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Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588

Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Composite Structures journal

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Composite Structures

journal homepage: www.elsevi Failure behaviour of honeycomb sandwich corner joints and

Failure behaviour of honeycomb sandwich corner joints and inserts

Sebastian Heimbs a, * , Marc Pein b

a EADS Innovation Works, 81663 Munich, Germany b Hamburg University of Technology, Denickestraße 17, 21073 Hamburg, Germany

article info

Article history:

Available online 11 December 2008


Honeycomb sandwich Corner joint failure behaviour Insert failure behaviour Finite element modelling


In nearly all sandwich constructions certain types of joints have to be used for assembly, but little is known about their failure behaviour. This paper deals with the investigation of the mechanical behaviour of three different corner joints as a right-angled connection of two sandwich panels and of two different potted inserts as a localised load introduction in Nomex honeycomb sandwich structures with glass fibre-reinforced composite skins. For this purpose, experimental test series were conducted including shear tests and bending tests of the corner joints and pull-out as well as shear-out tests of the threaded inserts. The failure mechanisms and sequences are described for each load case and the influence of the different designs and of the loading rate is discussed. Based on these characteristics, finite element sim- ulation models were developed in LS-DYNA, which are able to represent the respective failure behaviours. 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

Sandwich structures with composite skins and a honeycomb core are widely used, especially in the aerospace industry, due to their superior weight-specific bending stiffness and strength prop- erties. The failure behaviour of such sandwich panels is rather complex and has been investigated in numerous research studies in the past. However, in virtually all technical sandwich construc- tions these panels have to be connected to subcomponents or pan- els have to be joined, and these joints are potential locations of failure as well, which have not been adequately treated in the tech- nical literature. A number of different methods exist, how to introduce localised loads into a sandwich structure, several of which are illustrated in Fig. 1 . Especially in aerospace design, threaded inserts, bonded into the cellular core, are classically used for this purpose. The major task of such an insert is to adequately transfer the load into the sandwich skins. In practice, tensile loads normal to the sandwich surface and shear loads parallel to the surface are most relevant, since localised compression and bending loads are typically avoided due to large mounting surfaces, and torsion only occurs during the assembly of the construction and not in service. Because of usually very thin sandwich skins, the aim is to transfer the load into a preferably large area and into both skins. In case of honey- comb sandwich structures this may be achieved by filling the cells with a potting compound in the insert installation area. Pull-out tests of inserts normal to the honeycomb sandwich structure are

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +49 89 607 25884; fax: +49 89 607 23067. E-mail address: (S. Heimbs).

0263-8223/$ - see front matter 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


very seldom documented and can be found for insert type a according to Fig. 1 in [1] and for type f in [2–4] . Raghu, Battley and Southward [5] investigated the influence of potting diameter on the pull-out failure behaviour of insert type f . A recent study [6] investigates the influence of honeycomb core height, density and skin thickness on the failure behaviour of insert type f under pull-out and shear-out loading. The fatigue behaviour of insert joints under pull-out load was treated in [7–9] . Further papers deal with pull-out tests of inserts in foam core sandwich, like in [10] (types f , g and h ), [11] (type f ), [12] (type b ) and [13] (partial metal inserts). Pull-out tests in balsa core sandwich structures are docu- mented in [14] (insert type f) and [15] (types b , f and h ). The shear- out failure behaviour of a metallic bolt in a foam core sandwich was analysed by Mares et al. [16] . In addition to these few quasi-static experimental studies, Thomsen [17,18] approached this topic analytically using a higher order sandwich plate theory. As an example load case, he investi- gated the normal loading of a potted insert in an aluminium hon- eycomb sandwich structure. Numerical finite element analyses allow for the visualisation of stress distributions in the insert, core and skins and have been performed for pull-out loads in honey- comb core sandwich in [1,19–21] and for foam core sandwich in


Besides other general monographs on sandwich structures con- taining information on insert design [27,28], the most comprehen- sive collection of failure mode descriptions, test recommendations or design guidelines can be found in the Insert Design Handbook [29] of the European Space Agency (ESA), which is also used as a reference in most of the other papers listed here. Besides numerous strength vs. core height diagrams for different load cases, insert


S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588

Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588 Fig. 1. Overview of different methods for

Fig. 1. Overview of different methods for local load introductions into honeycomb sandwich structures.

diameters and honeycomb core types, also analytical equations for the estimation of pull-out and shear-out strength values are given. Compared to these few studies and information on inserts in honeycomb sandwich structures, almost no literature is published on the failure behaviour of sandwich corner joints, also called L- joints. Some industrial relevant design options of corner joints, which are illustrated in Fig. 2 , are shown in [27,28,30,31] . In the textbook of Noakes [32] a comprehensive overview on the manu- facturing of folded corner joints is given, which is a state-of-the- art technique in modern sandwich design, often found in aircraft interior components. Such folded corner joints of type f according to Fig. 2 in aluminium honeycomb sandwich specimens were tested by Joulia and Grove [33] , providing the only information on failure loads. However, the state of stress in their combined bending-shear test is not clear and no comparison to other joint designs is given. Furthermore, no detailed description of the failure behaviour is provided in this study. Carruthers [34] investigated the crash performance of foam core sandwich crash boxes with two different corner joints (type b and e ) experimentally without characterising the single corner joints separately. The only finite element analysis of three different L-joint designs of type b in alu- minium honeycomb sandwich is documented in [35] . However, not the failure characteristics but only the dynamic behaviour was investigated in a modal analysis.

This paper intends to gain insight into the failure behaviour of inserts and corner joints of sandwich structures and to cover as- pects that have not been treated previously. The material used in this study is the most relevant sandwich structure used in the air- craft industry with Nomex aramid paper honeycomb cores and fi- bre-reinforced composite skins. Two different insert types and three different corner joints are tested under various loading con- ditions including pull-out, shear and bending, and their failure behaviour is characterised in detail. In addition to static testing, also the influence of the loading rate is addressed. Furthermore, analytical calculations of the failure loads are presented and com- pared to the experimental results. Subsequently, within a numeri- cal analysis with the explicit finite element code LS-DYNA, simulation models are generated and modelling methods to cover the failure behaviour are derived. In this context, both detailed meso-scale models and rather simple macro-models are covered.

2. Failure behaviour of inserts

2.1. Materials and specimen manufacturing

The following study is focused on honeycomb sandwich panels with two different standard metallic, threaded inserts used in the aerospace industry. The 15 mm thick sandwich structure consists

industry. The 15 mm thick sandwich structure consists Fig. 2. Overview of different methods of corner

Fig. 2. Overview of different methods of corner joints in honeycomb sandwich structures.

S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588


of a Nomex honeycomb core with a density of 48 kg/m 3 and a cell size of 3.2 mm (type Schütz Cormaster C1-3.2-48). The skins are made of one single prepreg ply of woven (satin weave 1/7) E-glass fibre-reinforced phenolic resin (type Stesalit PHG 600-68-50) with an average cured ply thickness of 0.24 mm and a fibre volume frac- tion of 48%. The material properties are shown in Table 1 . Before curing of the sandwich specimens, the honeycomb cells within a circle of approx. 38 mm diameter were filled with an epoxy-based potting material (type Cytec BR 632 P4) for the later positioning of the inserts. In the co-curing process no additional adhesive film but only the resin of the skin prepregs was used for the skin-core bonding. The specimen plates were cured in an autoclave using a flat mold and a vacuum bag (2 bar, 125 C, 90 min curing). Two dif- ferent self-locking steel inserts, specified by the US National Aero- space Standards NAS 1833-C3-370 [36] (diameter 14 mm, height 9.4 mm) and NAS 1835-C3-430 [37] (diameter 17.4 mm, height 11 mm), were used. The latter one is a so-called floating insert with a moveable nut inside the insert housing for compensating assem- bly inaccuracies. After curing of the sandwich panels a hole was

Table 1 Mechanical properties of sandwich specimens in this study.

Skin properties Glass–fabric reinforced phenolic 20 GPa 0.059 E skin m skin 1.8 GPa 150
Skin properties
Glass–fabric reinforced phenolic
20 GPa
E skin
m skin
1.8 GPa
150 MPa
G skin
r skin
0.24 mm
t skin
Core properties
Nomex honeycomb
0.58 MPa
41.9 MPa
0.33 MPa
25.5 MPa
84.8 MPa
0.31 MPa
0.9 MPa
1.21 MPa
s WT
s LT
h core (insert test)
14.6 mm
h core (corner test)
9.5 mm
Potting properties
1.05 MPa
E potting
m potting
68.7 MPa
19 mm
r potting
r potting

drilled in the middle of the potted area, the insert was positioned inside this hole, and an epoxy resin (type Huntsman Araldite 2011) was injected through an opening for the fixation of the insert ( Fig. 3 ). The final test specimens were cut to a size of 127 mm 127 mm, each having one insert in the middle.

2.2. Experimental procedures

The pull-out and shear-out behaviour of these sandwich and in- sert configurations was to be investigated. However, no standard- ised test methods for this purpose exist. Some recommendations can be found in the ESA Insert Design Handbook [29] and some air- craft manufacturers have developed their own test methods [38] . Based on these data, two test rigs were designed and fabricated within this study, shown in Fig. 4 . The pull-out test rig features a circular hole of 100 mm diameter to reduce edge effects, under which the specimen is placed. The insert is pulled out vertically. For the fixation of the specimens in the shear-out test rig, the hon- eycomb core at the specimen sides had to be replaced by a solid material with clearance holes. Once the specimen is bolted to the test rig, the insert is loaded in the sandwich plane by pulling a shear plate. In this case, the weft direction of the skin’s woven fab- ric was oriented parallel to the loading direction. For both experi- ments, bolts of the type 0.190-32 UNJF-3A were used, a new one for each test. The test rigs were mounted on an Instron 5566 10 kN universal testing machine. To investigate the influence of the loading rate on the failure behaviour, the two cross-head speeds of 1 mm/min (static) and 500 mm/min (dynamic) were tested. This led to failure after 200 s and 0.4 s, respectively.

2.3. Experimental results and failure process

The pull-out test results of six specimens for each insert type and load case showed a high level of reproducibility, representative curves are shown in Fig. 5 . The curves of both insert types are very similar. In general, two distinct points can be identified, character-

general, two distinct points can be identified, character- Fig. 3. Cross-section of insert types NAS 1833

Fig. 3. Cross-section of insert types NAS 1833 (a) and NAS 1835 (b).


S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588

Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588 Fig. 4. Test rigs for pull-out (a)

Fig. 4. Test rigs for pull-out (a) and shear-out (b) testing.

4. Test rigs for pull-out (a) and shear-out (b) testing. Fig. 5. Force–displacement results of pull-out

Fig. 5. Force–displacement results of pull-out tests and post-failure cross-sections.

ising the failure process under vertical loads. In the beginning, the load increases due to elastic deformations. The first damage at point A, leading to a slight drop of the load level, is attributed to a transverse shear failure of the honeycomb core adjacent to the potting mass. This can be confirmed by a view on the lower spec- imen surface at that time. The whole potted area exhibits a vertical displacement with respect to the rest of the panel, which is only possible under a large shear deformation of the core. Then the load increases again up to point B, where it drops because of a tensile rupture of the potted honeycomb cells combined with a shear fail- ure at the cell wall interfaces, which can be seen in Fig. 5 . The aver- age static peak loads of both insert types at that point show almost equal values with 2220 N (standard deviation: 106.1 N) and 2194 N (standard deviation: 105.7 N). However, the drop of the load level occurs at a larger displacement for insert type NAS

1835. This may be ascribed to the lower surface of the insert being bonded to the potting material, which is not the case for insert type NAS 1833 (see Fig. 3 ), therefore, failure occurs earlier. After point B the post-damage behaviour is mainly characterised by a peeling/ debonding of the upper skin and friction effects while pulling out the insert. In case of the dynamic loading, the curves show the same characteristics as in the static tests, and therefore the same failure process, but a higher load level. Also the shear failure occurs at a higher load. This may result from the rate dependency of the Nomex honeycomb core structure, which was described by Feichtinger [39] and Heimbs et al. [40,41]. Due to micro-inertial ef- fects, the shear strength under transient loading is significantly higher than in the static load case. The results of the shear-out tests are shown in Fig. 6 . As in the pull-out tests, both insert types show similar load curves. The aver-

S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588


M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588 579 Fig. 6. Force–displacement results of shear-out tests

Fig. 6. Force–displacement results of shear-out tests and post-failure images.

age maximum force in the static tests is higher for type NAS 1835 with 4360 N (standard deviation: 553.2 N), compared to 3921 N of type NAS 1833 (standard deviation: 149.5 N). This can once more be explained by the connection of the lower insert surface to the potting material. Again, two characteristic points in the load–dis- placement diagrams are noticeable. After an elastic deformation, a tensile cohesive failure of the epoxy bond occurs at point A fol- lowed by a first drop of the load level. The final drop to almost zero at point B happens because of a bearing failure with the upper composite skin and the potting compound below being sheared off ( Fig. 6 ). The whole block of potting material in front of the insert in load direction is separated from the surrounding material and the lower skin, which remains intact. One important aspect is the dependency of the failure process on the number of filled honey- comb cells in front of the insert in load direction, or in other words the insert position, which explains the relatively high values of the maximum forces’ standard deviations. In case of only a small quan- tity of potting material, the bearing failure occurs earlier – some- times even earlier than the cohesive failure – and therefore at a lower load level. A number of different configurations with more or less potting material were investigated in this framework. For insert type NAS 1835 the failure loads varied from 3649 N (just one filled cell ahead of insert) to 4920 N (five filled cells ahead of insert). The comparison of the static and dynamic tests again shows a rate dependency with higher load levels for the transient loading.

2.4. Analytical investigation

An analytical calculation of the insert pull-out force was con- ducted with the equations provided in the Insert Design Handbook [29] . This calculation assumes a core shear failure as the limiting load and is based on the radius r potting of the potting mass, the thicknesses t skin and h core of skins and core as well as their elastic moduli and the core shear strength s TW . Confirming the experi- mental findings, the insert type, diameter or height have no influ- ence on the pull-out strength, which is only determined by the sandwich configuration and potting size. For the following calcula- tion the values given in Table 1 were used.

F pull-out ¼

with c ¼

2pr potting h core s WT

CK max


b þ 1 ;

b ¼

h core

t skin

¼ 1630 N

K max ¼ r potting

r s max




r s max

r potting

r s max ¼

r potting


1 e k v r


Þ n




r potting r

s max Þ

v ¼












þ 1 þ




1 m




¼ 0: 931714


¼ 0 : 262866

ð 1Þ



ð 3Þ





The calculated pull-out force at shear failure is 1630 N, which is 23% lower than the experimental results and therefore a rather conser- vative result. The calculation of the maximum shear-out force according to the Insert Design Handbook [29] , based on the radius of potting mass r potting , the skin’s thickness t skin and compressive strength r skin as well as the core’s shear strength s WT , leads to 3967 N.

F shear-out ¼ 8r 2

potting s WT þ 2t skin r potting r skin ¼ 3967 N

ð 6Þ

The correlation to the experimental values of 3921 N and 4360 N for both insert types is much better than in case of the pull-out strength with a maximum deviation of 10%. The analytical calculation of the shear-out force can therefore be used for an estimation of the insert strength, while the calcula- tion of the pull-out force is very conservative. But possible varia- tions and uncertainties of the parameters used in these equations have to be kept in mind.

2.5. Numerical simulation

Meso-scale models of the insert and honeycomb sandwich structure require a large amount of modelling work and long calcu- lation times and are not suitable for an implementation into a lar- ger structure’s model. However, they may be used to analyse stress


S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588

distributions and understand cell wall deformations and failure mechanisms of the insert under load, since this insight is not pos- sible during the experiment. Such a meso-scale model with quar- ter-symmetry was developed for dynamic pull-out simulations using the explicit finite element code LS-DYNA ( Fig. 7 ). Both the skins and the honeycomb cell walls were modelled with 4-node shell elements and the orthotropic composite material model MAT54. For the rest of the model, i.e. the potting mass, epoxy resin, steel insert and steel bolt, 6-node wedge or 8-node brick elements with the isotropic material model MAT24 were used. This quarter

model with an edge length of 50 mm had a total of 62000 ele- ments. The nodal boundary conditions with a circular support were applied corresponding to the test rig. The bolt was pulled using a time-dependent linear displacement function. This model could be used to prove the theory that a core shear failure under trans- verse pull-out loads occurs as the first failure mode, see Fig. 7 . In addition to this meso-scale model, an alternative modelling approach on a macro-scale was developed, which is much more feasible to be implemented into a larger sandwich structure model with a higher number of inserts. It should be as simple as possible,

number of inserts. It should be as simple as possible, Fig. 7. Models of insert pull-out

Fig. 7. Models of insert pull-out in honeycomb sandwich: meso-scale (a) and macro-scale (b).

S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588


M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588 581 Fig. 8. Comparison of experiment and simulation

Fig. 8. Comparison of experiment and simulation for pull-out and shear-out loading.

while still being able to represent the failure behaviour correctly. For this model, the honeycomb core was homogenised with 8-node continuum elements, and the orthotropic honeycomb material model MAT126 in LS-DYNA was used. The library of LS-DYNA of- fers different options for joint modelling. In this case, the spotweld option was used for the insert modelling. Such spotweld elements are solid elements, which connect two surfaces and can be posi- tioned mesh-independently using a spotweld-contact formulation. Different failure criteria can be adopted for these spotweld ele- ments, making a pull-out or shear-out failure modelling possible. In this study, a quadratic failure criterion with respect to the nor- mal force F N and shear force F S in the element was chosen. The maximum values F pull-out and F shear-out could directly be taken from the experimental results, since only one spotweld element was used.


F pull-out





F shear-out



ð 7Þ

The final model as a quarter section is shown in Fig. 7 b. With this modelling approach, only 100 elements are necessary for the same specimen size as for the meso-scale model before. Besides pull-out simulations, the same model was also used for shear-out simula- tions by simply changing the boundary conditions.

The simulation results of the simplified macro-model are shown

in Fig. 8 . For the pull-out loading, the curves match with a good

correlation. Especially the core shear failure prior to total rupture

is covered correctly thanks to the honeycomb material model.

Also in case of the shear-out loading the elastic behaviour and failure in the simulation correlate to the experiment. However, the residual strength after first damage, which was observed in the test results, can not be covered by the numerical model. The reason for this is the spotweld model being no physical represen- tation of the real failure process with a bonding failure. It simply uses the defined maximum shear force and deletes the element when reaching it. No post-damage behaviour can be covered. In both curves, the drop of the load level after reaching the de- fined maximum forces happens to some extent earlier than in the

experiment, which corresponds to a slightly lower energy absorp- tion at insert failure. To change this, either the maximum force lev- els need to be increased or the post-damage shear behaviour of the honeycomb material model needs to be adjusted, since these two factors influence the load curve. Nevertheless, this simple insert modelling approach with spot- weld elements is feasible of representing the normal and shear failure load levels sufficiently. Even strain rate effects can be covered, corresponding to the experimental findings. In this case,

a different failure criterion has to be chosen in the LS-DYNA

different failure criterion has to be chosen in the LS-DYNA Fig. 9. Overview of manufacturing methods

Fig. 9. Overview of manufacturing methods of the three different corner joints investigated in this study.


S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588

Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588 Fig. 10. Test methods for bending (a)

Fig. 10. Test methods for bending (a) and shear testing (b) of corner joints.

for bending (a) and shear testing (b) of corner joints. Fig. 11. Force–displacement results of bending

Fig. 11. Force–displacement results of bending tests and post-failure images.

S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588


spotweld definition, requiring the input of the maximum forces as a function of the effective strain rate.

3. Failure behaviour of corner joints

3.1. Materials and specimen manufacturing

The experimental investigation of the corner joints was per- formed on 10 mm thick sandwich specimens with the same No- mex honeycomb core and the same GFRP skin material as in the insert study. A total of three different corner joints were analysed and compared. The first one is the simplest variant, a bonded butt joint accord- ing to type a in Fig. 2 . In one of the two pre-cured sandwich panels the upper skin and core were removed. The second panel was bonded at this position with an epoxy-based 3M Scotch-Weld 9323 B/A adhesive resulting in two contact surfaces ( Fig. 9 a). The second variant is based on the ‘mortise and tenon’ method according to Fig. 2 c. At the edges of both pre-cured panels 60 mm wide pockets were milled out while keeping the outer skin intact, resulting in tenons of 50 mm width ( Fig. 9 b). Both panels were joined and the same adhesive as before was used for the bonding. The third corner joint features the ‘cut and fold’ technique as a very efficient and industrially relevant design. In contrast to the other two methods, just one pre-cured sandwich plate is necessary. In the middle of this plate a 16 mm wide and 3.5 mm deep groove was milled out from the upper surface. The open honeycomb cells were filled with a Mankiewicz Alexit FST compound. Then the plate was folded about 90 . Afterwards, a 60 mm wide reinforcement

layer (glass fibre cloth with Bakelite EPR L 43 epoxy resin) was laminated onto the surface to fixate the corner joint ( Fig. 9 c). The advantage of this method is that the outer skin remains intact and that even very complex constructions can be folded very effi- ciently from one pre-cured sandwich plate. All specimens had a side length of 140 mm, whereas at both edges the honeycomb core was replaced in a length of 25 mm by

a solid block for load introduction purposes. The specimen width

was 250 mm. The ribbon direction of the core cells was oriented perpendicular to the corner line.

3.2. Experimental procedures

Standard test methods for the evaluation of the strength of sandwich corner joints do not exist. Besides some investigations on the failure behaviour of sandwich T-joints [42–46], the study in [33] seems to be the only reference, where such tests on sand- wich L-joints are documented. However, in those tests the corner joints are exposed to both bending and shear loads, making a sys- tematic analysis of stress states and failure modes difficult. There- fore, two test procedures were developed for separately investigating the specimens under bending and shear loads ( Fig. 10 ). In the bending test the sandwich edges were supported by linear bearings while the load was applied directly onto the cor- ner, bending the two sides apart. A silicone strap was used under the loading plate to assure a load introduction over the whole spec- imen length. In the shear test one specimen side was clamped onto

a rigid surface, also using a silicone strap, while the other one was

pulled perpendicularly. This results in a shear loading of the corner

This results in a shear loading of the corner Fig. 12. Force–displacement results of shear tests

Fig. 12. Force–displacement results of shear tests and post-failure images.


S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588

joint. For each experiment at least six specimens of all three corner joint types were tested. The loading rate in these tests was kept constant at 50 mm/min.

3.3. Experimental results and failure process

Force–displacement curves of representative specimens in the bending test are illustrated in Fig. 11 , showing the pre- and post- damage behaviour. The butt joint corners are characterised by the lowest failure load. After a nearly linear elastic beginning, the bonding of the two panels fails abruptly on the inside of the joint. The post-failure residual strength is relatively low. The outer skin is bent at a low load level under increasing displacements. The ‘mortise and tenon’ specimens exhibit a similar bending stiffness with a slightly higher failure load. At the peak load the bonding of the tenons on the inside of the corner joint fails, while the bonding on the outside remains intact. The residual strength is higher than for the butt joint specimens and is characterised by the bending of the outer sandwich skins and the pull-out of the tenons. The ‘cut and fold’ specimens show the highest failure loads and also the highest bending stiffness, which is the result of the solid filling compound in the corner. The failure mode is a rupture of the filled and neighbouring unfilled honeycomb cells on one side of the corner joint, which cannot be avoided by the reinforcement layer. Afterwards, a bending of the outer skin occurs at the failed side, while on the opposite intact side the reinforcement layer is continuously delaminated from the inner sandwich skin. These mechanisms lead to the highest post-failure load level compared

to the other corner joints. The damage tolerance of this folded cor- ner is superior, because as long as the delamination has not reached a critical extent, loads can still be transmitted through the intact outer sandwich skin. The force–displacement curves of the corner joint shear tests are almost congruent for the elastic regime until first failure occurs ( Fig. 12 ). The reason for this behaviour is a simple transverse shear loading of the honeycomb core in all three cases, followed by a core shear failure, independent of the corner joint type. The average maximum force F max for the butt joint specimens has a value of 2839 N (standard deviation: 90 N). With respect to the sheared surface A , this results in a shear strength of 1.2 MPa:

s LT ¼

F max


2839 N

¼ 250 mm 9: 5 mm ¼ 1: 2 MPa:

ð 8Þ

This value corresponds exactly to the data sheet value of the Nomex honeycomb core’s shear strength of 1.21 MPa. For the ‘cut and fold’ specimens the peak load is slightly higher with 3310 N (standard deviation: 171 N). This effect may be attributed to the filling compound, which has also partly been filled into the shear-loaded honeycomb cells, leading to an increase of shear strength. After this core shear failure the real loading and character- isation of the corner joint takes place. For the butt joint specimens a debonding of the two sandwich panels occurs under a declining load curve. The mortised corner first shows a slight increase of the load level due to the larger number of bonded surfaces, but once the debonding is initiated, the load level also declines. The folded corners show a different behaviour. Because of the reinforcement

show a different behaviour. Because of the reinforcement Fig. 13. Comparison of experiment and simulation for

Fig. 13. Comparison of experiment and simulation for corner bending and shear test of butt joint specimens.

S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures

89 (2009) 575–588


layer being clamped in the specimen fixation and being loaded in tension, no complete failure of the corner joint occurs. A crack be- tween the upper connection of filled and unfilled honeycomb cells as well as a delamination of the reinforcement layer develop. This happens at a comparably high and increasing load level. After large deformations a crack occurs in the middle of the reinforcement layer, leading to a declining load level.

3.4. Numerical simulation

Just as for the inserts, a modelling method in LS-DYNA was developed, which on the one hand is able to represent the corner joint’s failure behaviour correctly, and on the other hand is as sim-

ple as possible to be implemented into large-scale models of sand- wich constructions with a number of such joints. The same macro- scale modelling approach with shell elements for the composite skins (MAT54) and brick elements for the homogenised honey- comb core (MAT126) was adopted here. The material models and mechanical properties are identical to the insert model. The experiments have shown that the primary driver of the cor- ner joint failure is debonding or the disconnection of bonded sur- faces. Therefore, the modelling of the corner joint failure is based on contact formulations with a failure option. In LS-DYNA such contact definitions are called tiebreak contacts, since first they tie two surfaces together, and once the interface stresses meet a defined failure criterion, the contact breaks open and the surfaces

failure criterion, the contact breaks open and the surfaces Fig. 14. Comparison of failure process in

Fig. 14. Comparison of failure process in experiment and simulation for corner shear test of butt joint specimens.


S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588

are separated. In this case maximum normal stresses NFLS and maximum shear stresses SFLS in the interface are combined in a quadratic failure criterion











ð 9Þ

Those maximum stress values for the bonded contact interfaces were unknown and had to be adjusted within parameter studies in correlation to the experimental results. In case of the butt joint corner only two contact formulations had to be defined in the model. The interface failure stresses could be adjusted so that a satisfactory representation of both the failure modes and the load curves could be achieved ( Fig. 13 ). However, an exact compliance of the curves could not be achieved, which may be ascribed to imperfections in the hand-made sandwich speci- mens that are not fully covered by the rather ideal model. Further- more, the silicone strap, used in both tests, was not included in the simulation. One requirement for a good compliance is that the fail- ure process is reproduced correctly. This could be achieved with a high degree of accuracy, which can be seen in the illustration of the corner shear test simulation in Fig. 14 . At first, core shear failure occurs. Then the contact at the inner side of the joint opens, leading to a crack. This crack grows until also the outer contact fails. Sim- ilar results could be achieved for the ‘mortise and tenon’ speci- mens. The difference here lies in the higher number of contact surfaces.

In the model of the ‘cut and fold’ specimens an isotropic material model was used for the filled corner and the curvature of the edge was approximated in the mesh. Since in the experiment a discon- nection of the filled and unfilled cells could be observed, tiebreak contact formulations between the isotropic material and the regular honeycomb elements were generated in the finite element model. Further contact definitions with different failure parameters were introduced between the sandwich skin and the reinforcement layer, which was modelled as a separate layer of shell elements. Despite its simplicity, this simulation model allows for a good representation of the failure process. However, the difference in the load curves is slightly higher (Fig. 15). This may be attributed to the same factors as described before, i.e. possible imperfections and the neglect of the silicone strap. In addition, no exact material data were available for the filling compound, which strongly influences the corner’s proper- ties. The failure process in the corner shear test simulation is shown in Fig. 16 and it correlates well with the experimental results. After the core shear failure, a crack develops between the isotropic corner elements and the honeycomb core, which is responsible for the first load drop-off. Afterwards, the contact of the reinforcement layer fails successively as in the experiment. The simulation results and the contact interface strength values are without doubt mesh size dependent. However, in this study only one mesh size was used. Although the curves do not match exactly, this modelling approach shows the potential to be a simple and efficient technique to imple- ment a corner joint failure possibility into a larger finite element model of a sandwich construction.

a larger finite element model of a sandwich construction. Fig. 15. Comparison of experiment and simulation

Fig. 15. Comparison of experiment and simulation for corner bending and shear test of ‘cut and fold’ specimens.

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89 (2009) 575–588


M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588 587 Fig. 16. Comparison of failure process in

Fig. 16. Comparison of failure process in experiment and simulation for corner shear test of ‘cut and fold’ specimens.

4. Conclusions

The failure behaviour of different types of potted inserts and corner joints in Nomex honeycomb sandwich structures was investigated experimentally. Insert pull-out tests showed a core shear failure to occur first, before the potted cells fail under tensile rupture. Under shear-out loading, the potted cells together with the upper skin fail in shear with the insert position within the pot- ted area having a significant influence on the results. However, the insert type had no influence, only the potting diameter. The failure stresses in both experiments were affected by the loading rate. The failure behaviour of the corner joints under bending or shear loads was primarily driven by the debonding of the respec-

tive connection surfaces. The ‘cut and fold’ corner showed the highest failure loads and a superior post-damage behaviour. For both inserts and corner joints, simple and efficient model- ling methods in LS-DYNA based on spotweld elements or tiebreak contact formulations have been developed, which are able to cover the failure behaviour with an acceptable degree of accuracy and can be implemented into large-scale models of sandwich structures.


This work was performed within the project INTECK, with par- tial funding by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Germany. Sincere thanks are given to COMTAS Composite, Hamburg for


S. Heimbs, M. Pein / Composite Structures 89 (2009) 575–588

manufacturing the specimens and Dipl.-Ing. Manfred Heimbs for manufacturing the test rigs.


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