Tag Archives: Engineering

About Tsai-Wu failure criterion

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.


Equation 1


Equation 2

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:


Equation 3

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.


Equation 4

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):


Equation 5

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:


Equation 6

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:


Figure 1

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


Equation 7

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!

What is the aim of the front wing in a F1 car?

Have you ever wondered why Formula 1 cars have those extremely complex front wings? Some people may think that these structures are only there for producing downforce, but in reality their function goes beyond that. Do you want to find out more? Well, here’s your chance!

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet Craig Scarborough during one of his pesentations about Formula 1 at Cranfield University (United Kingdom). For those who are not familiar with that name, Mr Scarborough is a well known expert in motorsport and, just so you know, he’s quite a celebrity on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn…), where he usually shares top quality information about racing and the engineering behind it.

Yesterday, I contacted him after watching his latest video for motorsport.com in which he discusses the function of a front wing with Willem Toet, one of the best aerdynamicist in the world. They use a 3D airflow animation in order to illustrate how the wing of the McLaren MCL-32 works. After asking for his approval, Mr Scarborough was kind enough to give me permission to share the video with the audience of Engineering Breakdown, so here it is! I hope you enjoy it!

(Please note that in order to watch the videos, you need to reproduce them on Youtube, following the instructions).

Formula 1 interview: Dr Nicholas Brown

Let me introduce you to Dr Nicholas Brown, one of the Composite Design Engineers at McLaren Racing and former EngD at the University of Surrey. It was a real pleasure having a conversation with him at the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking, UK. We covered different topics about what is like to work at the top level of automotive engineering, including some tips for getting where he is now! Enjoy it!

First of all, I’d like to say how grateful I am to have you here, since I know you are extremely busy at the moment. Thank you for your time and your kindness. And now, let’s get started. Can you tell us a bit about your background?

So I did my masters first in engineering at Loughborough University; that was Aeronautical Engineering. I spent five years up there and did a placement year as well. So my placement year was with an aerospace electronic sort of warfare defense company, but I was doing more of the support work reliability team and things like that, writing general reports… Didn’t really do anything fancy, so I came out of there not wanting to do that and not really wanting to go on a graduate scheme. Then I had a year just between jobs and then the EngD came up, so I chose to do the EngD that as you know is a great opportunity. And then towards the end of it I was looking for more job roles and one came up at McLaren Racing as a Design Engineer, which implied using my composites knowledge for a more applied role. There are research aspects as well, but it’s mainly applying my knowledge. That was about a year and a half ago and now I’m still here! It’s quite fun! It’s good to apply all the things you know. As I said we do research up there but it is completely different to the research I did as an EngD.

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How to solve a Finite Element problem using hand calculations

Basically, when we want to determine the forces and displacements in a certain structure using Finite Element Analysis (FEA), what we are doing is creating a system of equations that relates the stiffness of the elements to the displacements and forces in each node. When we run a simulation, we do not see all the calculations. For that reason, today I want to illustrate a simple case that can be easily solved by hand applying that methodology.

Before getting started, just think of a spring. Everyone has come across the Hooke’s law at a certain point during school. It states that the force in the spring is proportional to a constant “k” multiplied by the variation in length of the spring. FEA follows the same principle, but in this case the “k” constant is the stiffness matrix and the variation in length is a vector of displacements and rotations, depending on the case.

Let’s study a simple static case. Our structure consists of two bar elements connected at a common node, where a load “P” is applied. The other two nodes have both horizontal and vertical displacements constrained (see the boundary conditions). For this particular case, the reactions in nodes 1 and 3 and the displacements of node 2 are requested. I have solved the problem by hand following a few steps that, based on my experience, can be generalised for more complex problems. Pretty much, the summary of the methodology is: Read more

Things to take into account when making your own convertible car

Last February I participated in the Young Persons’ Lecture Competition, organised by IOM3. In particular, the local heat took place at the University of Surrey. I want to share with you the transcript of my presentation. I have to say that I tried to present a quite complex topic in a very simple way so that anybody without  an engineering background could follow it. Hope you enjoy it!

Abstract: What would happen if you removed the roof of your car? First of all, you would have a convertble vehicle to enjoy that one sunny day we have in England. Second and most importantly, you would probably be the bravest person on earth. Driving on a bad road or even going over a speed bump could have dramatic results. Using simple engineering concepts, logic and a shoe box you will be able to understand why that could happen ad how automotive companies overcome this issue.

Let’s start from the beginning. What is Strength of Materials? It is the science that studies the behaviour of solid objects when they are subjected to stresses and strains. So, first question: what kind of objects? Basically we can have 1D, 2D and… Exactly! 3D elements! Some examples could be a bar (1D), a shell or a plate (2D) and a hexaedron (3D). For this particular topic, I’m going to focus on 2D elements, since the body panels of a car can be considered as very thin shells assembled together.

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Mechanics of composites

A while ago, I wrote a simple document for undergraduates in order to explain that composite materials can fail in different ways. This was created as a high level document which could be used to find useful references with regards to failure modes, basic failure criteria and damage propagation models. I wanted to share this with you in case you are new in this field or just if you simply want to learn some basics of composites!

A composite can be defined as a material which is composed of two or more constituents of different chemical properties, with resultant properties different to those of the individual components. They usually consist of a continuous phase (matrix) and a distributed phase (reinforcement). These reinforcements can be fibrous, particulate or lamellar and they are usually stiff and strong, so that they are responsible for providing the stiffness and the strength of the composite. On the other hand, the matrix provides shear strength, toughness and resistance to the environment.

Fibre reinforced composites are considered as the strongest and sometimes also the stiffest, due to:

  • Alignment of molecules or structural elements.
  • Very fine structures.
  • Elimination of defects.
  • Unique structures.
  • Statistical factors.

With regards to fibre reinforced composite materials, their main failure modes are:

  • Fibre failure induced by tension in fibre direction.
  • Fibre failure induced by compression in fibre direction.
  • Matrix fracture induced by tension.
  • Matrix fracture induced by compression.
  • Delamination

It is remarkable that fibre failure typically caused composite failure, whereas matrix failure may not cause the same drastic effect. Read more

Geneva International Motor Show 2017

Last month I travelled to Geneva (Switzerland) in order to attend the most important motor show of the year and here you will find some of the best pictures that I took during the event.

IMG_1325For those of you who are not familiar with the automotive world, I should start this post by stating that during the year there are several events known as “motor shows”, where Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) exhibit their new vehicles and technologies. Since not all OEMs go to every event, there are some motor shows which are flagged in every calendar due to their relevance in terms of the companies and public that will be attending. In these terms, the Geneva International Motor Show is considered as the most important event of the year, followed by Frankfurt.

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