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Computers and Structures 80 (2002) 2167–2175


Crippling analysis of composite stringers

based on complete unloading method
Jin-Hwe Kweon *,1

School of Transport Vehicle Engineering, Gyeongsang National University, Chinju, Kyongnam 660-701, South Korea
Received 2 October 2000; accepted 4 July 2002

This paper addresses a nonlinear finite element method for the crippling analysis of composite laminated stringers.
For the finite element modeling, a nine-node laminated shell element based on the first order shear deformation theory
is used. Failure-induced stiffness degradation is simulated by the complete unloading method. A modified arc-length
algorithm is incorporated in the nonlinear finite element method to trace the post-failure equilibrium path after a local
buckling. Finite element results show excellent agreement with those of previous experiment. A parametric study is
performed to assess the effect of the flange-width, web-height, and stacking sequence on the buckling, local buckling,
and crippling stresses of stringers.
Ó 2002 Civil-Comp Ltd. and Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Composite stringer; Local buckling; Crippling stress; Arc-length method

1. Introduction In the composite stringers, the crippling phenomenon

is much more complicated due to the susceptibility of the
When a stringer made of thin flange and web is composite materials to delamination and the brittle-
loaded in compression, a local buckling of the flange or failure mechanism [1]. Accordingly, the method recom-
web occurs prior to the global buckling or compressive mended to evaluate the crippling stress of the composite
catastrophic failure. The local buckling might induce a stringers has been the actual experiment. Although
geometric failure such as the flexural or torsional/flex- several investigations based on the finite element method
ural buckling in the region. Once the flange or web is [1–4] have been conducted, the effect of the progressive
locally buckled and experiences the geometric failure, stiffness degradation after a local failure was not in-
the straight flange/web interface must resist additional cluded in the studies. Accordingly, the motivation of this
load instead of the buckled web or flange. This addi- study is to investigate the feasibility of using the finite
tional load accelerates the local failure at the interface element method that incorporates such effect for deter-
and thus degrades the structural strength resisting the mination of the crippling stress of the composite
compression. As the result, the stringer collapses at the stringers.
much lower stress level than the material strength. This To solve the crippling problem by the finite element
is called the crippling. The crippling failure of the me- method, post-buckling and post-failure analyses are re-
tallic stringer with thin webs is initiated from the ma- quired. The nonlinear finite element formulation for the
terial yielding at the corner region. post-buckling analysis of composite shell, by Jun and
Hong [5], can be adopted for this crippling analysis
of stringers. As for the progressive failure analysis,
various stiffness degradation methods have been pre-
Tel.: +82-55-751-6104; fax: +82-55-757-5622. sented [6–9]. In the elastic–perfectly plastic model [6], it
E-mail address: jhkweon@gsnu.ac.kr (J.-H. Kweon). is assumed that the stiffness component corresponding
Research Center for Aircraft Parts Technology. to failure mode drops to zero, but not the stress. The

0045-7949/02/$ - see front matter Ó 2002 Civil-Comp Ltd. and Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 0 4 5 - 7 9 4 9 ( 0 2 ) 0 0 2 7 2 - 9
2168 J.-H. Kweon / Computers and Structures 80 (2002) 2167–2175

most conservative model is the complete unloading length method is introduced. The finite element method
model [7] assuming that the stress and stiffness compo- is validated via comparing with the existing experimental
nents corresponding to the failure mode are completely result [2]. A parametric study to evaluate the effects of
unloaded. Another model [8] includes a stiffness degra- the flange-width, web-height, and stacking sequence on
dation factor determined by experiment. In the method the crippling and local buckling stresses of Z-section
by Chang and Chang [9], the stiffness is degraded in stringer is also performed.
conjunction with strain. Among these, a conservative
stiffness degradation model is generally recommended.
Accordingly, the complete unloading model [7] seems to
2. Finite element formulation
be attractive for the description of stiffness degradation
because it provides the most conservative estimate of the
2.1. Finite element equation
post-failure residual stiffness.
For geometrically nonlinear analysis, the arc-length
The nine-node laminated shell element shown in Fig.
method has been most widely used. However, the
1 is used for the finite element idealization of the com-
conventional arc-length method [10,11] was introduced
posite stringers. The updated Lagrangian incremental
initially for the post-buckling analysis without consid-
description method is used for the nonlinear formula-
eration of failure, and it may not work well when the
tion. Green strain and second Piola–Kirchhoff stress
stiffness degradation is involved. Indeed, a previous
tensors are applied to the formulation. The general
study [12] on the post-failure analysis showed that the
nonlinear finite element equation for the composite
conventional arc-length method must be modified when
laminated shell structures at an arbitrary ðn þ 1Þst
the complete unloading model is employed.
equilibrium state is as follows [13]:
In this study, the crippling behavior of Z-section
graphite/epoxy composite stringer is investigated by the
ð½KL  þ ½KNL ÞfDug ¼ f DP g ð1Þ
nonlinear finite element method based on the updated
Lagrangian formulation. For the finite element model,
nine-node laminated shell elements are used with the In Eq. (1), the vector fDug is the incremental displace-
first order shear deformation theory. For the stiffness ment vector. The matrices ½KL  and ½KNL , and the un-
degradation after the initial failure, complete unloading balanced force vector fDP g are given as follows:
model is implemented into the finite element method. To Z Z Z
trace the equilibrium path after the abrupt relieving of ½KL  ¼ ½BnL T ½Dn ½BnL  dV ð2Þ
stress corresponding to the failure mode, a modified arc- Vn

Fig. 1. Nine-node laminated shell element.

J.-H. Kweon / Computers and Structures 80 (2002) 2167–2175 2169
 n T h n i n  causes numerical difficulty when using the arc-length
½KNL  ¼ BNL r BNL dV ð3Þ
Vn method.
Among the various failure criteria, the maximum
Z Z Z stress method is used as the criterion, because it is based
 n T n  
fDP g ¼ BL fr g dV F nþ1 ð4Þ on the clearly identifiable failure modes. This criterion is
Vn applied to the stress averaged over each layer of each
where the matrices ½KL  and ½KNL  are the linear and
nonlinear components of the tangent stiffness matrix of 2.3. Numerical method for complete unloading failure
the structure, respectively. The matrices ½BnL  and ½BnNL  model
are the strain–displacement relation matrix and strain–
differential displacement relation matrix based on the The difference between the present modified arc-
nth equilibrium state, respectively. The detailed expres- length scheme and the conventional one is the method to
sions of these two matrices are given in Ref. [13]. The determine the arc-length. In the present method, the
matrix ½Dn  is the stress–strain relation matrix of com- effect of the deformation by failure is considered when
posite shell structures in the global coordinate system. determining the arc-length. This effect is not included in
The stress vector frn g and the stress matrix ½
rn  are given the conventional arc-length method. The modified arc-
in the same reference. fF g is external load vector. length algorithm is summarized as follows.
Eq. (1) can be rewritten in terms of the incremen-
tal load-parameter, Dknþ1 at an arbitrary ðn þ 1Þst iter-
2.2. Stiffness degradation ation:

½KT fDunþ1 g ¼ fDP ðkn Þg þ Dknþ1 fF0 g ð5Þ

The numerical method to degrade the stiffness of the
failed element is based on the complete unloading model
[7]. According to the model, the stress and stiffness
components corresponding to the failure mode of each  n T n
layer are assumed to be completely unloaded as shown fDP ðkn Þg ¼ BL fr g dV þ kn fF0 g ð6Þ
in Fig. 2. This stiffness degradation method is well suited
for the brittle materials like the graphite/epoxy com- Dknþ1 ¼ knþ1 kn ð7Þ
posite with the negligible plastic deformation. This
model also provides the most conservative estimate for In Eq. (5), ½KT  is the tangent stiffness matrix of the
the post-failure load-carrying capacity of the structure. structure. The incremental displacement vector for the
However, the discontinuity in equilibrium path at the ðn þ 1Þst iteration is calculated by Eq. (8):
failure point where the stress abruptly drops to zero
fDunþ1 g ¼ fDunþ1 ðkn Þg þ Dknþ1 fuT g ð8Þ

fDunþ1 ðkn Þg ¼ ½KT  1 fDP ðkn Þg ð9Þ

fuT g ¼ ½KT  1 fF0 g ð10Þ

The total deformation occurred for a given load step

can be written by
fDt unþ1 g ¼ fDt un g þ fDunþ1 g ð11Þ

The magnitude of total deformation during the load

step is determined by the arc-length, Dl:
Dl ¼ fDt ugT fDt ug ð12Þ

From Eqs. (8), (11) and (12), the incremental load-

parameter, Dknþ1 , is calculated as follows:
j 1=2 k.
Dknþ1 ¼ Y
Y 2 4XZ 2X ð13Þ
Fig. 2. Schematic diagram for stiffness degradation models.
2170 J.-H. Kweon / Computers and Structures 80 (2002) 2167–2175

X ¼ fuT gT fuT g
Y ¼ 2½fDt un g þ fDunþ1 ðkn ÞgT fuT g
Z ¼ ½fDt un g þ fDunþ1 ðkn ÞgT ½fDt un g þ fDunþ1 ðkn Þg

Of the two solutions of Eq. (13), the one that gives a

positive value to fDt unþ1 gT fDt un g is taken as the solution
to prevent backtrack.
The difference of the present method comes from the
stiffness degradation method for the progressive failure
analysis. In the present method, the stress components
are compared to the allowable values when the conver-
gence has been achieved after iterations, and the stress Fig. 3. Stringer geometry and boundary conditions.
and stiffness components are excluded instantaneously if
a failure is detected. Therefore, if failure occurs at a load on the local buckling and crippling stresses are exam-
step, corresponding unbalanced force arises due to the ined. To validate the finite element analysis, experi-
stress unloading, and consequently affects the deforma- mental results by Wieland et al. [2] were used. Material
tion at the next load step. For the post-failure analysis, properties of AS4/3502 graphite/epoxy composites are:
the effect of the deformation due to the failure-induced E1 ¼ 128 GPa, E2 ¼ 11:3 GPa, G12 ¼ 6:00 GPa, m12 ¼
unbalanced force should be considered when determin- 0:3, XT ¼ XC ¼ 1447 MPa, YT ¼ 51:7 MPa, YC ¼ 206
ing the arc-length. For the incremental load-parameter MPa, S ¼ 93:1 MPa. Finite element meshes were deter-
in Eq. (13) to have a real solution, the arc-length must mined through the mesh convergence test. A stringer
allow the deformation corresponding to the failure- with the flange-width, bf ¼ 31:8 mm, the web-height,
induced unbalanced force to occur. Otherwise, Eq. (13) bw ¼ 44:5 mm, and the length, L ¼ 254 mm is divided by
cannot have a real solution. It means that not only the 16 elements along the cross-section and 20 elements
upper limit but also the lower limit of the arc-length along the length.
should be defined for the post-failure analysis. In the In this case, Poisson effect couples the in-plane load
conventional arc-length method, the algorithm to set the and the out-of-plane deflection. Therefore, initial de-
minimum arc-length is not considered. flection to induce the local buckling is not required. The
In the present method, when a failure is detected by crippling and local buckling stresses are determined by
the failure criteria, the failure-induced unbalanced force the load–deflection curve as shown in Fig. 4.
vector, fDPF g, is calculated. Subsequently, the dis-
placement vector, fDuF g, due to the force and the arc-
length, DlF , corresponding to the displacement vector
are calculated as follows:
fDuF g ¼ ½KT  1 fDPF g ð15Þ
DlF ¼ fDuF gT fDuF g ð16Þ

The arc-length determined by Eq. (16) provides the

lower limit of the arc-length. If no failure occurs, then
DlF and DuF would be zero. This simple modification of
the conventional method is critical for the post-failure
analysis based on the complete unloading model.

3. Problem description

Geometry of the stringer is shown in Fig. 3. The

stringer is clamped at the loaded edges and free along
the side edges. Stacking sequences are [
h/0/90]S . Effects
of the flange-width, bf , web-height, bw , and fiber angle, h Fig. 4. Determination of local buckling and crippling stresses.
J.-H. Kweon / Computers and Structures 80 (2002) 2167–2175 2171

4. Results and discussion

4.1. Validation of finite element analysis

Present finite element results are compared with the

previous experimental results reported by Wieland et al.
[2]. Experiments were conducted for the stringers with
various geometries by altering the flange-width, web-
height, and length. Geometry of the stringers and the
comparison data are given in Tables 1 and 2, respec-
tively. In the compression test, the results are affected by
such factors as the geometric and material imperfec-
tions, loading miss-alignment, and inaccuracy of the
fiber angle. These factors were not included in this anal-
ysis. Nevertheless, the deviation of the finite element
results from the averaged experimental values is within
13% for the buckling stress and 10.3% for the crippling
stress. The result demonstrates the present finite element
algorithm can be effectively used to calculate the crip-
pling stress of the graphite/epoxy composite stringers.
Fig. 5 shows the load vs. end-shortening curves of the Fig. 5. Load vs. end-shortening curves by FEM and experi-
stringer by the finite element analysis and experiment ment.
when both the normalized flange-width, bf =L and the
normalized web-height, bw =L are 0.125. Finite element
analyses are conducted both for a stringer with and considered is 12% greater than when it is not considered.
without consideration of the potted area. From the finite Generally, since the end shortening is not of interest to
element results, it is observed that the potted area does the design engineers, the potted area can be excluded
not affect the local buckling and crippling stresses. The when comparing the finite element and experimental
end shortening to the crippling when the potted area is results.

Table 1 4.2. Buckling and local buckling stress

Geometry of the tested stringers
No. bf (mm) bw (mm) r (mm) Area (mm2 ) L (mm) A parametric study to evaluate the effect of the
111s 31.8 44.5 3.175 110.0 254 flange-width on the local, global, and local/global in-
121s 25.4 44.5 3.175 96.8 254 teraction buckling stresses of the Z-section stringers was
131s 19.1 44.5 3.175 83.9 152 conducted by changing the normalized flange-width,
141s 12.7 44.5 3.175 71.0 152 bf =L, from 0 to 0.125 with increment of 0.025. A smaller
211s 31.8 31.8 3.175 96.8 254 increment of 0.0125 is used when the buckling stresses
221s 25.4 31.8 3.175 83.9 254 are varying drastically. Stacking sequence considered is
231s 19.1 31.8 3.175 71.0 152 [
45/0/90]S . Buckling or local buckling stress distribu-
241s 12.7 31.8 3.175 58.1 152 tion of the stringers is given in Fig. 6.

Table 2
Crippling and local buckling stresses of [
45/0/90]S stringers by finite element analysis and experiment
No. Buckling stress (MPa) Crippling stress (MPa)
FEM Exp. aver. Error (%) FEM Exp. aver. Error (%)
111s 47.8 43.9 9.2 153.1 152.4 0.6
121s 69.6 61.9 13.0 177.9 175.1 1.7
131s 106.9 100.0 6.6 198.6 180.0 10.3
141s 131.7 118.6 11.2 214.4 197.9 8.4
211s 50.1 45.7 9.5 174.4 185.5 )4.6
221s 75.2 67.5 11.4 200.6 206.2 )2.6
231s 128.9 118.6 8.9 245.5 226.1 8.5
241s 219.3 202.0 8.8 262.7 251.7 4.5
2172 J.-H. Kweon / Computers and Structures 80 (2002) 2167–2175

plate with free side edges. Initial buckling occurs in

the global buckling mode as shown in Fig. 7(a), and the
buckling stress is low. As the flange-width increases, the
global buckling stress increases due to the increase in
the bending moment of inertia of the stringer. However,
as the flange-width becomes larger, the constraint caused
by the web has less effect. Consequently, the local buck-
ling stress of the flange becomes lower. For the stringers
with intermediate flange-width, the global buckling of
the stringer and the local buckling of the flange are
coupled as shown in Fig. 7(b). In this case of the local/
global interaction buckling, the initial buckling stress
is higher than the local buckling stress of the flange or
the global buckling stress of the whole structure. When
the Z-section stringer has a flange-width to length ratio
higher than 0.075, the local buckling of the flange occurs
in the form of plate buckling. Corresponding boundary
conditions can be assumed to be simply supported along
the flange/web interface and free along the other edge.
Therefore, local buckling of the flange occurs at a much
Fig. 6. Effect of flange-width on buckling stress. lower stress level than that of the global buckling or
compression catastrophic failure. As shown in Fig. 7(c)
and (d), the flange/web interface of the stringer is still
The figure shows that the buckling stress of the almost straight with little out-of-plane displacement
stringer is very sensitive to the flange-width variation, even after the local buckling.
and attains the maximum value when the normalized Effect of the web-height on the initial buckling stress
flange-width, bf =L, is about 0.05. The buckling stress is is shown in Fig. 8. Except when the ratio of flange-width
also related to the buckling mode shape. When the ratio, to length is 0.05, which shows the combined mode of the
bf =L, is smaller than 0.025, the bending moment of in- local and global buckling, the buckling stress is not
ertia is very small and the stringer behaves like a simple sensitive to the variation of the web-height. Judging

Fig. 7. Post-buckling deformed shapes ðbw =L ¼ 0:175Þ.

J.-H. Kweon / Computers and Structures 80 (2002) 2167–2175 2173

Fig. 8. Effect of web-height on buckling stress. Fig. 10. Comparison of buckling and crippling stresses.

from the results for the buckling stress of the Z-section initial buckling stress shown in Fig. 6 has the maximum
stringer, it appears that the buckling stress is maximum value at bf =L ¼ 0:05, and decreases drastically as the
when bf =L ¼ 0:05, bw =L ¼ 0:1. The corresponding flange-width to length ratio increases or decreases.
buckling mode indicates the local/global interaction. However, the crippling stress of the stringer with bf =L
larger than 0.05 is not as sensitive as the local buckling
4.3. Crippling stress stress, and does not drop as rapidly as the flange-width
increases. On the contrary, the strength of the stringers
Effect of the flange-width on the crippling stress and with the ratio bf =L smaller than 0.05 and larger than
compression strength after buckling is shown in Fig. 9. 0.025, shows the similar results to the initial buckling
When the ratio of flange-width to length, bf =L, is larger stresses. In this region, the strength means the ultimate
than 0.05, the crippling stress distribution shows some failure stress after the local/global interaction buck-
difference from that of the initial buckling stress. The ling. The strength of a stringer, with the bf =L ratio
smaller than 0.025, is almost identical to the initial
global buckling stress. A comparison between the initial
buckling stress and crippling or post-buckling com-
pression strength is given in Fig. 10. This result shows
that even if the stringer exhibiting global buckling may
have a high initial buckling stress, the buckling directly
leads to the catastrophic failure.
This can also be shown by the load–deflection curves
in Fig. 11. In the figure, the abbreviation RMS means
root mean square. The load–deflection curves of the
stringers with small flange-width (bf =L ¼ 0:05, 0.025)
have almost zero gradient after the initial buckling point
and cannot recover the load-carrying capability after
bifurcation. On the contrary, the stringers with wide
flange-width (bf =L ¼ 0:075, 0.1, 0.125) resist additional
compression load after the local buckling. In the case of
bf =L ¼ 0:125, the crippling stress is more than three
times the local buckling stress. In the practical design of
the airframe, the stringer with wide flange exhibiting the
local buckling and the crippling is frequently used. Ac-
cordingly, it is necessary to accurately determine the
Fig. 9. Effect of flange-width on crippling stress. crippling stress of the stringers for the weight saving.
2174 J.-H. Kweon / Computers and Structures 80 (2002) 2167–2175

Fig. 11. Effect of flange-width on load–deflection curve. Fig. 13. Effect of stacking sequence on buckling and crippling

buckling and crippling stresses are evaluated for [

90]S stringer with bf =L ¼ 0:075 and bw =L ¼ 0:125. The
fiber orientation, h is varied with the increment of 15°
from 0° to 90°. As shown in the figure, the local buckling
and crippling stresses attain the maximum values when
h ¼ 45°. The overall trend of the crippling stress is
similar to that of the local buckling stress. As expected,
the crippling and local buckling stresses are sensitive to
the fiber angle variation. However, the effect is not as
pronounced as that of the flange-width. In general, the
mechanical behavior of the composite laminated struc-
ture is largely dependent on the fiber orientation or
stacking sequence. However, the parametric study shows
that the major factor affecting the crippling and local
buckling stresses of the composite stringer is the flange-

5. Conclusions
Fig. 12. Effect of web-height on crippling stress.
A finite element method based on the progressive
Effect of the web-height on the crippling stress is gi- stiffness degradation technique was presented to char-
ven in Fig. 12. As in the case of initial buckling stress, acterize the crippling behavior of the composite string-
the crippling stress is less sensitive to the change of the ers. The finite element results were compared to the
web-height as compared with the effect of the flange- existing experimental data for the validation, and good
width. Although the effect of the web-height is depen- correlations were observed for the crippling and initial
dent on the flange-width, the stringers with bw =L ¼ 0:1 buckling stresses. The results of the parametric study
exhibit the highest crippling stresses. showed that the main factor affecting the crippling and
local buckling behavior of Z-section stringer is the
4.4. Effect of stacking sequence flange-width and not the web-height. While the stringers
with wide flange-width experience the local buckling and
The results of the parametric study to assess the effect crippling, the stringers with small flange-width experi-
of altering the stacking sequence upon the local buckling ence the global or local/global interaction buckling and
and crippling stresses are presented in Fig. 13. Local the buckling-induced collapse.
J.-H. Kweon / Computers and Structures 80 (2002) 2167–2175 2175

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