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Construction and Building Materials 13 1999.


Experimentation, numerical simulation and the role of

engineering judgement in the fracture mechanics of concrete
and concrete structures
J.G.M. van Mier U , M.R.A. van Vliet
Delft Uni ersity of Technology, Faculty of Ci il Engineering and Geo-Sciences, M2L Laboratory, P.O. Box 5048, 2600 GA Delft,
The Netherlands

Fracture mechanics plays a role in both structural engineering and materials engineering. The aim here is to improve
understanding of the behaviour of structures and materials in the limit state. The use of numerical models can help improve the
accuracy of our designs, but only if the certainty about material models improves. The models tend to become more detailed as
the performance of computers increases. However, the question is, will this increased amount of detail help to improve our
understanding, and improve the reliability of the numerical models. These questions are addressed in this paper. It is shown that
through increasing the amount of detail, certain phenomena may be observed that seem to correspond to limits that are reached
in practice as well. The example given is the limit reached when trying to fill a plane with circular aggregates. Next it is shown
that certain fracture behaviours of concrete can be simulated, be it that a virtual world is created. The role of the experiment is
evident. Another role for the experiment is in the development of bench-mark problems in structural engineering. These
benchmarks also serve to improve the quality of numerical models. Q 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Fracture mechanics; Structural engineering; Materials engineering; Numerical lattice model

1. Introduction
Mechanics is a tool which is required to predict
structural behaviour!? In using the tool, the real structure must be schematised, and assumptions made about
supports and possible critical loading cases. However,
based on earlier structural work, some experience is
needed in order to decide how the structure is to be
modelled, and which loading cases should be addressed. This means that before the new structure is
designed, the engineer has, first as an apprentice, but
later as a responsible craftsman, been involved in other
structural designs. The process of obtaining a new
design is a creative one, and requires imagination and

Corresponding author. Tel.: q 31 15 2782868; fax: q31 15

2785895; e-mail:

insight into structural behaviour. In this process, a

knowledge of materials is also essential.
Looking to the education of structural engineers, it
seems that previously, mastering the new analysis tools
was of primary importance. For some, uncertainty and
a limited knowledge of the design process leads to a
flight in analysis techniques. The introduction of computational mechanics mainly through developments in
computer technology, paved the way for subjects such
as concrete mechanics and the like. The promise was
simple: everything can be computed because freedom
of shape and inclusion of realistic boundary conditions
in the numerical. mechanics models, e.g. finite element methods, boundary element methods, etc., has
become possible now. However, is the situation as
simple? Is it possible just to imagine a nice shape for a
bridge or a building structure, and then to feed everything into the computer and wait for the answer? Of

0950-0618r99r$ - see front matter Q 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 9 5 0 - 0 6 1 8 9 9 . 0 0 0 0 3 - 3

J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

course these questions can not be answered positively.

First there is the conceptual design, a creative design
process, and in spite of spectacular progress in computer technology, this still remains a human activity.
Overlooking the implications of a certain design decision can be judged in an instant by an experienced
engineer, but takes millions of searches using a computer-based approach; not very realistic at present. In
fact, such considerations bring us close to questions
such as, How does the mind work?, which by some
scientists is regarded as a computer as well. There is
certainly ground for research in the field of conceptual
design, as became clear for example at the IASS Conference on the topic in Stuttgart in 1996 w1x. However,
let us turn to other aspects of the problem, and consider the state of affairs when the conceptual design is
completed and the engineer must check whether the
structure can be built, and what the final dimensions of
all the structural elements would be. With the main
structural shape being defined, as well as the structural
principle, there are more certainties, and the computer
can now play a more important role. Essentially it is
still no more than a tool, a number crunchier to assist
with the computations of structures and the many
At this stage of the design process, the structure is
schematised either in one, two or three dimensions.
Supports boundary conditions. and loading cases are
defined, which form the real crux of the problem: they
are always approximations from reality. For example,
hinges are never perfect in practice but are assumed to
be frictionless in mechanics models. Uniform loads can
be defined, but in reality they never are. When heterogeneous materials like concrete or rock are used, the
material itself is the most important source of deviations from uniformity. The constitutive models represent the material of which the structure was made. The
material laws are tuned to laboratory experiments
where the boundary conditions are supposedly better
Typical experiments for measuring the mechanical
properties of a material are the uniaxial tension test,
the uniaxial compression test, different types of multiaxial compression experiments and flexural tests. In a
typical diagram of concrete, rock, or other brittle disordered materials like some non-transformable ceramics and metal matrix composites, a non-linear
stress]strain curve is measured up till a certain peak
stress is reached, after which the diagram displays a
loss of carrying capacity with increasing deformation.
This latter part of the curve is called the softening
branch. During softening, localisation of deformations
occurs. In tension this leads to a discrete crack which
separates the specimen into two halves; in compression
a shear band may develop at low confinement such
that brittle failure prevails.. Frictional stress transfer is

generally still possible in the shear band, and depending on the confining stress a lower or higher residual
stress level is measured. The pre-peak non-linearities
are caused by quasi-. stable microcrack processes, as
was for the first time demonstrated for concrete in tests
by Hsu et al. w2x.
Because the size of the critical crack in tension. and
the shear bands in compression. are of the same order
of magnitude as the characteristic specimen dimensions, new free boundaries are created which change
the problem completely. As a result, the post-peak
fracture process is affected by boundary conditions and
size effects. Thus, certainty about the true fracture
processes diminishes, and a model can be tuned only
through some inverse modelling process.
What is the way out of this paradoxical situation,
which can be formulated as follows: when for the final
check, the structural size has been decided, and details
of the structure have been figured out, it seems that
certainty about the material models evades. Before the
final stage the uncertainty about the material models
was just a single element from the complete set of
uncertainties of the entire design process, and of limited
importance. The way to proceed seems to bifurcate.
One possibility is to dive further into the materials, and
try to model the behaviour to an ever increasing degree
of detail. Microscopic processes are dealt with, which
require highly accurate experimental information that
can be obtained at large costs only. Computations at
the same detailed level require a huge computer capacity, again at increasing cost. The process seems to
correspond to the match between Achilles and the
tortoise: a never ending story, where however, the
match itself is the enjoyable part of it. The second
possibility is to revert to an engineering approach, and
to view the entire design process in the same way in the
conceptual design stage. In other words, consider the
complete system and optimise it, mostly through experience and through trial and error.
Thus, will it ever be possible to develop models for
concrete fracture with a sufficient amount of predictive
power for full-proof structural design? Can everything
be computed, or is engineering judgement just as important as anything else? These questions are a common area of debate between design and research engineers.
In this paper we will not try to solve these questions.
Rather we will focus on our ability to use numerical
models as a helpful tool to better understand the
mechanical behaviour of concrete as well as for developing constitutive equations. Moreover, the numerical
tools can be used to engineer new materials. As far as
mechanical behaviour is concerned, in particular the
fracture stage is of interest. The limit state is also of
interest to the structural engineer. For instance, the
rotational capacity of reinforced concrete structures is

J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

important as it determines the safety against sudden

collapse. This means that the full stress]strain curve of
concrete must be known, but, because of the dependency of this relation to boundary conditions and size,
the problem is not easily solved. Moreover, solving the
problem by means of numerical continuum. mechanics, brings in a wealth of numerical problems, which
might be overcome or simply avoided. when the physics
of the fracture phenomenon are incorporated in the
description of the material. Microfracturing and crack
growth are at the heart of the problem, and cause the
curvilinear shape of the stress]strain curve.
In this paper we will initially assume that everything
can be computed. More and more detail is brought in.
Immediately thereafter we will regard these matters
from the other perspective, and will argue that
knowledge of fracture mechanisms is essential to apply
fracture mechanics: an engineering approach where
judgement and intuition play a major role This seems
particularly so when we want to engineer new materials. Judgement is essential there as well, because we
are essentially facing a major design task.

2. Improving the reliability of material parameters

2.1. Numerical simulation: elasticity
Concrete is a composite material. Calculating
Youngs modulus of the composite has been attempted
for several decades. Knowledge of the phase composition of the concrete, as well as of the properties of the
separate phases, may } if thought mathematically
sound } help to compute the overall stiffness of a
representative volume element RVE.. The definition
of the RVE is important. Normally it is claimed that
when the ratio between the smallest element size and
largest material entity for example a pore, air bubble
or aggregate particle. is larger than a certain minimum
number, usually 3]5, the material can be considered as
a continuum. The simplest estimates for the composite
stiffness are obtained with a series or parallel spring
model of a two-phase model i.e. the bond zone is not
incorporated.. According to the series model, the composite stiffness of a two-phase material composed of
aggregate a. and matrix m. material is equal to
s aq m,


where Va and Vm are the volume fractions of the

aggregate and matrix phase, and Ec , Ea and Em are
Youngs moduli of the composite material, the aggregate and matrix phases. The parallel model reads as

Ec s Va Ea q Vm Em


The series and parallel models are considered as the

two extremes between which Youngs modulus of the
real composite would lie. In the 1960s see the overview
by Newman w3x., many more refined models were developed such as the Counto and Hirsch models, which are
essentially combinations of the series and parallel models. Quite well known also are the Hashin]Shtrikman
upper and lower bounds w4x. With the development of
numerical tools, the computation of Youngs modulus
of the composite can be based on the real material
structure. A technique which we have used in the
Stevin laboratory w5x, and which was based on developments in theoretical physics e.g. w6x. is the so-called
lattice model. The material is schematised as a regular
or random network of elastic, purely brittle beam elements. Earlier a similar network method was proposed
for estimating the solutions of problems in elasticity by
Hrennikoff w7x. The results presented below can also be
obtained with conventional finite element methods, for
example by means of simple triangular plane stress
elements. After generating a triangular grid of nodes,
the connectivity with beam elements truss elements
would suffice for the example as well. is made. Next the
particle structure of the concrete is described, either by
means of a probability density function of a distribution
of particles often represented by circles. in a plane, or
by means of a digital image of a planar cross-section of
a real concrete w8x. The material structure and lattice
are then superimposed on each other, and lattice elements falling in certain areas defined by the aggregate
circles are given the properties of the aggregate,
whereas the lattice elements falling in the matrix phase
are given the elastic properties of the matrix. In addition, lattice elements crossing the boundary between
aggregate and matrix are given interface properties.
This latter problem is particularly important for fracture simulations, although some effect of the interface
stiffness on the composite Youngs modulus cannot be
denied e.g. w9x.. The smaller aggregates e.g. - 1 mm.
are usually omitted because a tremendously fine lattice
would be needed to incorporate them in a calculation;
Fig. 1 demonstrates the problem. In this figure a computer-generated particle structure of concrete is shown,
and an overlay was made with a regular triangular
lattice of beam elements with a length of 0.5 and 2.0
mm, respectively w10x. For shorter beam lengths, the
shape of the aggregates is followed more precisely, but
at the cost of a rapidly expanding number of elements,
and thus with increasing computational effort. Comparison of Fig. 1b and c demonstrates that large circular
particles are transformed to irregularly shaped polygons, whereas particles smaller than the beam length
are completely missed. As a consequence the intended
particle density is reduced. Moreover, the particle den-

J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

sity was already reduced because the small particles

were omitted as well. In Table 1 and Fig. 2 the intended and effective particle densities after omission
of the small particles., and the density after the lattice
overlay are shown. As can be seen, the reduction is
quite large, in particular for very large numbers of
aggregates. The last example, Fig. 2d, was generated by
means of a computer programme developed by Stroeven
and Stroeven w11x. The other distributions were determined by means of a simple programme written by
Schlangen w8x.
Using the particle distributions of Fig. 2, as well as
another set of generated microstructures based on a
subsequent omission of aggregates of a certain size
w10x, Youngs modulus of the composite was computed.
This was done for the case where the aggregate stiffness was larger than the matrix stiffness Ea s 70 GPa
and Em s 25 GPa., as well as for the case where the
aggregate stiffness was smaller than the matrix stiffness
Ea s 10 GPa and Em s 25 GPa.. This first case would
resemble concrete made with, for instance, river gravel
as aggregate material, whereas the second case would
resemble a lightweight concrete with expanded clay
aggregates. The two sets of analyses, i.e. with composites where the aggregates of different sizes are gradually omitted and with composites where the relative
area fraction of aggregate circles of all sizes is varied
wdenoted as lattice model P k .9x, are shown in Fig.
3a,b, together with a comparison with the series and
parallel model, and an approximation following Hashin
w12x. For both composites with low and high stiffness
Table 1
Effective relative aggregate areas for different values of P k
Pk, intended
area s 80 mm2 .

grains 1 F d
F 16 mm.

after overlay.




aggregates, the computational results with the lattice

lie between the two extremes defined by the series and
parallel models. Hashins model also lies between these
two extremes, and the computational outcome comes
close to this generally accepted solution. The relative
aggregate content, which is plotted along the x-axis,
stops at almost 60%. Even with an intended aggregate
fraction P k,intended s 1.0 which would imply only aggregate particles and no matrix material., the real relative
aggregate fraction does not exceed 60%. The reason
for this is that the aggregate remains lumped in circular aggregates, and the space between the aggregates
must be filled with matrix material. If the complete
plane is to be filled with circular particles, a well
defined particle distribution, including the very small
particles all the way down to infinitely small size. must
be included. This would then lead to an exaggerated
small size of the lattice elements in order to include all
these small particles in the analysis. Clearly this is not a
realistic option. Quite remarkable is that in experiments high particle densities also can not be obtained
w13x, simply because not enough matrix is available to
fill all the gaps between the aggregates. As a consequence, porosity is introduced, which tends to reduce
the measured overall Youngs modulus, w13x. Note that
in parallel and series models it is possible to obtain
relative aggregate fractions of 100%. The two fractions
are assumed to be lumped in one element. When the
aggregate fraction is 100%, the composite has become
a continuum consisting of aggregate material only.
In conclusion, it can be stated that the choice for a
distribution of circular aggregates is the limiting factor
for obtaining composites with a high relative aggregate
fraction, at least when limits are set to the smallest
aggregate particle in the distribution. Solving the matter by means of statistical theories would not show the
problem of limiting aggregate densities. In practical
materials, including too much fine grains leads to problems in manufacturing the material in the first place. A
similarity with the numerical simulations is again that
the computation becomes too lengthy, if not impossible

Fig. 1. Computer-generated particle distribution of concrete a. with overlay of a regular triangular lattice b,c.. In b. the length of the lattice
elements is 0.5 mm, in c. the length is 2.0 mm, after Van Mier et al. w10x.

J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

Fig. 2. Four different particle distributions with variation of the fraction of rounded aggregates: P k,intended s 0.10 a., 0.40 b., 0.70 c. and 1.00
d., after Van Mier et al. w10x.

when all the small particles are included and a very

small size of the lattice elements must be selected. The
composite Youngs modulus was calculated by means
of a lattice model. However, the same fundamental
problems are encountered when plane stress elements
are used in finite element analysis.

2.2. Numerical simulation: brittleness and pattern growth

The next step that can be made with the numerical

lattice model is to try to compute the strength of a
composite. In that case, not only Youngs moduli of the

Fig. 3. Effect of aggregate content on Youngs overall modulus for the particle composites of Fig. 2. a. The case with Ea s 70 GPa and Em s 25
GPa; b. the case with Ea s 10 GPa and Em s 25 GPa, after Van Mier et al. w10x.

J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

different phases must be specified, but thresholds for

the local energy consumption when an element breaks
in the material must de defined too. As mentioned, in
1991 we developed a simple lattice model w5x based on
developments in theoretical physics w6x. In the model,
the lattice elements are Bernoulli beams, and they are
removed from the mesh as soon as the strength threshold is exceeded. In this way purely brittle fracture is
simulated, whereas the analysis remains completely
stepwise. elastic. Three examples of lattice analyses
are shown in Fig. 4. Square plates 80 mm2 . are used
containing a computer-generated particle distribution,
similar to those shown in Fig. 2. The P k,intended-values
for the three analyses that are shown here were 0.20,
0.50 and 0.80. The distribution of the lattice elements
over the three phases is shown in Table 2. The total
number of beams in the lattice was 22 114. Table 2
shows both the absolute number of elements in the
three distinct phases as well as the relative number of
beams in each phase. The bond strength was 25% of
the matrix strength, whereas the aggregate strength
was double the matrix strength. Note that for a lattice
analysis only the relative strength values are of importance w5x. The matrix and bond zone Youngs modulus
was 25 GPa, whereas for the aggregate beams Ea s 70
GPa was assumed. In Fig. 4a,b the crack patterns at
peak load Fpeak . and at a Fpeak in the descending
branch are shown, respectively. The value of a differed
slightly for the three analyses, namely a s 0.25, 0.24
and 0.19 for P k,intended s 0.20, 0.50 and 0.80, respectively. The pre-peak crack patterns Fig. 4a. show the
beams that were removed, in the post-peak crack patterns Fig. 4b. only the remaining elements are plotted
in the deformed state. In Fig. 5 the three load]deformation diagrams are shown.
The behaviour was completely different in the three
examples. At low 0.20. and middle 0.50. values of
P k,intended quite a number of bond beams must be failed
before the peak-load was reached, but after peak a
clear localised crack developed. At the lowest P k,intended ,
the aggregates are rather isolated in the matrix. Table
2 shows that only 8% of the beams are inside the
aggregates, whereas the matrix makes up 80% of the
number of beams. Seldom do particles touch or distances smaller than one lattice element between the

neighbouring bond zones are found. Because of the

differences in stiffness, stress concentrations will appear in the interfaces between aggregates and matrix,
and this is where the first cracks will develop. This can
be seen from the crack patterns in Fig. 4, in particular
for the lowest and middle aggregate content. When
P k,intended is increased to 0.50, the amount of aggregate
triples, whereas a spectacular decrease of matrix beams
is found. The number of bond beams increases as well,
namely to 30%. The increasing amount of bond beams
leads to a higher percentage of initial bond cracks, but
because the different bond cracks are separated by
stronger matrix elements, the external load still has to
be increased to enforce further crack propagation.
Thus, cracking is still stable at this stage. However, in
the third analysis, with P k,intended s 0.80, the situation
changes dramatically. The matrix phase has decreased
to 16% of the total number of beams, whereas the
bond zone has increased markedly again i.e. to 44%..
The result is that continuous patterns of connected
bond zones are present in the concrete structure. In
other words, we have exceeded the percolation threshold. If the first cracks appear in such a continuous bond
zone, rapid crack propagation cannot be avoided because all the neighbouring bond elements have a low
strength as well, whereas a local stress concentration
appears where the first beam was removed. In other
words, a crack is propagating in a homogeneous bond
zone where the only deviations are caused by the
positions of stiff particles. The bond zone spans the
width of the specimen because the percolation threshold was exceeded. The local situation determines
whether the crack will propagate or whether more
isolated cracks will develop. Fig. 4a shows that for the
highest aggregate content obviously a situation above
the percolation threshold has been created. Only three
elements are broken at the peak, all the rest follow in
the descending branch. One of the conclusions that can
be drawn on the basis of these three simulations is that
of controlling the amount of aggregates, as well as the
number of weak interface elements may lead to an
increased interval of stable crack propagation where at
any step the external load must be increased again
before the next element fractures. The load]deformation diagram for the low and middle aggregate content

Table 2
Absolute and relative number of beams in different phases the total number of lattice elements beams. is 22 114.


Absolute number of beams

Relative number of beams









17 705
10 244




J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

Fig. 4. Crack patterns at peak load a. and at the end of the simulation b. for three different aggregate contents from left to right
P k,intended s 0.20, 0.50 and 0.80, respectively..

in Fig. 5 shows that the pre-peak curve is indeed more

pronounced in comparison to the high aggregate content 0.80.. There is also a marked difference in peak
strength. The strength of the low aggregate specimen
0.20. is governed by the strong ligaments between the
isolated. weak bond zones, whereas in the high aggregate case 0.80. continuous patterns of low-strength
interface elements control the specimen behaviour

Note that after the first matrix beam has been failed
in the low aggregate simulation 0.20., failure is imminent. In this case, the matrix material has exceeded its
percolation threshold, and a continuous path of matrix
material will span the specimens width. The situation is
identical to the case where a high aggregate content is
present 0.80., but there } as argued before } the
bond elements have exceeded their percolation threshold.

Fig. 5. Load]deformation diagrams for the three analyses of Fig. 4: a. P k,intended s 0.20, b. 0.50, and c. 0.80.


J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

2.3. The role of experiments: crack detection and

load]deformation response
These simulations create an artificial world, and it
remains to be investigated to what extent the computational results resemble reality. Some features of the
fracture process have been observed before. For example the propagation of the macroscopic crack through
the specimens cross-section was found in photo-elastic
coating experiments on concrete and mortar plates w14x.
In Fig. 6 a result from such a test is shown. In this case,
a major crack runs from the left side of the specimen,
whereas a second minor crack develops from the other
side. Notches were made in the specimen for test
control purposes. The fine detail in the macro-crack
cannot be revealed from the photo-elastic coating experiments.
For revealing more detail in the fracture process
other techniques are needed. The first, and most easy
to perform is the impregnation technique. Specimens
are fractured until a certain crack width has been
reached, and subsequently the fractured specimen is
filled with fluorescent epoxy. After the epoxy has hardened, the specimen is cut open, and fine detail in the
crack patterns can be visualised under ultra-violet light;
an example is given in Fig. 7. Two crack patterns are
shown, i.e. in lytag concrete Fig. 7a. and in highstrength concrete Fig. 7b.. The patterns show small
scale overlaps between cracks, similar to the crack
overlap that was observed in Fig. 6. Increasing the

resolution, for example by performing tests while

observing the fracturing process under an optical microscope reveals more of these bridges. Failure of the
bridges occurs when one of the crack branches grows
and coalesces in the wake of the second crack. The
same mechanism is found in the numerical simulations,
as can be observed from Fig. 4b. The overlap mechanism, at least when viewed at the macro-scale Fig. 6.,
depends on the actual boundary conditions imposed
during the test. Would the specimen ends be allowed to
rotate freely, the large scale overlap would not have
developed, but at the scale of the aggregates mesolevel., the mechanism would appear again w15x. The
number of these overlaps, plus their size relative to the
specimen size determines how much load can be carried in the tail of the softening diagram.
The size of the crack overlap also determines the
global curvatures in the crack pattern. Obviously, after
the specimen has been fully fractured this is a complicated undulating surface. Projecting the crack patterns
from different slices on a plane will reveal the band
width as shown in Fig. 8. The band width changes for
different concretes. As a matter of fact, the larger the
size of stiff and strong aggregate in the mixture, the
wider the crack band. For 2-mm cement mortar a very
narrow crack band is found, the next is lytag concrete
which contained 12-mm lytag particles and sand with
particles up to 4 mm. Fig. 7a clearly shows that the
cracks in lytag concrete will intersect the lytag particles
which appear as the large speckled circular areas in

Fig. 6. Photo-elastic coating experiment on a double-edge-notched concrete plate subjected to uniaxial tension uniform boundary displacement..
In a. ] c. the propagating cracks are visualised, d. shows a comparison of the photo-elastic crack path and the crack trajectory after complete
failure of the specimen. In e. the load]deformation curve is shown, after Van Mier w15x.

J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14


Fig. 8. Crack bands for 2-mm mortar a., 16-mm concrete b., lytag
light- weight concrete c., and high-strength concrete d., from Van
Mier w15x.

Fig. 7. Crack face bridging in lytag lightweight concrete a., and

crack branching in high strength concrete b., from impregnation
tests of Van Mier w15x.

the cross-section of the material., but will grow around

the larger stiff sand particles. This latter phenomenon
can also be seen in Fig. 7a. The largest crack band
width is found for 16-mm normal and high-strength
concrete. It is generally known that the interface in
normal strength concrete is the weakest link in the
material. By adding condensed silica fume to obtain
high-strength concrete, it is expected that not only the
density of the concrete is improved, but that also the
interface strength increases. For the high-strength concrete which has a compressive strength of approx. 88
MPa. of Fig. 7b and Fig. 8d this was obviously not the
case, and cracks were found to grow along the interface
of the aggregate particles. This explains why the crack
band width is almost similar in the normal and highstrength 16-mm concretes.
The crack band width in Fig. 8 should not give the
impression that at each cross-section of the specimen
this width would be found. It is emphasised that the
crack pattern shows the global undulations of the
three-dimensional crack as if we were looking through
the specimen. Using X-ray techniques, similar observations can be made. For example in Otsuka et al. w16x
and Landis and Nagy w17x results from recent X-ray
imaging experiments are shown, which give the same
impression as Fig. 8. The X-ray results confirm the
findings of the earlier impregnation experiments.
Other techniques to detect internal cracking in concrete and rock include acoustic monitoring, for example by means of acoustic emission AE. w16,18x or
ultrasonic pulse technique w19x. By means of ultrasonic
pulses, reflection and diffraction patterns are mea-

sured, which are subsequently converted to information

about crack patterns. For the ultrasonic pulse technique pre-existing cracks can be measured as well.
Using AE, energy bursts from crack propagation by
detecting the vibrations by means of detectors that are
fixed at the specimens surface are analysed. The simplest method is to count the number of events above a
certain threshold. By fixing more transducers to the
specimen a location analysis can be carried out, whereas
by means of a moment tensor analysis conclusions can
be drawn about the nature of the event mode I or
mixed modes I and II, etc.; see Ohtsus paper in this
special issue..
There seems to exist a relationship between the
number of beams removed in a simple lattice model for
fracture as described above. and the number of AE
events recorded during a fracture experiment Karihaloo, private communication.1. It is normal procedure
to record only the events above a certain threshold.
The removal of a beam from the lattice represents
brittle crack propagation. The dissipation of a small
amount of energy occurs, which is represented by the
area under the local linear. stress]strain diagram see
Fig. 9a.. This energy dissipation seems equivalent to an
acoustic event. The threshold value in the lattice model
is represented by the size of the beam in the lattice,
whereas in the AE analysis, the energy level is specified
e.g. see w16x..
In Fig. 9b the cumulative removal of beams for the
three lattice analyses of Figs. 4 and 5 are shown. The
first removals occur after approximately 3 m m of deformation. After that the number gradually increases until
a distinct plateau is reached. Depending on the value

The resemblance between AE activity and the stepwise removal
of beams was suggested by Prof. Karihaloo.


J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

Fig. 9. Energy dissipation from a single beam removal in the lattice model a., and number of elements removed plotted against deformation for
the three analyses of Fig. 4 b..

of P k,intended , these kinks occur at different numbers.

Their value is governed by the actual fracture process,
which was shown to vary widely for the three analyses.
After the kink, a complete macroscopic crack pattern is
present, and the last removals of lattice elements occurs when the bridges in the main crack fail. The
number of AE events against axial deformation in a
uniaxial tension test has the same shape see Fig. 10
which has been reproduced from Wissing w20x..
The type of fracture law can be changed in the
lattice model, and can perhaps be related to specific
AE events. The similarity should be further elucidated
in the future. Extension to compressive failure can be
done by considering the details of the fracture process
along the same lines as shown here for tension w15x.

3. Fracture mechanics in structural analysis: the case

of compression
The above discussion is related to what happens

Fig. 10. Comparison of stress]deformation diagram and hit-rate all

arrivals. against deformation for a uniaxial tensile test, from Wissing

during tensile softening of concrete. As a potential

application, the design of new concrete materials is
mentioned. Analysing the mechanical behaviour is just
a small part of the design of the new composite. In the
end, the material must also be manufactured and applied in structures. For structural analysis, considering
the details of the fracture process is not practical, at
least at present, and we are mainly interested in the
validity of the macroscopic material laws that are used.
This implies that we are interested in tensile stress]
deformation diagrams as well as compressive stress]
deformation diagrams. Note that for fully three-dimensional codes information about the multiaxial behaviour is needed, including of course detailed
knowledge about the softening behaviour.
At the macroscopic level, the use of the fictitious
crack model w21x, or the related crack band model w22x
is quite popular. In the fictitious crack model, the
tensile diagram is separated in a pre-peak stress]strain
curve and a post-peak stress]crack opening diagram.
The opening of a tensile crack forms a discontinuity in
the strain field in a tensile bar as shown in Fig. 6.
Along the same lines, the compressive diagram must be
split in a pre-peak stress]strain curve and a post-peak
stress]displacement diagram because here also localisation of deformations has been observed w23x. The
RILEM TC 148 SSC Strain Softening of Concrete has
recently paid attention to this phenomenon in an extensive Round Robin test on fracture under uniaxial
compression w24x. Basically the separation of the compressive diagram in a pre- and post-peak curve was
confirmed for a large range of concretes. The type of
loading platen used in the tests was found to have a
significant effect on stress, but the localisation phenomenon was always found. In a uniaxial compressive
test, the amount of boundary restraint has a significant
effect on the measured compressive strength. The
strength is overestimated when rigid steel platens are

J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

used, but when a teflon]grease sandwich is inserted

between the loading platen and the concrete, a size-independent compressive strength is measured w24x. This
makes one wonder about claims about size effect on
compressive strength. The difference between uniaxial
compressive tests on prisms of different slenderness
loaded between low friction teflon. and high friction
steel. loading platens is shown in Fig. 11. The question
must now be posed which diagram should be used in
structural analysis of reinforced concrete structures.
An example is currently worked out by RILEM TC 148
SSC, and concerns the behaviour of an over-reinforced
concrete beam which fails in the compression zone.
Researchers were asked to predict the behaviour of the
beam given the two different softening diagrams for
uniaxial compression i.e. one determined between steel
platens, the other between low friction teflon platens,
both on prisms with slenderness 2.0., as well as the
tensile softening behaviour of the concrete and the
stress]strain curves for the reinforcing steel w25x. The
results were discussed during the third International
Conference on Fracture Mechanics of Concrete Structures FraMCoS-3., and some of the contributions appear in the proceedings of this meeting w26x. A comparison will be published in the near future w27x.
The same question, i.e. which diagram should be
used for structural analysis, can be posed for the tensile
softening diagram also, although due to the impressive
amount of research carried out in the past decades,
much is known already. The use of benchmark problems is encouraged, because in this way the certainty
about the best input parameters in the numerical
models used can only improve.

4. Conclusion
In this paper methods for determining the mechanical properties of materials are debated. In design,
knowledge of the properties of materials is essential.
Depending on the stage at which the design is, the


properties should be known to a more or lesser degree

of detail. Determining the material properties of concrete, in particular the fracture properties is not
straightforward. The result is always affected by size
and boundary condition effects, whereas the influence
of moisture distributions cannot be neglected either.
The latter point has not been discussed in the present
paper, but can be found elsewhere, e.g. Foure
It seems that the certainty about the material models
could be improved by adding an increasing amount of
detail. In practice it means that where the engineering
models were used traditionally at the macro-level continuum., now one reverts to more scientific approaches,
for example by stepping down to the meso- or even to
the micro-level. At these levels numerical models are a
practical tool to arrive at some solution. Whether this
is the real world or just an artefact of our imagination
must be settled by experiment. The alternative approach is to apply statistical models, e.g. Dyskin w29x,
where the information about the internal material
structure is dealt with in a rather indirect way. In that
case however, many aspects found in a direct simulation are missed because they are in some sense
smeared over a basic area or volume.
As mentioned, the role of experiment is important. It
is interesting to note that limits reached in generating
the numerical material structures seem to correspond
to limits reached in manufacturing real materials. The
example given in the paper is the density of particles in
a mixture that can be encircled with a continuous
matrix. Other features of the fracture process from the
numerical simulations are recognised in experiments as
well. They are non-uniform macro-crack growth and
crack face bridging in specimens subjected to uniaxial
tension. These specific crack features lead to size-dependent and boundary condition-dependent results. In
compression, similar phenomena are observed although
some of the details are different because friction plays
a larger role. The use of benchmark problems and
blind Round Robins may help to improve the accuracy
of material properties used at the macroscopic level.

Fig. 11. Effect of specimen slenderness and boundary restraint on the stress]strain diagram in uniaxial compression w24x.


J.G.M. an Mier, M.R.A. an Vliet r Construction and Building Materials 13 (1999) 3]14

Thus, a close interaction between experiment and computation seems essential for improving the reliability of
the numerical models, which in the end should hopefully lead to qualitative better designs. However, let us
not forget the role of engineering judgement as a
crucial human role in the process. This role remains
vague to date, in particular it is ignored in so-called
rational approaches. However, it should get more attention in the future.




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