A Caltech Library Service

Mechanics of Thin Carbon Fiber Composites with a Silicone Matrix


Lopez Jimenez, Francisco (2011) Mechanics of Thin Carbon Fiber Composites with a Silicone Matrix. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/A773-KF92.


This thesis presents an experimental, numerical and analytical study of the behavior of thin fiber composites with a silicone matrix. The main difference with respect to traditional composites with epoxy matrix is the fact that the soft matrix allows the fibers to microbuckle without breaking. This process acts as a stress relief mechanism during folding, and allows the material to reach very high curvatures, which makes them particularly interesting as components of space deployable structures. The goal of this study is to characterize the behavior and understand the mechanics of this type of composite.

Experimental testing of the bending behavior of unidirectional composites with a silicone matrix shows a highly non-linear moment vs. curvature relationship, as well as strain softening under cyclic loading. These effects are not usually observed in composites with an epoxy matrix. In the case of tension in the direction transverse to the fibers, the behavior shows again non-linearity and strain softening, as well as an initial stiffness much higher than what would be expected based on the traditional estimates for fiber composites.

The micro mechanics of the material have been studied with a finite element model. It uses solid elements and a random fiber arrangement produced with a reconstruction process based on micrographs of the material cross section. The simulations capture the macroscopic non-linear response, as well as the fiber microbuckling, and show how microbuckling reduces the strain in the fibers. The model shows good agreement for the bending stiffness of specimens with low fiber volume fraction, but it overestimates the effect of the matrix for more densely packed fibers. This is due to the high matrix strain that derives from the assumption of perfect bonding between fiber and matrix. In the case of tension transverse to the fibers, the model shows a much better agreement with experiments than traditional composite theory, and shows that the reason for the observed high stiffness is the incompressibility of the matrix. In order to capture the strain softening due to fiber debonding, cohesive elements have been introduced between the fibers and the matrix. This allows the model to capture quantitatively the non-linear behavior in the case of loading transverse to the fibers, and the damage due to cyclic loading. A single set of parameters for the cohesive elements produce good agreement with the experimental results for very different values of the fiber volume fraction, and could also be used in the analysis of more complicated loading cases, such as bending or biaxial tension.

In addition to the simulations, a homogenized analytical model has also been created. It extends previous analysis of composites with a soft matrix to the case of very thin composites. It provides a good qualitative description of the material behavior, and it helps understand the mechanics that take place within the material, such as the equilibrium of energy terms leading to a finite wave length, as opposed to microbuckling under compression.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:fiber composites; microbuckling; strain softening; random microstructure; hyperelastic matrix
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Aeronautics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
Thesis Committee:
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami (chair)
  • Ortiz, Michael
  • Daraio, Chiara
  • Bhattacharya, Kaushik
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
Defense Date:7 January 2011
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:03152011-154253229
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:6271
Deposited By: Francisco Lopez Jimenez
Deposited On:29 Mar 2011 16:34
Last Modified:09 Oct 2019 17:08

Thesis Files

PDF - Final Version
See Usage Policy.


Repository Staff Only: item control page