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A review of biaxial test methods for composites

A. Makris1, C. Ramault1, A. Smits1, D. Van Hemelrijck1, A. Clarke2,

C. Williamson2, M. Gower3, R. Shaw3, R. Mera3, E. Lamkanfi4,
W. Van Paepegem4
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Mechanics of Materials & Constructions, Brussels, Belgium
QinetiQ, Cody Technology Park, Ively Road, Farnborough Hampshire GU 14 OLX - UK
National Physical Laboratory, Hampton Road Teddington Middlesex TW 11 OLW, UK
Ghent University, Laboratory Soete, Mechanical Construction & Production, Ghent, Belgium
dvhemelr@vub.ac.be, abclarke@qinetiq.com, michael.gower@npl.co.uk, wim.vanpaepegem@ugent.be


Presented is an overview of the existing biaxial test methods for fibre-reinforced polymer-matrix composite materials from the
early beginning till the currently used techniques. The methods are classified into two categories, based on the applied loading
system. In this review, the emphasis lies on the most popular testing techniques, which are these that use tubular or cruciform
specimens. An evolution in both the biaxial testing capabilities and the applied inspection methods will be shown.


Although the usage of composite materials in any industrial branch (e.g. aeronautic or automotive industries) is increasing
rapidly, reliable rules for the prediction of laminate failure are not generally available. The ability to successfully model and
simulate the behavior of materials for optimum use in structural applications, depends largely on the material description
(constitutive relations, failure criteria) employed in analytical formulations. Since the development of composite materials,
many researchers have tried to create failure criteria for laminates under multiaxial stresses [1].The proper choice of
constitutive law requires rigorous experimental characterization in order to ensure that the constitutive model adequately
describes the behavior of the material under a variety of complex loading conditions. The current practice of using uniaxial test
results to predict failure for multiaxial stress states seems inadequate. Although the need of experimental and numerical data
from multiaxial tests is very large, these tests have not been pursued as rigorously [2]. There is a considerable amount of data,
but the number of studies where a wide range of loading conditions is applied to the same kind of laminate is limited. [3].One
of the major difficulties on performing these multiaxial tests is to design specimens and loading devices so that a uniform plane
stress state can be produced.

In the past, reviews on biaxial testing have been compiled by several authors [4, 5] .These reviews mostly did not focus on the
biaxial techniques in general, but on specific subjects. The present survey continues the review work, done by Chen in 1993
[6].In comparison with that article, we will not conduct a discussion of the various results, but focus on the different testing
techniques. Because multiaxial tests on composite materials are frequently based on earlier performed tests on metals, this
review will refer sometimes to studies concerning these tests. The variety of testing methods can be explained by the
anisotropy of the composites and the difficulties this leads to. As opposed to metals, where there exists an extensive amount
of research on biaxial/multiaxial fatigue, research in the same field on composite materials is far less complete.

Biaxial testing of composites

Different experimental techniques and specimens have been used to produce biaxial stress states. These techniques may be
classified into two categories (Fig.1,2) [7], (i) tests using a single loading system and (ii) tests using two or more independent
loading systems. In the first category the biaxial stress ratio depends on specimen’s geometry or on the loading fixture
configuration, whereas in the second category it is specified by the applied load magnitude.

Examples of the first category are bending tests on cantilever beams, anticlastic bending tests of rhomboidal or rectangular
shaped composite plates, bulge tests, equibiaxial loading of disc- shaped specimens, tests on cruciform specimens with a
spatial pantograph, butterfly-shaped specimens tested in Arcan type apparatus and V-notched specimens tested in a biaxial
Iosipescu fixture.
Examples of the second category are round bars under bending-torsion, thin-wall tubes subjected to a combination of axial
loading and torsion or internal / external pressure, and cruciform specimens under in-plane biaxial loading. The technique with
the thin-walled tube is the most popular one [8].

Fig. 1.Cantilever bending(a); bulge test ,tube(b); bulge test ,plate(c); anticlastic bending(d); Arcan method(e); Iosipescu method(f) ; special
fixtures (g,h).

Fig.2.Round bar under bending – torsion(a) ; Tube (torsion – axial)(b); Tube (pressure - axial)(c); Tube (axial - torsion – pressure)(d);
Cruciform specimen(e).

Tests using two or more independent loading systems

Combined bending and torsion of beams

One of the less known methods to create a variety of biaxial stress ratio’s in composite materials without the need to change
the geometry, is the combined bending and torsion of solid beams, bars. The experimental setup consists of a uniaxial tensile
machine, in which a special device that can apply torsion and three-point bending is adapted [9]. In order to develop multiaxial
stresses in the specimen, also four-point in stead of tree-point bending could be applied. A variety of biaxial stresses can be
achieved by varying the force and the torque. Specimens need special fabrication and orientation is limited to unidirectional
materials. Another disadvantage is that the performing of the test and the processing afterward need a high level of accuracy.
This testing method is especially popular for fatigue testing. There have been a few tests on metal rods [10-12], but also
anisotropic materials are used .Ferry used this method to perform biaxial fatigue tests on composite bars [13, 14].

Tubular specimens

Structures such as pressure vessels, piping, components like mountain bicycle frames and crankshafts are typical examples of
polymeric curved surfaces, widely used in diverse industries [15].In their service life, they are subjected to multiaxial stress
states with complex loading histories and paths. They are commonly loaded with internal pressure in combination with an axial
load, torsion and/or a bending moment. When we use a similar structure, a tubular specimen can successfully simulate the
multiaxial stress state.

Tubes have been used since the ‘40s as specimens to define biaxial or multiaxial stresses in materials (Fig.3). First tests were
performed on metals, but later on, this test method was used to investigate composite materials behavior. Since the ’70s,
polymer composites in the form of tubes have been tested under biaxial conditions [16, 17]. In the beginning, the applied loads
were mainly torsion or a combination of torsion and axial loads. Later on, they started subjecting the tubes to a combination of
pressure, which produces tensile hoop stress in the tube, and axial loading. Various stress fields can be achieved by altering
the pressure and adjusting the axial load. However, this method has the disadvantage that the stressing is not completely
uniform over the thickness and that the surface of the specimen is curved. From the early beginning till the present time, many
researchers have used this type of specimen.

Fig. 3 – Biaxial testing rig (left) and biaxial compression rig (right).

During the design of a tubular specimen, researchers should take a few rules into account:

(i) independently varying stress components in the plane;

(ii) homogeneous and prescribed stress state in the test section;
(iii) failure has to occur in the test section ;
(iv) relatively easy and cheap to fabricate.

Torsion, axial force and pressure can be varied at choice and independently, so there is no problem to vary the stress
components (i). Condition (ii) on the other hand, implies some difficulties. While developing the use of tubular specimens, it
was tacitly assumed that the radial stress in the cylinder could be neglected. When pressure is applied to the tube, it produces
a radial stress in one surface, while the other surface has no radial stress. The assumption of ignoring these stresses trough
the thickness of the tube, is questionable, since the compressive strength of the matrix may be small. Studies revealed that
this is a big mistake. The influence of the radial stress on the effective strength of the tube was shown as a complex problem.
Tubes proved to fail under triaxial in stead of biaxial stress stated. However, the influence of the radial stress depends on the
wall thickness, when low ratios of wall thickness to tube diameter (r/h) are applied (thin walled tubes), the radial stress can be
neglected. On the other hand, when high r/h-ratios are applied (thick walled tubes), for example for tests under compression,
the stresses seem to be non-uniform trough the thickness of the tube. Also the stress ratio and the winding angle have an
influence on the effect of the radial stresses.

Cruciform specimens

The beginning of biaxial testing using cross shaped geometry belongs to metallic specimens around 1965. Besides the device
of Shiratori and Ikegami [18] one of the first machines using this method successfully was devised by Pascoe and de Villiers
[19] where the flat cruciform specimen is loaded directly by four double-acting jacks with a capacity of 200 KN tension
/compression. In order to realize tests at any of the principal strains, Parsons and Pascoe [20] equipped the original device
with a closed-loop servo control using the measured strains or loads as feed back signals. An early investigation where glass
epoxy laminates with a cross shaped geometry subjected to biaxial loading was published by Bert et all [21] from the
Oklahoma University, USA in 1969. These tests were carried out on a specially designed test fixture using a cable-pulley
system in conjunction with a conventional universal testing machine. Data were obtained on the limit strength and apparent
ultimate strength of flat laminates subjected to biaxial loading. Pascoe and Tutton [22] used the cruciform specimen in 1982 at
the Riso National Laboratory of Denmark to investigate biaxial behavior of carbon fiber laminates. They tried to explain the
benefits of using notched cruciform coupons in order to achieve more uniform biaxial stress states. In 1988 Makinde [23] from
the University of Sherbrooke in Canada presented a new biaxial strength testing device for testing flat Cross-shaped
specimens using a conventional uniaxial tensile testing machine. Most of tests till 1990 were limited in tension-tension loading
and the use of four independent servo hydraulic actuators was not widely used.

The most realistic technique to create biaxial stress states consists of applying in-plane loads along two perpendicular arms of
cross-shaped specimens. Although cruciform specimens first used to determine biaxial stress states of metal sheets [24, 25]
this method gained popularity also for composite materials because of its advantages against the other most popular testing
method with tubular specimens. The cruciform design was favored mainly because it allows the application of in-plane biaxial
loading without any out of- plane stress. Furthermore real construction components are often flat or gently curved and differ a
lot from tubular specimens, and the use of specimen geometry to obtain uniform biaxial stress states is free from the radial
stress influence that appears in tubular testing.
Most investigators have obtained results only in one or possibly two of the three quadrants, the most popular being T/T and
T/C. Biaxial C/C data were not available until 1990, undoubtedly a consequence of stability issues pertaining to performing
C/C tests. These are revealing statements about the difficulties associated with biaxial testing, and the shortcomings of the
existing test methods. In fact, most of the specific multiaxial test methods in use today to characterize the response of
composite materials did not even exist fifteen years ago.

A successful biaxial test using cruciform specimens requires the following conditions:

(i) maximization of the region of uniform biaxial strain.

(ii) minimization of the shear strains in the biaxially loading test zone.
(iii) minimization of the strain concentrations outside the test zone.
(iv) specimen’s failure should start in the biaxially loading test zone.
(v) repeatable results.
(vi) capability of various biaxial stress/strain ratios in the test area.

To succeed in these conditions researchers tried to optimize the geometry of cruciform specimen [26-29]. A lot of problems
during biaxial tests prevented uniform biaxial failure. A basic problem which makes more difficult a uniform biaxial failure is the
strengthening that appears in the biaxially tested zone. This zone is stronger in comparison with the uniaxially stressed arms
and is difficult for the specimen to initially fail in this small area. A lot of different geometries were being investigated most of
them with stress concentrators in the centre (reduced thickness, holes, notches or cracks) to concentrate the failure in the
biaxially stressed zone. Increasing use of finite element methods helped a lot in the specimen’s optimization [30]. Two different
methods exist to biaxially load the cruciform specimen using one, or two or more different loading systems such as servo
hydraulic actuators.

A standards working group has recently been formed under the the Versailles Project on Advanced Materials and Standards
(VAMAS) umbrella, comprising: QinetiQ, UK - Caroline Williamson, Andrew Clarke ,NPL, UK - Mike Gower, Graham Sims,
Richard Mera, Richard Shaw, Vrije Universiteit Brussel- Free University Brussels, Belgium - Danny Van Hemelrijck and
Universiteit Gent - Ghent University, Belgium - Wim Van Paepegem. The objective of this international working group is to
propose acceptable methodologies that will lead to internationally accepted test methods for the evaluation of the multiaxial
performance of fibre-reinforced composites. These institutes, by the use of cruciform specimens (Fig.4-6) tested in four
independent actuators, try to create uniform biaxial stress states and compare their results.

Fig.4. A biaxial cruciform test in progress in QinetiQ 50tn machine, Fig.5.Plane biaxial test device and cruciform glass epoxy specimen.

Fig.6.Special biaxial machine ‘strong floor’ from NPL.

Inspection techniques

The purpose of mechanical testing is to determine properties of a material. During a test applied forces and displacements are
measured. Another important parameter that can be directly measured is the strain responses of specimens. For the
measurement of strains in biaxial tests on composite materials, a lot of techniques have been used and invented during the
years. Strain gages, mechanical dial gages, displacement transducers and different types of extensometers are a few of the
available measuring methods. The correct application of the different meters on the specimen surface, which can be curved
(tubes) or flat (cruciform specimen) had to be investigated. A lot of patents have been designed and adapted to use for biaxial
testing. (vilks, aniskevich, testa.)

Apart from measurements on a specific point on the specimen, researchers want to be able to monitor full stress/strain field
during a test, and tried to inspect the global behavior of composite materials. Various inspection techniques are nowadays
applied on specimens under biaxial stress states. Real time methods such as digital image correlation, holographic
interferometry (HI), electronic speckle pattern interferometry (ESPI) acoustic emission (AE) Laser Raman spectroscopy (LRS)
and Photoelastic and Thermoelastic testing are used to determine strain or stress fields and failure mechanisms mostly on
tubular and cruciform specimens. Also post failure analysis inspection techniques are available e.g. X-ray photography,
ultrasonic inspection, optical and scanning electron microscopy. Reviews have been written about the different inspection
techniques by several researchers [31].


To conclude, we can state that the development of the biaxial testing techniques, let to a better understanding of the behavior
of composite materials under biaxial stress states, but that further research in this domain is needed. The basic aim of all
biaxial testing methods in composites should be to create a completed failure envelope (T/T, T/C, C/C) for a better
understanding of mechanical properties and life time prediction; however it is not easy to determine the strength of
composites, because of the many failure modes. A further research in this domain is needed also in order to verify the failure
modes, because the lack of biaxial experimental data.

The choice of biaxial specimen geometry and type must be evaluated carefully. The specific geometry type depends on the
application that is being simulated. For advanced aeropropulsion applications, the components are basically flat plate
structures, therefore, biaxially loaded plates instead of tubular specimens will provide a better insight of actual material
response for these applications. For structural components such as shafts and pressure vessels, thin walled tubular
specimens would be more appropriate.


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