Impacts to fibrous composite laminates by objects with low velocities can break fibers giving cracklike damage. The damage may not extend completely through a thick laminate. The tension strength of these damaged laminates is reduced much as is that of cracked metals. The fracture toughness depends on fiber and matrix properties, fiber orientations, and stacking sequence. Accordingly, a parametric study was made to determine how fiber and matrix properties and fiber orientations affect fracture toughness and notch sensitivity. The values of fracture toughness were predicted from the elastic constants of the laminate and the failing strain of the fibers using a general fracture toughness parameter developed previously. For a variety of laminates, values of fracture toughness from tests of center-cracked specimens and values of residual strength from tests of thick laminates with surface cracks were compared to the predictions to give credibility to the study. In contrast to the usual behavior of metals, it is shown that both ultimate tensile strength and fracture toughness of composites can be increased without increasing notch sensitivity, and that laminates with surface cracks can fail in two stages, giving some degree of redundancy.

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