechanics facilitating intralaminar crack growth in composites, providing engineers the necessary assessments for slow crack growth approaches in structural composite materials.


Technical Data Analysis, Inc., Sub Contract No. 2111-001-01

Navy SBIR, Contract No. N68335-19-C-0546

National Science Foundation CMMI MoM, Award No. 1662554


Degree Type

Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics


Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Michael D Sangid

Additional Committee Member 2

Tyler N Tallman

Additional Committee Member 3

Cesare Guariniello