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Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

www.elsevier.com/locate/compstruct

Crashworthy characteristics of axially statically compressed


thin-walled square CFRP composite tubes: experimental
A.G. Mamalis *, D.E. Manolakos, M.B. Ioannidis, D.P. Papapostolou
Manufacturing Technology Division, National Technical University of Athens, 9 Iroon Polytechniou Avenue, 15780 Athens, Greece

Abstract
In this paper the results of experimental works pertaining to the crash behaviour, collapse modes and crashworthiness characteristics of carbon bre reinforced plastic (CFRP) tubes that were subjected to static axial compressive loading are presented in
detail. The tested specimens were featured by a material combination of carbon bres in the form of reinforcing woven fabric in
thermosetting epoxy resin, and they were cut at various lengths from three CFRP tubes of the same square cross-section but dierent
thickness, laminate stacking sequence and bre volume content. CFRP tubes were compressed in a hydraulic press of 1000 kN
loading capacity at very low-strain rate typical for static testing. The inuence of the most important specimen geometric features
such as the tube axial length, aspect ratio and wall thickness on the compressive response and collapse modes of the tested tubes is
thoroughly analysed. In addition, the eect of the laminate material properties such as the bre volume content and stacking sequence on the energy absorbing capability of the thin-wall tubes is also examined. Particular attention is paid on the analysis of the
mechanics of the tube axial collapse modes from macroscopic and microscopic point of view, emphasizing on the mechanisms
related to the crash energy absorption during the compression of the composite tubes.
 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Crashworthiness; Composite tubes; Square cross-section; CFRP; Carbon fabric; Axial compression

1. Introduction
Extensive research works in the recent decades have
shown that the use of bre-reinforced plastic composite
materials in automotive and aerospace applications may
result in signicant functional and economic benets,
ranging from increased strength and durability features
to weight reduction and lower fuel consumption [1,2]. In
particular, researchers attention has been directed towards the improvement of structural vehicle crashworthiness by using FRP composites in specic vehicle parts
as collapsible absorbers of crash energyi.e. as structural members that are able to absorb large amounts of
impact energy, while collapsing progressively in a controlled manner. Progressive deformation and stable
collapse are desired features of vehicle structures as they
reduce signicantly the forces, experienced by the passengers and the transported cargo in the event of a
sudden collision. On the contrary to conventional materials such as metals and polymers, most thin-walled

Corresponding author. Tel.: +30-1-772-3688; fax: +30-1-772-3689.


E-mail address: mamalis@central.ntua.gr (A.G. Mamalis).

0263-8223/$ - see front matter  2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/S0263-8223(03)00183-1

FRP composite structures are not deformed plastically


when subjected to compressive load, but they collapse at
various modes featured by extensive micro-cracking
development as the predominant failure mechanism [3
6,10,11]. These failure modes depend on the geometric
and material characteristics of the structures and the
testing parameters such as the strain rate and the environmental conditions. Various types of composite materials and structures, such as FRP tubes and sandwich
panels have been tried in the eort to achieve improved
level of crashworthiness [615]. Among these materials
carbon bre reinforced plastics (CFRP) in various
shapes, such as thin-wall circular and square tubes and
frustum, have proven to be very ecient crash energy
absorbing components featured by excellent stiness
to weight ratio [3,4].
The present work contributes to the data bank related
to CFRP collapsible energy absorbers, by presenting
and analysing the results of experimental works pertaining to the investigation of collapse modes and energy absorption characteristics of square CFRP tubes
made of carbon woven fabric in epoxy resin, that were
subjected to static axial compressive loading. The tested
specimens were tubes of the same cross-section and

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A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

Nomenclature
Eabs
Es
L
Lc
LU
m
mc
n

absorbed crash energy


specic crash energy absorption
length of the tube
length of the central crack
load uniformity index
specimen mass
crushed tube mass
number of reinforcing plies

materials but dierent length, thickness, number of reinforcing plies and bre volume content. The inuence
of the most signicant specimen geometric features,
such as tube wall thickness and geometric aspect ratio,
and laminate material properties as the bre content and
stacking sequence, on the compressive response and
collapse modes of the tested square tubes was examined
in detail. In addition, experimental works focusedby
means of macroscopic observations and microscopic
examination of selected specimenson the analysis of
the collapse mechanisms appearing during the tube
compression and related to the crash energy absorption.
In particular, the examination concentrated on the types
of micro-failure acting on the corners of the square
tubes in the case of progressive collapse mode, since
these are importance for the spreading of collapse
mechanisms in the whole section of the tube, as depicted
in the detailed map of failure mechanisms distribution
prepared for the specimen featured by the maximum
crash energy absorption.

2. Experimental
2.1. Equipment and procedure
The axial compressive testing of the square CFRP
tubes was performed on a fully equipped and automated
SMG hydraulic press of 1000 kN loading capacity. No
special xturessuch as end clamping deviceswere
used for the tests apart from the standard at crossheads
of the press. All tests were performed at quasi-static
conditions i.e. at constant throughout the test crosshead
speed equal to 7 mm/min, which corresponds to an
overall compression strain rate of 2.6 103 s1 .
From the load, P /displacement, s curves that were
recorded directly during the testing works the following
compressive characteristics of the test specimens were
calculated and recorded:
peak load, Pmax ;
absorbed crash energy Eabs , i.e. the area under the P =s
curve;

P
P
Pmax
s
smax
t
Vf
w

compressive load
average crushing load
peak compressive load
displacement of the press crosshead
total displacement
tube wall thickness
bre volume content
side width of the square tube

specic energy Es (Es Eabs =mc is the absorbed crash


energy per unit of the crushed specimen mass);
average crushing load, P , dened as the ratio of absorbed energy, Eabs to the total displacement, smax ;
load uniformity index LU, dened as the ratio of the
peak load, Pmax to the average crushing load, P .
The testing works were performed without any special conditioning of the test specimens, since the ambient
conditions in the laboratory room at the time of testing
were within the range of the recommended control
conditions for testing of composites, i.e. temperature
equal to 23 3 C and relative humidity 5060%.
2.2. Test materials
All test specimens were CFRP tubes of square crosssection with internal tube dimensions equal to 100 100
mm and radius of curvature 8 mm at the tube corners.
An overall picture of the shape and the dimensions of
the test specimens is given in Fig. 1. Regarding the
specimen length, three types of specimens were tested:
short (A), medium (B) and long (C) tubes with length, L
approximately equal to 50, 100 and 125 mm respectively. The thickness, t of the tested tubes was also
variable, taking three distinct average values that were
equal to 2.64, 3.51 and 4.39 mm. The exact dimensions
of all tested tubes are detailed in Table 1 listed together
with data related to the geometric aspect ratio, L=w and
mass, m of each specimen. It must be noted that the
choice of specimen dimensions was made based on
preliminary calculations which were performed for determining the tube geometry that would ensure avoidance of overall buckling failure mode.
The test specimens were cut to the required dimensions by means of high-pressure water jet from three
square tubes designated as CT1, CT2 and CT3 that were
featured by the same material combination but dierent
laminate stacking sequence and thickness. Attention was
paid during the specimen preparation, to ensure at
smooth end surfaces, free of burrs, parallel to each other
and at right angles to the length of the specimen in order
to prevent localised end failures. No trigger mechanisms

11.3
23.7
7.6
8.2
9.1
24.9
23.2
38.1
14.0
166
139
166
237
199
237
117
232
296
1879
3298
1255
1950
1820
5910
2713
8846
4134
II
I, III
II
III
III
I
III
I
I, III
2.67
2.18
6.09
3.10
7.07
2.28
2.59
1.52
3.78
68.20
62.40
20.40
70.60
34.50
96.20
98.30
167.50
67.30
182.16
136.18
124.20
219.00
244.00
219.00
254.53
254.60
254.60
27.60
52.88
61.40
27.60
52.80
61.40
27.60
52.82
61.40
2.63
2.68
2.60
3.73
3.40
3.40
4.43
4.30
4.43
0.43
0.94
1.12
0.46
0.94
1.12
0.46
0.90
1.15
46.0
100.1
119.2
50.7
101.6
121.2
50.3
99.7
127.2

Thickness,
t (mm)
Aspect ratio,
(L=w) ()
Length, L
(mm)

10
10
10
14
14
14
18
18
18
AC-CT1-A-01
AC-CT1-B-01
AC-CT1-C-01
AC-CT2-A-01
AC-CT2-B-01
AC-CT2-C-01
AC-CT3-A-01
AC-CT3-B-01
AC-CT3-C-01

Fibre volume content, Vf


(%)
Number of
plies, n ()

The loaddisplacement curves obtained by the axial


compression of the carbon tube specimens are depicted
in the three diagrams of Fig. 2 grouped per tube of origin, i.e. curves of specimens of dierent length but same
material characteristics are included in a single diagram.
Representative photographs at various stages of the
axial compression were taken during the testing of the
tubes, see Figs. 3(a), 4(a) and 5(a) for test specimens that
collapsed in modes I, II and III respectively. The destructive testing of the carbon tubes was interrupted

Test specimen
ID

2.3. Results

Table 1
Exact dimensions, material data and crashworthy characteristics of the tested specimens

such as bevelled ends or tulip shaping of the tube ends


were used in the compression tests. The material combination of the laminate walls of the tested tubes included carbon bres in the form of reinforcement fabric
impregnated in epoxy resin. More specically the fabric
was Hexcel carbon fabric G939D with surface density
equal to 220 gr/m2 and the epoxy resin was Rutapox
LB20 resin with Rutadur SL Hardener. The bre volume content, Vf and laminate stacking sequence of reinforcing plies in carbon tubes CT1, CT2 and CT3 was
46.3%, 48.7%, 50.1% and [0]10 : [0]14 , [0]18 respectively. The 0 directionwhich in this notation is coincident with the carbon fabric warp direction, was
parallel to the longitudinal axis of all three CFRP tubes.

Maximum
deformation, smax
(mm)

Fig. 1. General layout and dimensions of the tested tube specimens.

349

46.3
46.3
46.3
48.7
48.7
48.7
50.1
50.1
50.1

Peak load,
Pmax (KN)

Average
crushing
load, P
(KN)

Load uniformity,
LU ()

Collapse
mode ()

Deformation energy, Eabs


(J)

Specimen
mass, mc
(g)

Specic
energy, Es
(kJ/kg)

A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

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A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

Fig. 2. Loaddisplacement curves of the tested CFRP specimens: (a) carbon tube CT1 specimens, (b) carbon tube CT2 specimens and (c) carbon tube
CT3 specimens.

when the total deformation, smax of the tube exceeded


half of the original specimen length, L.

Subsequent to testing works completion, photographs


of characteristic terminal views of the deformed specimens

A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

351

Fig. 3. Axial compression of CFRP tubes/collapse mode I: (a) views of the progressive collapse of test specimen AC-CT3-B-01, (b) loaddisplacement curve (The points of the load/displacement curve corresponding to the photos of Fig. 3(a) are marked by the sequential number of each
photograph.) and (c) characteristic terminal side and plan view of the deformed specimen.

were taken, clearly showing the macroscopic features of


the collapse modes that were observed during the axial

compression of the tubes (see Figs. 3(c), 4(c) and 5(c)). In


addition, numerous micrographs of characteristic sections

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A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

Fig. 4. Axial compression of CFRP tubes/collapse mode II: (a) views of the progressive collapse of test specimen AC-CT1-C-01, (b) loaddisplacement curve (The points of the load/displacement curve corresponding to the photos of Fig. 4(a) are marked by the sequential number of each
photograph.) and (c) Characteristic terminal side and plan view of the deformed specimen.

of tested tubes were obtained by means a UNIMET optical microscope, in order to enable analysis of the tube

walls deformation and failure. To facilitate the micrographic visual examination, certain pieces of the deformed

A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

353

Fig. 5. Axial compression of CFRP tubes/collapse mode III: (a) views of the progressive collapse of test specimen AC-CT2-B-01, (b) loaddisplacement curve (The points of the load/displacement curve corresponding to the photos of Fig. 5(a) are marked by the sequential number of each
photograph.) and (c) characteristic terminal side and plan view of the deformed specimen.

specimens were removed and encapsulated in acrylic resin


in conventional plastic moulds and the surface to be

examined with the microscope was prepared successively


on 200, 400, 600 and 1200 grit abrasive wheels.

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A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

A characteristic set of micrographs representative of


the ndings of all microscopic examination works is

depicted in Fig. 6, which corresponds to the failure map


of the test specimen AC-CT3-B-01 that was featured by

Fig. 6. Failure map of test specimen AC-CT3-B-01 including micrographs of characteristic sections of the fractured tube wall along the tube perimeter: (a) micrograph of section (a) (1. external frond, 2. internal frond, 3. main intra-wall crack, 4. longitudinal cracks, 5. delamination of the tube
wall, 6. debris wedge, 7. reinforcing carbon fabric layer, 8. fracture of reinforcing carbon bre layers) and (b)(k) sections of the tube wall whose
position is marked on the plan view of the tube cross-section.

A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

the maximum crash energy absorption. The mapping of


the failure mechanisms was performed by including
micrographs of several representative sections along the
tube perimeter, in the same gure with the drawing of
the tube square cross-section on which the exact location of each of the sections is marked.

3. Discussion
3.1. Collapse modes and failure mechanisms
The visual observations made during the testing of
the CFRP tubes, showed that the brittle nature of the
constituent materials i.e. reinforcing carbon bres and
epoxy thermoset resin, generated brittle modes of failure
under compressive load. The other two general ways in
which, according to Hull classication [3], an FRP tube
may fail i.e. Euler overall column buckling (which is
usually observed when compressing long thin tubes) or
progressive folding with hinge formation similar to the
behaviour of ductile metal and plastic tubes, were not
observed. Three distinct modes of brittle collapse, classied as Modes I, II and III respectively, were observed
during the axial compression tests of the square tubes.
In two test cases, a combination of collapse modes I and
III was observed on dierent sides of the square tube.
Details on the collapse mode corresponding to each
particular specimen are listed in Table 1.
3.1.1. Mode I
Mode I is characterised by the progressive end-crushing of the tube, starting at one end of the tested specimenwhich could be either the one in contact with the
upper moving press crosshead or the lower stationary
one, the formation of two continuous fronds per tube
side which spread outwards and inwards and high absorption of crash energy [6,7,1214]. See Fig. 3(a) and
(c) for representative pictures of the progressive tube
collapse and characteristic terminal views of a deformed
test specimen that collapsed in mode I. This progressive
collapse mode corresponds to the splaying or lamina
bending type of stable brittle fracturein contrast to
transverse shear crushingin accordance with the classication made by Hull [3] and Farley and Jones [4]
respectively. It is worthy noticing that on the contrary to
what could be expected from previously reported experimental works [3,4], progressive collapse was observed in approximately 45% of the total number of
compression tests performedeither in all or a part of
the four sides of the tested square CFRP tubeseven
though no trigger mechanisms were used.
Progressive collapse of the CFRP tube is initiated at
the end of the elastic loading phase, when the applied
load attains a peak compressive value, Pmax . This peak

355

load depends on the geometric and material characteristics of the tested specimen [3,4,14]. As clearly indicated
in the comparative combination diagrams, the tube wall
thickness, t and the number of plies in the laminate
stacking sequence of the tested specimens inuence signicantly the size of the peak load value. At the peak
load, cracks are formed at the corners of the square tube
specimen due to local stress concentration and begin
to propagate along the tube parallel to the tube axis.
Simultaneously with the crack formation a the tube
corners, the compressive load required for the test
continuation is signicantly reduced.
Following this initial fracture phase, two continuous
fronds consisting of lamina bundles are formed and start
to spread outwards and inwards at each of the four sides
of the square tube, as depicted for example in the case of
specimen AC-CT3-B-01 in the terminal views of Fig.
3(c) and in the relative micrographs of sections (a)(e)
and (k) of the same test specimen in Fig. 6. The formation of the two fronds is combined with a main
central intra-wall crack at the end of the tube adjacent
to the area in contact with the press heads. As recorded
by the microscopic examination of the sections made
along the sides of the square tubes the length, Lc of the
intra-wall crack variestaking its maximum value at the
middle of the tube side (section (a) in Fig. 6) and vanishing close to the corners of the square tube (sections
(c) and (k) in Fig. 6). Even at its maximum value, the
length Lc of the main crack, which is in the range of one
to ten times the thickness, t of the tube wall remains very
small compared to the axial length, L of the tested
composite tubes. The non-uniform crack propagation
through the square tube walls is attributed to the material properties [3] and the changes of stresses along the
tube perimeter.
An interesting nding of the microscopic visual examination regarding the main intra-wall crack, is that
the crack does not necessarily lie on the mid-surface of
the tube wall. In fact, its distance from the mid-surface
of the tube sidewall changes along the perimeter of the
tube. This is obvious when comparing for example the
sections (a) and (c) in Fig. 6. In order to visualise this
observation as good as possible in the case of the failure
map of Fig. 6, a dashed curved line representing the
exact location of the main crack was drawn, clearly indicating that it is only partially coincident with the midsurface of the tube wall in the two sides of the tube that
collapsed in progressive wall splaying mode. The reasons justifying this through-thickness displacement of
the main crack are signicant changes of the stress eld
close to the corners of the tube and lack of uniformity in
the material properties. The immediate result of this
through thickness change of main crack position is unsymmetrical splaying of the tube walls and variable
thickness of the resulting lamina bundles that form the
external and internal fronds.

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As deformation proceeds further, the external fronds


are bent and fractured due to the force applied at the
contact with the press crosshead and curl downwards,
while the axial splits at the comers of the tube continue
to propagate splitting the tube in four parts. Small radius bending of the external and internal fronds causes
extensive delamination of the plies of the lamina bundles, as clearly depicted in the microscope images (a)(d)
of Fig. 6. Normal and shear stresses develop at the interface between the steel press platen and the deforming
shell as the fronds slide along this interface. The load
combination on the delaminated fronds results in extensive multiple transverse cracking through the individual plies of the bent lamina bundles which facilitates
the transverse attening of the fronds. On the contrary
to what was expected from similar experimental works
[3,14] longitudinal cracking through the delaminated
carbon fabric reinforcing layers was very limited, fact
that is attributed to the structure of the reinforcing bres, i.e. the use of carbon fabric instead of unidirectional plies.
Fronds bending and exural damage of the lamina
bundles, as well as sliding against high-frictional resistance are among the most signicant sources of crash
energy absorption in the case of collapse of collapse
mode I.
The post-crushing regime of Mode I, apart from the
two exural damaged lamina bundles is also characterised by the formation of a triangular debris wedge of
pulverised material just above the main intra-wall crack
(see Fig. 6(a)(c)). Its formation is attributed to the local
bre and matrix crushing caused by sliding of the bent
lamina bundles under bending and high-frictional resistance against the press crosshead. The debris wedge
remains unchanged during the compression process and
penetrates the composite material. As loading proceeds
further, resulting in crushing with the subsequent formation of the internal and external fronds, normal
stresses develop on the sides of the debris wedge, combined with shear stresses along the same sides due to the
friction at the interface between the wedge and the two
fronds. Similar to sliding of the fronds on the steel press
crosshead, a large amount of energy is dissipated due to
friction at the sliding interface between the annular
wedge and the deformed lamina bundles.
Concluding from the above analysis of collapse mode
I and considering observations reported by researchers
that have performed similar experimental works on
composite tubes [38,14], the following factors that
contribute to energy dissipation may be listed for mode I
of progressive CFRP tube collapse:
intra-wall crack propagation and axial splitting of the
tube walls;
penetration of the debris wedge through the split tube
wall with high-frictional resistance;

fronds bending and exural damage of individual


plies at the lamina bundles at the small radius deection area next to the debris wedge;
extensive delamination of the bent fronds in the form
of multiple transverse cracking through the individual plies;
sliding between adjacent plies with high-frictional resistance;
external and internal fronds sliding against the steel
press crosshead with high-frictional resistance;
longitudinal cracking through the individual plies of
the fronds.
The friction within the crush zone of the CFRP material and between the crushed composite and the press
heads are of particular importance with respect to energy dissipation, since as it was found by analysis of the
progressive crushing mode and investigation of the
frictional processes associated with the tube compressive
collapse, frictional eects account for more than 50% of
the total energy absorbed by progressive crushing, even
when very smooth platens are employed [5,11,13,14].
A nal note concerning the visual observations related to mode I, is that the laminate splaying and progressive crushing mechanism that was described above
may occur simultaneously with other failure mechanisms on dierent sides of the compressed square tubes.
This is evident for example in the case of failure map in
Fig. 6, in which transverse shear crushing of the tube
walls (Fig. 6(g) and (h)) or lamina single side bending
and fracture (Fig. 6(f), (i), (j)) are observed together with
laminate splaying and bending (Fig. 6(a)(e), (k)) which
is the dominating collapse mechanism. This fact is attributed to possible lack of uniformity in the structure of
the laminate material along the four sides of the square
tubes and especially at the corners.
3.1.2. Mode II
Mode II is a mode of collapse characterised by unstable local tube wall buckling on all four tube sides at
one end of the tested square tube, and shell brittle failure
associated with the formation of a circumferential crack.
See Fig. 4(a) and (c) for pictures of the progressive tube
collapse and characteristic terminal views of one of the
deformed tests specimens.
Local buckling is initiated at the end of the elastic
loading phase which corresponds to the linear part of
the loaddisplacement curve right after a critical peak
value, Pmax of the applied compressive load. It is immediately followed by a signicant reduction of the load
required to continue the tube axial compression. As
indicated in Table 1 and the corresponding diagrams,
the size of the critical buckling load, Pmax is inuenced
signicantly by the tube geometric characteristics of the
tested specimen. More specically, its magnitude decreases as the aspect ratio L=w of the compressed tube

A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

specimen becomes higher. Local buckling is not featured


by hinge formation and folding of the tube walls similar
to the compressive response exhibited by ductile metals
and ductile bre-reinforced materials (such as Kevlar).
This is attributed to the combination of brittle reinforcing bres (carbon bres) and brittle matrix material
(epoxy resin) with low-failure strain and no plastic deformation characteristics.
As deformation proceeds further, local buckling is
followed by fracture of the matrix and the bre reinforcement layers of the tube wall. A crack is formed
along the circumference of the tube shell, resulting in
unstable extensive splitting of the tube walls almost
perpendicular to the direction of the applied load and
division of the tube in two separate parts. Both parts are
fractured at the tube corners subjected to axial compressive load and subsequently they are bent and deformed in contact with the press heads. The fracture
propagation becomes unstable as displacement increases
and local tube wall buckling continues, with new cracks
developing also parallel to the tube axis and circumferentially, splitting the tube walls in large parts that do not
contribute to resistance to compressive loading.
As a result, the average compressive load for the tube
crushing in the post-buckling region is much lower than
the test peak load Pmax as clearly indicated by the large
value of the load uniformity index (LU Pmax =P ) characterising the specimens that collapsed according to
mode II (see Table 1). Due to unstable collapse, the
specic energy absorption related to mode II is also very
low (see Fig. 8).
The principal factors contributing to energy dissipation in the case of collapse mode II are the following:
buckling of the carbon tube walls;
fracture, crack propagation and splitting of the tube
walls;
partial bending and exural damage of the fractured
tube walls;
sliding of the fractured tube walls against the steel
press heads with high-frictional resistance.
A note of particular importance with respect to collapse mode II is that it was observed only in the case of
carbon tube CT1 specimens that were featured by the
smaller thickness (approximately equal to 2.64 mm) and
the minimum number of reinforcing bre layers (10
plies).
3.1.3. Mode IIImid-length collapse
Mode III is featured by brittle fracture and unstable
collapse of the compressed tube, which commences with
a circumferential fracture of the composite laminate at a
local non-uniformity of the material or the geometry at
a distance from the loaded end of the tube approximately equal to its half the tube length. (Photographs of

357

the gradual tube collapse and characteristic terminal


views corresponding to Mode III are depicted in Fig.
5(a) and (c)). Another signicant feature of the midlength collapse mode III, is that the absorbed crash
energy is very small compared to the stable progressive
end crushing mode I.
Same as in the case of the other two modes, midlength collapse is initiated at a critical peak value Pmax of
the applied load, which depends on the tube geometric
and material characteristics. Circumferential cracking is
immediately followed by a signicant reduction of the
compressive load, P for the compression continuation.
The cracking of the tube around its circumference
results in transverse shear crushing of the walls and
splitting of the tube in two halves. As deformation
proceeds further, the fractured parts of the tube start to
penetrate the rest of the composite tube causing further
unstable collapse of the tube and splitting of the tube
shell at the corners of the square tube while the rest of
the fractured tube walls remain almost un-deformed.
Crack propagation at the tube corners takes place at
very low resistance of the compressed tube, fact that is
reected in the almost at part of the load displacement
curve.
However, when the displacement, s of the moving
press crosshead becomes approximately equal to 40
45% of the initial length, L of the tube, both halves of
the fractured tube shell start to contribute to resistance
to compression. This results in an immediate signicant
increase of the compressive load and consequently affects the average post-crushing load and the absorbed
deformation energy. An interesting visual observation to
note is that at this stage of compression, the transversely
shear-crushed ends of the tube halves act like a trigger
mechanism to the further collapse of the tube walls,
similar to the bevelled ends trigger.
The principal sources of energy dissipation for collapse mode III are the following:
fracture, crack propagation and splitting of the tube
walls;
bending and exural damage of the fractured tube
walls;
sliding of the fractured tube walls against the steel
press heads with high-frictional resistance.
3.2. Energy absorption characteristics
The complete set of the crash energy absorption
characteristics of the tested CFRP tubesthat includes
the absorbed crash energy Eabs , the specic energy Es ,
the peak compressive load Pmax , the average compressive
load P , and the load uniformity index LUis given in
tabulated form in Table 1. For reliable comparison between the compressive test results all energy data referring to tubes of the same length were calculated for the

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A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

same amount of specimen deformation i.e. same maximum crosshead displacement smax .
In order to have a general graphical representation of
these energy characteristics and examine their dependence on the geometric and other material characteristics of the tested composite tubes a set of two
combination diagrams was created. The rst of them
(Fig. 7) depicts the absorbed crash energy Eabs and peak
load Pmax per specimen, having the test results grouped
per tube of origin of the specimens, which corresponds
to specimens of the same number of reinforcing plies,
stacking sequence and bre volume content. The second
diagram (Fig. 8) includes the specic absorbed energy Es
and the peak load Pmax per specimen but in this diagram
the grouping is made with respect to the tube collapse
mode.
In the following sub-paragraphs the inuence of the
most important geometric and material features and the
collapse mode of the tested CFRP tubes on the crash
energy absorption characteristics is thoroughly examined.
3.2.1. Amount of dissipated crash energy per collapse
mode
The energy absorption data in Table 1 and the specic energy per collapse mode diagram (Fig. 8) show
that carbon tubes, which collapse according to progressive end crushing Mode I, absorb considerably
higher amount of crash energy compared to the other
two unstable collapse modes. This feature is attributed
to the set of deformation and friction mechanisms that

contribute to the energy absorption during the tube


progressive collapse, the most important of which being
the tube walls stable progressive collapse, gradual exural deformation and damage of the bent shell laminates
and relative sliding of the fractured parts under highfrictional resistance. [3,4,13,14]. Closely related to the
high-energy absorption, is the high-average crushing
load which also characterises the progressive end collapse mode I.
Comparison between modes II and III for the same
amount of deformation shows that mid-length collapse
mode III is featured by slightly higher energy absorption, mainly because of the high resistance to compression eected when the displacement, s becomes equal to
half the initial tube length, L and both halves of the
fractured tube shell resist to further tube collapse.
On the contrary to energy absorption and average
crushing load, the compressive load peak values are not
signicantly dependent on the collapse mode, as they are
primarily determined by the laminate material properties and the geometric characteristics of the tubes. Another important crushing characteristic related to the
collapse mode is the load uniformity index LU of the
load displacement curves. As indicated by the test results
in Table 1, progressive end collapse mode I is also featured by the lower values of the load uniformity index
LU, which shows a relatively uniform load throughout
the compressive test. This is a desired feature of composite materials in crashworthiness applications, which
unfortunately is not observed in the case of the unstable
collapse modes.

Fig. 7. Energy absorption characteristics per carbon tube.

A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

359

Fig. 8. Energy absorption characteristics per collapse mode.

3.2.2. The eect of laminate construction and tube


geometry
Since all of the tested specimens were featured by the
same constituent materials (carbon bres in the form of
reinforcing fabric impregnated in epoxy resin) the inuence of only two material properties on the tube compressive properties can be examined: the number of
reinforcing layers and the bre volume content Vf which
increase proportionally to each other. Taking into consideration the geometric and material data of the test
specimens in Table 1, we notice that the inuence of these
two material features on the compressive and energy
absorption characteristics of the CFRP tubes is the same
as the inuence of the tube wall thickness, as the thickness also increases in proportion to the number of plies.
A clear nding of the test results depicted in the combination diagrams, is that the peak load for specimens of
the same length and aspect ratio increases signicantly as
the number of reinforcing layers, n the bre volume
content, Vf and the tube wall thickness, t increase as well.
This is probably the most apparent dependence of the
peak load on material and geometric parameters. In
contrast, the same dependence is not so obvious for the
absorbed crash energy and specic energy.
Regarding the other geometric features of the tested
square tubes apart from the tube wall thickness, the ones
that are of particular importance with respect to the
specimen compressive properties are the tube length and
the aspect ratio of length (L) to side width (w). Both
increase proportionally to each other since all specimens
had the same cross-section. Considering the tabulated

test results and the crash energy diagram (Fig. 7), it is


realised that the peak load is signicantly dependent on
the tube length and the aspect ratio only in the case of
the thinner tube specimens. More specically, the peak
load decreases as the tube length and aspect ratio of the
thin CFRP tubes get higher. On the contrary, the dependence of peak load and specic crash energy absorption Es on the tube length and aspect ratio is not
similarly clear for tubes of greater thickness.
It is worth noticing at this point the inuence of the
tube geometric characteristics on the type of collapse
modeat least for the range of length, L aspect ratio,
L=w and thickness, t that featured the tested CFRP
tubes. Small thickness is determinative for the occurrence of local buckling collapse mode II, since only the
thinner square tubes collapsed according to this mode.
Progressive end-collapse mode I, was observed in all
cases of wall thickness, either separately or concurrentlybut at dierent sides of the square tubewith
the mid-length collapse mode III, especially in the case
thicker tubes that were featured by higher values of aspect ratio (L=w). In contrast, unstable collapse mode
IIIwhich was also observed in all cases of tube wall
thicknessoccurred during the compression of shorter
tubes with lower values of aspect ratio.

4. Conclusions
Summarising the features pertaining to the crashworthy characteristics of the static axially compressed

360

A.G. Mamalis et al. / Composite Structures 63 (2004) 347360

square CFRP tubes the following conclusions may be


drawn:
(a) Under compressive load the tested CFRP tubes collapsed not by progressive folding with buckle formation, but in a brittle manner, mainly because of the
brittle characteristics of the carbon reinforcing bres
and the thermosetting epoxy resin, which were the
laminate constituent materials. As the tested tubes
were relatively short and featured by low length to
side width aspect ratio, Euler buckling failure was
not observed during the testing works.
(b) Three modes of brittle collapse were observed during the testing works: the rst one (progressive
end-crushing Mode I) being stable, while the other
two modes (local shell buckling Mode II and midlength collapse Mode III) being unstable failure
modes. The recorded progressive crushing mode I
corresponded to tube wall splaying and lamina
bending failure mode rather than transverse shearing crushing of the tube walls.
(c) Among the three collapse modes, only the progressive
stable crushing modewhich is featured by a relatively low-load uniformity index and high-average
crushing load, is associated with high absorption of
crash energy. The main failure mechanisms associated
with energy absorption are the frictional eects in the
crush zone of the FRP materials and in the contact
area between the crushed composite material and the
press heads, the exural damage of the lamina bundles
and the inter-laminar and longitudinal crack growth.
(d) Thinner CFRP tubes are likely to collapse by local
tube wall buckling mode II, while thicker tubes in
the range of length and aspect ratio that featured the
tested CFRP tubes, tend to fail either by mid-length
collapse mode III or progressive end-crushing mode I.
(e) Independently of the collapse mode, the peak compressive load increases signicantly as the number
of bre reinforcing layers, bre volume content and
thickness of the axially compressed tubes increases.

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