Predicting material failure is always a challenge, especially when it comes to composites and advanced materials. There are plenty of theories that try to provide a numerical approach to solve this complex problem, such as Maximum Stress/Strain Theories, Hashin, Tsai-Hill or Tsai-Wu. Although all of them brought something valuable to the table, some of them don’t seem to be that precise when accurate results are needed. In these terms, Tsai-Wu is my least favourite criterion and I’ll explain the reasons for that.

First of all, Tsai-Wu is an interactive failure criterion for composite materials. This means that the theory takes into account the interaction of different stress components in order to predict failure. Basically, the criterion uses equation 1 (subjected to the condition given by equation 2) to calculate an index and, if its value is one, then it means the material is failing. Please note that i,j=1,2,…,6, where subindices 1 to 3 represent normal stress components and 4 to 6 are shear stress components. In the original publication, authors explain how the different coefficient can be determined through experimental tests (e.g. compression, tension, biaxial…). So far, so good.

Problems start when people adapt this approach to introduce failure in Finite Element (FE) analyses. This theory does not include any damage evolution, so if you define failure as soon as the index reaches 1, then elements will be deleted from the model straight away. To be fair, if you are just trying to get estimations for composites, this is not that bad, since they are supposed to fail as soon as they reach a certain level of stress. The main issue is when users use this interactive failure criterion for other materials. For example, for a three dimensional case, equation 1 can be rewritten as follows:

Now consider a material which has similar strengths in the 3-principal axes and assume that the positive and negative shear strengths are equal. Then, using the expressions from equation 4 (where the parameters represent the tensile, compressive and shear strengths), we know that: F1=F2=F3; F11=F22=F33; F4=F5=F6=0; F44=F55=F66.

There are an infinite number of ways to determine the interactive coefficients so, how do we solve this problem? Some people suggests biaxial tests but another effective way to overcome this issue is to make the following assumption (as suggested in literature):

Firstly, this assumption satisfies the stability condition (equation 2) and secondly, it proves to be quite satisfactory for composite materials. Generalising this idea, we find the following:

Okay, so now consider that our material exhibits an elastic-perfectly plastic behaviour in compression. This would mean that the specimen should keep deforming under constant load after the yield (or maximum) compressive stress was reached. Hence, the criterion would predict failure once that value was reached, and no plastification prior to failure would be considered. For instance, consider uniaxial compression once the yield stress is reached, as shown in Figure 1:

Using all the equations which were introduced before, we have:

Therefore, in FEA elements would be deleted after that point, whereas in reality we would expect the material to keep deforming. That being said, more problems appear in cases where the structure is subjected to mixed loading conditions, since the criterion would then predict premature failure.

This post does not intend to state categorically that this theory is useless, that is not what I mean at all! But lately I have seen companies offering FE services using this type of approach, not taking into account that the material under consideration might not be compatible with the assumptions made for this criterion. I just needed to highlight this bad practice that I’ve noticed, so sorry if I’ve offended anyone!