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Interface Fracture Behaviour of Industrial

Adhesives: A Novel Evaluation Approach for
Adhesive Selection

Conference Paper · February 2017


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Martin Brandtner-Hafner


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Symposium on Innovations in
Adhesives and their Applications
Munich, Germany, February 14-15, 2017



M.H. Brandtner-Hafnera*

BRANDTNER-HAFNER Fracture Analytics, Raiffeisenstraße 11/4/5, 7072 Mörbisch am See, Austria
* Contact person:


For adhesives, the prevailing situation shows that material parameters obtained from popular standardised
tensile strength and peel tests cannot be used to make fracture mechanical statements. Unfortunately, they
merely giving the maximum bonding strength of the adhesively bonded composite. Specifically, since they
are pure measures assuming continuum mechanics, they are not appropriate for choosing the right adhesive
under fracture mechanical aspects. Furthermore, popular fracture mechanical tests such as DCB or ENF do
not take account the complex and non-linear nature of industrial adhesives, which leads to misleading
results. To overcome such limitations, an innovative fracture testing method was newly applied enabling
stable crack propagation behaviour after maximum load has been exceeded. This in turn leads to an
understanding of interface fracture mechanisms and therefore leads to fruitful conclusions of how to choose
the best adhesive/adherend system.

Interface Fracture Behaviour, Adhesively Bonded Composites, Fracture Energy, Adhesive Selection

1. INTRODUCTION The theoretical fracture mechanics concept of

this study is based on the nonlinear fracture
1.1. Review energy criterion of Hillerborg et al. [3], which is
known as the fictitious crack model (FCM) or
A major drawback of standardised classic cohesive zone model (CZM). The basic
mechanical testing systems [1,2] is that they do evaluation parameter characterising the fracture
not provide any information about cracking- and mechanical behaviour used into this non-linear
damaging behaviour of the interface region of fracture criterion is the specific fracture energy
the adhesive composite system under GF, which can be regarded as a fracture
investigation. Furthermore, no statements can toughness and fracture resistance parameter,
be made if crack propagation is brittle or tough. respectively. It can be determined by a method
This influences stability of failure, which means introduced by [4]. It ensures a stable testing
that for example a running crack could lead to a environment which enables physical statements
catastrophically failure of the whole structure. about formation of cracks as well as information
This engineering approach of using just on post-cracking behaviour beyond the maximal
maximum value parameters such as maximum load. Further, it is not necessary to know the
force or maximum tensile strength is not suitable position and shape of the process zone a priori.
for selecting the optimal adhesive/adherend The cracking process thus can be characterised
system. Additionally, no statement can be made by strain-softening diagrams and specific
if a structure will fail brittle or tough by relying fracture energy [4].
just on tensile strength alone.

Please cite this paper as follows:

M.H. Brandtner-Hafner, Interface Fracture Behaviour of Industrial Adhesives: A Novel Evaluation Approach for Adhesive Selection,
In: Proceedings of the IN-ADHESIVES Symposium on Innovations 1 in Adhesives and their Applications, pp. 221-229, Munich,
Germany, 2017.
Symposium on Innovations in
Dr. Martin BRANDTNER-HAFNER Adhesives and their Applications
Fracture Mechanics Professional Munich, Germany, February 14-15, 2017

For this study, this was done for all three modes they are not very representative in terms of
of crack separation according to Irwin [5] shown describing real fracture mechanisms. As a fact,
in figure 1 below: they represent just a simplification of damage
reality occurring and therefore are not
appropriate for damage analysis of adhesively
bonded composites [4].

1.2. Interface fracture mechanics of adhesively

bonded composites

Theoretical framework based on K-factors (SIF)

used to describe interface fracture behaviour of
Figure 1: Crack separation modes [5].
adhesively bonded composites are subject to
major shortcomings. One of this is the prevailing
As an explanation to that, mode I means crack
of complex K-factors with the phenomenon of
opening (left picture), mode II in-plane shear
highly oscillating and penetrating crack banks
(middle) and mode III out-of-the-plane shear or
[10,11]. Besides, K-values are subject to very
tearing (right picture).
high mean variations, have very unphysical units
[MPa·m-1/2] and therefore questionable meaning
Reviewing technical literature, there are two
of explaining real fracture processes.
basic concepts used mainly for characterising
industrial adhesives and bonded composites.
For adhesively bonded composites, the critical
The first is stress based such as the K-concept
point regarding crack behaviour is within the
(stress intensify factor, SIF) [6,7] whereas the
interface region, which is the contact layer or
second principle is related to energy such as the
zone between the adhesive/adherent composite.
strain energy release rate Gc [8,9]. The first one
There, damage mechanisms can occur in terms
is only valid for homogenous, isotropic materials
of “failure modes” standardised by [12] depicted
with strict linear-elastic material behaviour
in figure 2:
obeying Hooke`s law [4]. This might hold only
for very brittle materials such as glass or

However, when it comes to quasi-brittle (i.e.

concrete) or even very tough structures (i.e.
rubber), they do not show linear-elastic but
elastic-plastic behaviour [4]. For that, linear-
elastic fracture mechanics (LEFM) is not suitable
for describing non-linear cracking processes of
tough adhesive composites [4]. Therefore, in this
study, the non-linear fracture mechanical
approach of Hillerborg`s cohesive zone model
(CZM) [3] is the theoretical framework on which Figure 2: Damage mechanisms of adhesively bonded
composites for mode I [12].
the cracking behaviour is described.

The major benefit over stress intensify factor K According to the ASTM D5573 standard,
(SIF) and strain energy release rate Gc is the locations of fracture can be categorized as
independence of crack geometry as well as the follows [13]:
ability to deal with non-linearity effects
appearing in a large damage zone compared to (1) Adhesive layer (cohesive failure):
specimen size. Since the above mentioned cases in this case, the adhesive is weak.
are just dealing with linear-elastic components, (i.e. A and B),

Symposium on Innovations in
Dr. Martin BRANDTNER-HAFNER Adhesives and their Applications
Fracture Mechanics Professional Munich, Germany, February 14-15, 2017

(2) Interface (interfacial failure): adherends (white and grey) and a starter notch
in this case, the adhesive bonding is weak. has been created.
(i.e. C)
(3) Mixed failure: (1) + (2). (i.e. D and E)
(4) Adherends or its surface layer
(adherend failure). (i.e. F)

Basically, fracture behaviour of adhesive

composites is non-linear [4]. The same holds for
bonded sandwich panels containing two
interfaces. Additionally, the main reason of how
a crack finally turns out is the extent of toughness
of the compound. This can be characterised
experimentally leading to a fracture mechanical
fingerprint of the whole structure gaining insights
of its prevailing material law. Finally, for the
interesting reader a comprehensive overview
about interface fracture mechanics can be found
at [11]. Figure 3: Overview of fracture process zones of different
adherend materials [14]
Another important aspect of understanding the
mechanism of adhesive cracking is related to the In order to understand the influence of fracture
shape and extend of the so called “fracture energy of adhesives, it is important to use stiff
process zone”, which is a sub-area within the and rigid adherends. In order to ensure this, for
“plastic zone”. For those, the tougher the this study bonded parts were made of
material, the greater its extent. Such areas are pearwood, which ensures a high stiffness.
consuming fracture energy used to propagate
the crack and therefore are an essential A further important issue noteworthy to address
indicator of the damage behaviour of an for investigating interface fracture behaviour of
adhesively bonded composite [4]. adhesives is the crack propagation tendency
illustrated in figure 4 below [15]. There, A stands
Figure 3 shows different stages of process zones for unstable, B for semi-stable and C for stable
of a bi-material composite of different toughness crack propagation. The test method introduced
and stiffness. The upper part (white) is brittle, by [4] enables condition C and therefore clear
whereas the lower part (grey) is tough [14]. statements on post-cracking behaviour of the
For picture 3a, linear-elastic fracture mechanics tested adhesive.
can be applied as the whole compound is very
brittle and the process zone is very small
compared to the specimen size. In figure 3b, the
plastic zone (PL) is far more extended than
before as this composite is less brittle. This
means, elastic-plastic mechanics must be
applied. Turning to picture 3c, the fracture
process zone is very large compared to the
specimen and to picture 3a. There, non-linear
and quasi-brittle material behaviour can be
observed. This is valid for example for concrete,
wood, several types of plastics and adhesives. It
Figure 4: Types of crack propagation behaviour [15].
should be noted that it is the interface region
where the crack starts to propagate as there the
fracture resistance is much lower than in the

Symposium on Innovations in
Dr. Martin BRANDTNER-HAFNER Adhesives and their Applications
Fracture Mechanics Professional Munich, Germany, February 14-15, 2017

2. METHODS According to Hillerborg [16], GF represents the

fracture energy per unit area of the fracture
2.1. Mechanical testing surface. This is the projected area on a plane
perpendicular to the stress direction, also called
Basically, pull-out tests or tensile strength tests “ligament area”. It is located within the damage
were performed on unnotched specimens [1,2] zone of the specimen. This may not be confused
according to figure 5. This can be described with the area enclosed by the --curve
mathematically by equation (1): representing an energy per unit volume
absorbed in the whole specimen [16]. GF in turn
FT (1) is only released within the fracture process zone
T 
Aproj (also: plastic or damage zone) describing
cohesive energy and may not be confused with
the linear-elastic strain energy release rate Gc
With T as tensile strength, FT as tensile force and
[17], which is a completely different parameter
Aproj as projected area perpendicular to the stress
derived from beam theory solution [18]. It is
direction. This value can be regarded as
based upon linear-elastic behaviour and
“adhesive bonding strength”.
depends on the exactly determined crack length,
Since this is a normal stress, only notch tensile
which has to be monitored. However, this cannot
strength from mode I is comparable.
be valid for adhesively bonded composites,
Hence, the author introduced notation RV as a
where highly elastic-plastic material properties
global term describing composite or adhesive
prevail leading to a distinct damage zone which
bonding strength for all three modes of
cannot be ignored. This damage zone is formed
cracking. Specimens for testing tensile strength
by secondary mechanisms such as fibre
where made up of unnotched bonded pear
bridging, microcracking, crazing and others,
wood blocks of 50x50 mm area and thickness
which are also called “shielding mechanisms”
of 30 mm each as pictured in figure 5:

Figure 6 gives an overview of such mechanism.

Figure 5: Specimen for pull-out test [4].

2.2. Fracture mechanical testing

In order to compare stresses gathered from

mechanical tensile strength tests [1,2], notch
tensile strength for mode I was measured and
compared. However, this characteristic value
alone does not account for cracking effects.
Thus, another parameter describing non-linear
cracking behaviour in terms of fracture
resistance is the specific fracture energy [4].
Figure 6: Crack shielding mechanism [19].

Symposium on Innovations in
Dr. Martin BRANDTNER-HAFNER Adhesives and their Applications
Fracture Mechanics Professional Munich, Germany, February 14-15, 2017

Types of shielding mechanisms: 3. EXPERIMENTS

a) Interface deboning, Specimens for fracture mechanical testing where

b) Microcracking, made of single edge notched blocks of bonded
c) Yielding, pearwood (ligament area: 55x50 mm).
d) Wake region, This was done for six different types of industrial
e) Fibre bridging and fibre pull-out, adhesives illustrated in table 1:
f) Grain bridging and interlocking,
g) Viscoelastic bridging (crazing). Table 1: Overview of adhesive candidates [4]

Such mechanisms are responsible for delaying Adhesive Chemical Basis

crack propagation, which is an important criteria Candidate
for adhesive selection. Especially g (crazing) is A Acrylate 1K
the most responsible shielding mechanism for B MS-Polymer 1K
adhesives, which is very desirable regarding C Polyurethane 2K
healing behaviour. In the best case, this could
lead to a crack arrest and therefore for the D Acrylonitrile 1K
structure there is no need to repair. E Polyurethane 1K
F Polyurethane 1K
Basically, nowadays DCB-tests are
predominantly used in order to gain values of Gc
[20] for mode I and ENF-tests [21] for mode II, All candidates had different chemical and
respectively. However, for adhesive composites, mechanical properties in order to represent a
their adherends are elastically bended during broad range of common industrial adhesive
testing. Unfortunately, the elastic energy is systems. Specimens were glued and stored for
stored thus exceeding the resistance against seven days. After that, they were notched by a
crack propagation which in turn may lead to saw of 3 mm thickness. Tests were performed at
unstable cracking. As a consequence, post- room temperature (20°C) and 43% humidity.
cracking-behaviour cannot be characterised. A Details can be found in [4].
critical review of the DCB- and ENF-testing
techniques can be found in [22,23], indicating
that more suitable alternatives have to be 4. RESULTS
applied [4].
Investigations on interface fracture behaviour of
Also, it must be considered that G is different adhesively bonded composites with innovative
from that in G (fracture energy). This is often newly adopted test methods introduced by [4]
neglected in literature and leads to errors and lead to interesting insights of understanding the
confusion in fracture energy terminology and its relationship of strength, stiffness and toughness
applications [4]. As a conclusion, the separation of adhesive composites. Correlating these three
law of interface can be described by measuring engineering parameters, valuable statements in
the specific fracture energy GF, which can be terms of finding the benchmark of choosing the
regarded as resistance against crack growth [4]. best adhesive/adherend combination can be
This can be used for all three modes of cracking made. This can be viewed in figure 7, where six
[5]. different industrial adhesive candidates for
mode I loading named A, B, C, D, E and F are
illustrated. There, spherical colourful
demonstration helps to identify their fracture
stability tendency accompanied by strength-
stiffness relationship.

Symposium on Innovations in
Dr. Martin BRANDTNER-HAFNER Adhesives and their Applications
Fracture Mechanics Professional Munich, Germany, February 14-15, 2017

if the tensile strength has been exceeded and

cracks were already initiated. Turning to figure
8a, strength distributions for mode I,II and III
loading can be found in terms of coloured bar
There, RV stands for “composite strength”
accounting for both normal and shear stress,
respectively. Likewise, is also accomplished for
specific fracture energy GF describing the crack
propagation resistance for all three separation
modes (also shown in figure 8b).

Figure 7: Strength-stiffness distribution for mode I loading


As a conclusion, it can be stated that not strength

and stiffness (described by the Young’s modulus)
is the ultimate engineering design parameter,
but the resistance against crack propagation
(described by specific fracture energy GF).

Contrarily to the major opinion of common

engineering practice, from the author’s point of
view it is not very constructive just to rely on two b
classical mechanic parameters such as tensile
strength and Young’s modulus alone. Not only
they lack on dealing with non-linearity effects
involved with cracking, they do not take into
account fracture toughness, fracture sensitivity
and fracture stability. Following this thought,
table 2 illustrates the candidates shown in figure
7 above in terms of fracture stability tendency,
whereas the size of sphere represents the
fracture resistance and the colour the fracture
stability tendency according to [15]. Figure 8: GF & Rv distribution for mode I/II/III [4].

Table 2: Fracture stability of composites [4]

Adhesive Fracture stability tendency
Candidate According to findings described above, it can be
E, F Uncritical (green) concluded that for adhesively bonded
composites it is recommended to focus on
B Semi-critical (yellow)
bonding systems based upon 1-K Polyurethane.
A, D, C Critical (red) This is because fracture toughness and
resistance are far higher than for Acrylate or
Summarising that, it is suggested to prefer Acrylonitrile based adhesives.
adhesive systems such as E and F in order to The key finding of this study therefore is to focus
obtain high fracture resistance and thus achieve on bonding systems leading to a maximum
a low risk of growing cracks become fracture resistance in terms of high GF values.
propagating. It is very important for the whole Comparing both strength as well as fracture
component structure to prevent instable collapse property results for mode I/II/III loading from

Symposium on Innovations in
Dr. Martin BRANDTNER-HAFNER Adhesives and their Applications
Fracture Mechanics Professional Munich, Germany, February 14-15, 2017

figure 8, it is noticeable that both properties may setting introduced by [4] on adhesively bonded
often oppose each other. This means, that high composites.
tensile strength does not automatically lead to
high fracture resistance and vice versa. As a final statement, more future emphasis
should be laid on establishing a global fracture
This remarkable effect is throwing new light into mechanical standard for industrial adhesives
preconceived opinions namely “the higher the and bonded composites in order to obtain clear
bonding strength the better the adhesive”. results so that the cracking behaviour could be
As this is not true in terms of cracking behaviour, addressed more realistically.
prevailing dogmas in engineering should be
forced to be corrected by generating a “fracture
mechanical conscience” in the design and ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
material selection process.
This paper is based upon the doctoral thesis of
6. SUMMARY the author Martin Brandtner-Hafner [4]. As this
thesis is currently restricted due to patent
Summarising the findings, following conclusions applications, no further detailed information on
can be drawn by the author: the test setup can be given.

1) Conventional material parameters, such as For the interested reader, further information
tensile strength, Young’s modulus, etc. are can be requested directly by the author by e-mail
not sufficient for characterising material at or via web at
behaviour of industrial adhesives.
2) Pull-out tests [1,2] are not appropriate to
describe cracking behaviour of industrial
adhesives and bonded composites. REFERENCES
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Symposium on Innovations in
Dr. Martin BRANDTNER-HAFNER Adhesives and their Applications
Fracture Mechanics Professional Munich, Germany, February 14-15, 2017

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