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Analytical evaluation of the two-rail shear test method for

composite materials
Ahmad K. Hussain
, Donald F. Adams*
Composite Materials Research Group, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071, USA
Received 16 November 2002; received in revised form 4 June 2003; accepted 5 June 2003
Linear three-dimensional nite element analyses were conducted to evaluate various rail and specimen congurations of the two-
rail shear test procedure. Additional analytical evaluations were performed to investigate the eects of specimen aspect ratio,
material orientation, loading direction, and the rigidity of the rails on stress distributions. Shear stresses were found to be dis-
tributed uniformly over a large region in the specimen gage section for most of the models analyzed, but normally accompanied by
signicant transverse and axial normal stresses. The results indicated that an axial loading applied to a test xture of uniform steel
rails and a test specimen with aspect ratio of 6 was the preferred test procedure. Simple test specimens of trapezoidal and rect-
angular geometries, and specimens with tabs, were chosen for further evaluation. Also, the new Wyoming-Modied Two-Rail Shear
test xture was established based on these analyses.
#2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: A. Polymer matrix composites; C. Finite element analysis; B. Mechanical properties; C. Stress concentrations; Shear test methods;
B. Modelling
1. Introduction
The nite element method is a powerful technique for
the numerical solution of a variety of engineering pro-
blems, and has frequently been used in the evaluation of
test methods. The nite element method is capable of
quickly and eciently predicting the response of a vari-
ety of test specimen congurations and material orien-
tations. In contrast, the fabrication and experimental
evaluation of such test specimens is expensive and time
consuming, and hence less practical, during an initial
evaluation of candidate congurations. Apart from
considerable savings of cost and time, nite element
analyses require only minimal amounts of input data,
and the resulting stress and strain distributions can be
determined throughout the entire specimen.
In the present study, linear three-dimensional nite
element analyses were conducted to predict the perfor-
mance of the two-rail shear test method. The eects of
various rail and test specimen congurations, material
orientations, and loading directions on stress distribu-
tions were evaluated. These analytical results were then
used to select preferred specimen congurations and to
obtain design criteria for the new Wyoming-Modied
Two-Rail Shear test xture, a proposed alternative to
the ASTM Standard D 4255 (Method A) Two-Rail
Shear test procedure [1]. The present study was part of a
larger research program to re-evaluate the present
ASTM Standard D 4255 two-rail shear test procedure.
This existing standard incorporates features that are not
adequately understood, as summarized in Ref. [2]. These
include specimen aspect ratio, the use of diagonal load-
ing, and the o-center location of the clamping bolts.
In the ASTM standard test method, a 76152 mm
(36 in) rectangular test specimen is sandwiched
between two pairs of rails by bolting through six
oversized holes in the specimen. An o-axis (diagonal)
tensile load is introduced at the ends of the rails. A
shearing load is thus transmitted into the test specimen
via the rails, and the shear strain response can be
measured by strain gages mounted in the gage section.
A slightly dierent version of this test procedure was
proposed earlier [3]. As outlined by Boller [3], the test
0266-3538/$ - see front matter # 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-307-742-8641; fax: +1-307-742-
E-mail address: wtf@wyomingtestxtures.com (D.F. Adams).
Currently Instructor, the MARA Institute of Technology (ITM),
Emeritus Professor; President, Wyoming Test Fixtures, Inc.,
Laramie, WY, USA.
specimen was 76 mm (3 in) wide and 152 mm (6 in) long
with 12.7 mm (0.5 in) wide unconstrained central (gage)
region. At free edges of the gage region, 12.7-mm (0.5-
in) radius curves were cut. Specimens with this geometry
provided satisfactory results with greater uniformity in
stress distribution than a rectangular specimen [3]. Two
pairs of rail guides were attached to the rails for lateral
support. A diagonal compressive load was applied to a
ball and socket or spherical seat at each end of the rails.
The reason why a diagonal load was applied was not
given but the self-aligning spherical seat ensured that
each rail transmitted equal proportions of the total
There are several other rail shear versions that have
been introduced as alternatives. Rather than the con-
ventional bolted-uniform-rail, a bonded-tapered-rail has
been used [4,5]. Rail shear test xtures with low friction
rail guides, roller spacers, or knife-edge spacers have
been also cited [2,68]. These mechanisms, which are
normally utilized with the compression loaded two-rail
xture, can increase buckling stability and also improve
alignment [3].
Conventional at specimens of rectangular shape
have been widely used. Specimens with 12.7 mm (0.50
in) radius llets at the edges [3] have been designed to
minimize end eects. A trapezoidal-shaped specimen
has also been suggested [5,9,10], to reduce the magni-
tude of the combined stresses in each corner while
maintaining a large region of uniform shear stress in the
middle. Other specimen geometries may also be ana-
lyzed, such as a rectangular specimen with V-notches at
the free edges (analogous to the Iosipescu shear test
specimen [11]), and at-bottom notched specimens
[12], to name a few. Modication of the existing ASTM
standard rectangular specimen by adding bonded
tabs extending into the transition region, may also be
Several earlier analytical evaluations of the two-rail
shear test method with ber-reinforced composite lami-
nates have been reported [4,5,7,13,14]. Two-dimensional
linear nite element analyses of the two-rail shear test
method were performed by Garcia et al. [4], to assess
the eects of aspect ratio, axial versus diagonal load
introduction, and uniform versus thickness-tapered rail
congurations. Results indicated an inuence of loading
direction and rail conguration. However, aspect ratio
had a major eect on stress distributions, which also
varied with laminate orientation.
A group of investigators at the Virginia Polytechnic
Institute [7,13] compared four shear test methods,
including the two-rail shear method, using the same
analytical techniques. Their nite element results indi-
cated that several factors inuence the stress distribu-
tions in the gage section of the rail shear test specimen.
Uniform shear stress distributions were produced over a
large area in the gage section, but were often
accompanied by signicant in-plane normal stresses
depending on the stiness of the rails, the method of
load application, and the laminate properties [7,13].
Black and Hart-Smith [5] presented their linear nite
element analysis results for the bonded tapered rail spe-
cimen with [ 45] angle-ply and [0/ 45/90]
tropic laminates. They approximated a three-
dimensional eect in the three layers (rail, adhesive, and
laminate) using two-dimensional elements, emphasizing
the nonlinear behavior of the adhesive. From their ana-
lysis, they predicted that the existence of stress con-
centrations in the bonded tapered rail specimen would
not be sucient to cause premature failures. However
an earlier analytical investigation [15] of a uniform
thickness two-rail shear xture with [ 45]
laminates found that the shear stress distribution was
very non-uniform and highly irregular, which would
lead to unacceptably low values of experimental shear
strength [15]. It is apparent from these works [5,15] that
shear testing of laminates such as [ 45]
angle-ply and
[0/ 45/90]
quasi-isotropic lay-ups are considered to
be dicult. This diculty is generally associated with
inadequate gripping, as well as a highly nonuniform
stress distribution in the test area. In addition, sub-
stantial local stress concentrations are normally present
and can cause premature failures in specimens of these
material orientations.
Chang and Chen [14] used a three-dimensional analy-
sis with an eight-node isoparametric element to study
the eects of ply orientation on the in-plane shear
strength distribution in laminates. Laminates with var-
ious cross-ply orientations were analyzed and a strong
inuence of the interlaminar stress in lowering the
laminate strength relative to lay-up sequence was
The denition of the material direction of a unidirec-
tional composite shear specimen, particularly the rail
shear specimen, has been inconsistent in the literature.
For composites in general, the denition mainly
depends on the type of test method, direction of load
introduction, and how the test xture is oriented, e.g.,
the rails in the case of the rail shear test. Some prior
investigators considered the [0] orientation of the rail
shear test specimen to be in the loading direction (par-
allel to the rails), but then this is unlike the Iosipescu
shear specimen where the 0

direction is perpendicular
to the loading direction. Others simply assigned the [0]
and [90] rail shear orientations corresponding to con-
ventional x and y Cartesian coordinates, horizontally
and vertically, respectively. These mixed denitions
sometimes cause confusion, especially when compara-
tive studies between dierent test methods are carried
In the present work, the denition of the rail shear
specimen material orientation will follow the convention
of the Iosipescu shear test method [11]. Thus, a 0

222 A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238
unidirectional composite has bers oriented in the x
direction, perpendicular to the rails, and a 90

tional composite has bers oriented in the y direction,
parallel to the rails.
2. Finite element models
Models of 13 basic two-rail shear specimen geometries
and a number of variations (varying the aspect ratio or
notch radius of the specimen, altering the loading
direction, varying the rail thickness, adding a tab mate-
rial, or changing completely the materials of the rails or
the specimen) were generated using MSC/PATRAN
software [16], and analyzed using a previously-devel-
oped nite element package known as WYO3D [17].
These models are listed in Table 1. The basic geometries
are sketched in Fig. 1. Complete model details are given
in Ref. [10].
Two loading directions, axial and o-axis (diagonal)
tension, were simulated. Two composite laminate
orientations, [0]
unidirectional, and [90]
tional were studied. In addition, a [0
laminate was modeled as a special case. Steel was
employed for the rails and carbon/epoxy was the mate-
rial utilized for the test specimen in most of the cases
The steel rails and the composite specimen were
modeled as three-dimensional solids, such as shown in
Fig. 2. For the models incorporating tabs, an additional
solid layer was used. Each individual solid layer repre-
senting the rails, the unidirectional composite specimen,
and the tabs was modeled as a single layer of elements.
For the cross-ply specimen, two layers of elements were
generated; each layer represented one of the orthogonal
material orientations. For simplicity, it was assumed
that the solids were perfectly bonded to each other.
Furthermore, the symmetry of the rail shear specimen
Table 1
Summary of cases for the nite element analysis
Model Geometry Laminate orientation Loading type Angle

) Aspect ratio
1. Rectangular:
(a) Rectangular A [0],[90] Axial, diag. 90 6.0/0.75=8
(b) Rectangular B [0],[90] Axial, diag. 90 6.0/0.5=12
2. Rectangular with 0.5 in llets [0],[90] Axial 5.13/0.75=6.85
3. Rectangular with V-notches [0],[90] Axial 45 5.25/0.75=7
4. Rectangular with rounded notches [0],[90] Axial 45 5.47/0.75=7.3
5. Rectangular A with tabs on two sides [0],[90] Axial 90 6.0/0.75=8
6. Rectangular A with tabs on four sides [0],[90] Axial 90 6.0/0.75=8
7. Flat-bottomed notches:
(a) FBN A [0],[90] Axial 30 3.375/0.75=4.5
(b) FBN B [0],[90] Axial 45 4.5/1.0=4.5
8. Flat-bottomed notches with radii:
(a) FBN Radius A (r=0.265 in) [0],[90] Axial 45 6.11/0.75=8.15
(b) FBN Radius B (r=0.354 in) [0],[90] Axial 45 4.65/1.0=4.65
9. Flat-bottomed notches extended
to the rails (FBN Extended)
[0],[90] Axial 45 4.65/1.0=4.65
10. Trapezoidal:
(a) Trapezoidal A [0],[90] Axial, diag. 45 4.5/0.75=6
(b) Trapezoidal B [0/90] Axial 45 4.5/0.75=6
(c) Trapezoidal C [0],[90] Axial 45 4.5/1.0=4.5
(d) Trapezoidal D [0],[90] Axial 45 4.5/0.5=9
(e) Trapezoidal E [0],[90] Axial 60 4.5/0.5=9
(f) Trapezoidal F [0],[90] Axial 30 4.5/0.5=9
(g) Trapezoidal G [0],[90] Axial 30 4.5/0.75=6
(h) Trapezoidal H [0],[90] Axial 30 6.0/0.75=8
(i) Trapezoidal A with titanium rails [0],[90] Axial 45 4.5/0.75=6
(j) Trapezoidal A with rigid rails [0],[90] Axial 45 4.5/0.75=6
(k) Trapezoidal A with glass/epoxy specimen [0],[90] Axial 45 4.5/0.75=6
11. Trapezoidal with thickness-tapered rails [0],[90] Axial 45 4.5/0.5=9
12. Trapezoidal with width-tapered rails [0],[90] Axial 45 4.5/1.5=3
13. Trapezoidal thickness ratios:
(a) Trapezoidal (2:1) [90] Axial 45 4.5/1.0=4.5
(b) Trapezoidal (3:1) [90] Axial 45 4.5/1.0=4.5
(c) Trapezoidal (13:1) [90] Axial 45 4.5/1.0=4.5
Angle of the specimen free edges (at top and bottom) measured from vertical.
R is the specimen aspect ratio (length of the plate along the gage section/width of the plate between the rails).
A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238 223
was exploited; hence, only one half was modeled. The
mid-thickness of the specimen was a plane of symmetry.
Unless otherwise specied, the thickness of the uni-
form rails and one-half the thickness of the composite
specimen were 12.7 mm (0.50 in) and 1.02 mm (0.040
in), respectively, noting that the unidirectional compo-
site specimen was actually modeled as one-half of a 16-
ply laminate, assuming each ply to have a thickness of
0.13 mm (0.005 in). Similarly, as a special case, a [0
cross-ply laminate, having a total of 16 plies, was
modeled as a four-ply laminate due to the symmetry
about the mid-thickness. The thickness of the tab layer
in the models was 1.50 mm (0.060 in). To model the
thickness-tapered rails, the rail thickness was varied
from 12.7 mm (0.50 in) to 3.20 mm (0.125 in), and for
the width-tapered rails, the width was varied from 25.4
mm (1.00 in) to 6.4 mm (0.25 in). For the trapezoidal
thickness ratio models (model geometry #13), the steel
rails were replaced by specimen material. As an exam-
ple, for trapezoidal (2:1), the ratio 2:1 was based on the
thickness of the rails (0.080 in) relative to the (con-
stant) thickness of the test specimen (0.040 in).
Fig. 1. FEA model geometries.
Fig. 2. Typical nite element grids of (a) the model geometry #1 rec-
tangular A (plan view) and (b) the model geometry #10, trapezoidal A
(isometric view).
224 A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238
In MSC/PATRAN, after the solids were generated,
they were meshed using HEX-8, an eight-node isopara-
metric element. Finer meshes were formed in the regions
between the rails and the specimen and also in the
regions of the specimen free ends where high gradients
of stresses were expected. In WYO3D, boundary and
loading conditions were imposed on each model. To
simulate the actual boundary and loading conditions of
the two-rail shear test, the nodes in the plane of
through-thickness symmetry of the model were con-
strained in the z direction. In addition, for the axial
loading case, nodal forces were applied in the y direc-
tion (parallel to the rails) to a pair of nodes (Nodes A1
and A2, see Fig. 2) while constraining them in the x
direction. For the diagonal loading case (7

o-axis for
the rectangular A and B models, and 5

for the trape-

zoidal A model), the loaded nodes (Nodes D1 and D2,
see Fig. 2) were given the x and y components of the
load. In both loading cases the corresponding nodes at
the opposite end of the other rail (A1
and A2
for axial
loading, or D1
and D2
for diagonal loading, see Fig. 2)
were xed in the x and y directions.
There are two dierent ways the load can be intro-
duced to the rail shear specimen, viz., a tensile or com-
pressive loading. Tensile loading, which was used in the
present analyses, induces negative shear stresses. The
normal stresses could be either tensile or compressive
axial and transverse stresses, however. This resulted in
the normalized shear stress having negative values in
most cases, with mixed signs for the normal stresses,
since the stress normalization was done by dividing the
induced stresses by the absolute value of the average
applied shear. If compressive loading is used, all the
results obtained and presented in the present study will
still be valid, but with reversed signs.
The total number of nodes in each model geometry
with two element layers was between 3000 and 4000.
For models with three element layers, i.e., rectangular
with tab material (rails and composite specimen plus tab
material) and trapezoidal B (rails and two dierent
lamina orientations for cross-ply) required a total of
40005500 nodes.
Material properties were also specied in WYO3D.
Materials for the rails and the composite plate specimen
were steel and Hercules AS4/3501-6 carbon/epoxy,
respectively. When tabs were modeled, aluminum was
used as the tab material. Three additional runs were
conducted using; (i) titanium rails and an AS4/3501-6
carbon/epoxy composite specimen, (ii) rigid rails and
an AS4/3501-6 carbon/epoxy composite specimen, and
(iii) steel rails and an S-2/3501-6 glass/epoxy composite
specimen. All three cases were analyzed using the Tra-
pezoidal A model (see Table 1). The rigid rails were
modeled by increasing the modulus of steel 2-fold. The
material properties for the steel, unidirectional carbon/
epoxy, and unidirectional glass/epoxy [17], the titanium
alloy (Ti6A14V) [4], and the aluminum tabs are
shown in Table 2.
All the results that will be presented later are based on
normalized stresses. Stress normalization was done by
dividing the induced stresses by the absolute value of
the average applied shear stress in the gage section. This
absolute value of applied shear stress was dened by

= P=A

, where P was the total applied load and A

the cross-sectional area (thicknessgage length) of the
test specimen across the gage section. The x- and y-
coordinates were normalized with respect to one-half
the specimen gage width (distance between two opposite
rails) and specimen gage length, respectively.
3. Finite element analysis results
Only in-plane stress components, i.e., the shear stress

, the axial stress
(the stress component parallel to
the ber direction) and the transverse stress
stress component normal to the ber direction) will be
fully presented and discussed here. The out-of-plane
(interlaminar) stress components, i.e.,
, and
were also available from the WYO3D outputs, but their
Table 2
Material properties of the rails, tabs, and composite laminates used in the present nite element analysis
Property Rails Tabs Unidirectional laminates
Steel Titanium Ti6A14V [4] Aluminum Carbon/epoxy AS4/3501-6 [17] Glass/epoxy S-2/3501-6 [17]
(GPa) (Msi) 208 (30.0) 114 (16.5) 69.3 (10.0) 142 (20.5) 53.4 (7.74)
(GPa) (Msi) 208 (30.0) 114 (16.5) 69.3 (10.0) 9.2 (1.33) 16.4 (2.37)
(GPa) (Msi) 208 (30.0) 114 (16.5) 69.3 (10.0) 9.2 (1.33) 16.4 (2.37)
(GPa) (Msi) 78.3 (11.3) 42.1 (6.10) 26.1 (3.75) 3.6 (0.52) 5.5 (0.80)
(GPa) (Msi) 78.3 (11.3) 42.1 (6.10) 26.1 (3.75) 6.1 (0.88) 6.1 (0.88)
(GPa) (Msi) 78.3 (11.3) 42.1 (6.10) 26.1 (3.75) 6.1 (0.88) 6.1 (0.88)
0.333 0.342 0.333 0.29 0.32
0.333 0.342 0.333 0.25 0.27
0.333 0.342 0.333 0.25 0.27
A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238 225
magnitudes were small and their presence incon-
sequentially aected the in-plane stress response of the
unidirectional composites.
In general, for all cases analyzed, the in-plane shear
stress was fairly uniformly distributed, and close to the
average applied shear stress, throughout entire test sec-
tion except near the free edges. However, undesirable
axial and transverse normal stresses, both tensile and
compressive, were also present in the gage section, with
the axial stresses being very much higher than the
transverse stresses. The presence of these axial stresses
was not a major concern, however, since the reinforcing
bers were oriented in this direction and thus this com-
ponent of composite strength was high. On the con-
trary, the existence of the transverse stresses can cause a
problem since the transverse strength of unidirectional
composites is typically very much lower than the long-
itudinal strength. Furthermore, a transverse tensile
stress could combine with the shear stress to promote
failure. The existence of a compressive transverse stress

() could induce failure by out-of-plane buckling.
The transverse tensile stress was signicantly higher in
[90] specimens than in [0] specimens for the various rec-
tangular models, especially for rectangular A and B.
The transverse tensile strength
(+), being the low-
est of all the strengths, [i.e., axial tensile
(+) and
() strengths, transverse tensile
and compressive
() strengths, and in-plane shear
strength], is normally responsible for the so-called rst
ply failure in the specimen. As a comparison, typical
unidirectional composite strength properties for a
widely used carbon/epoxy system [18], with (+) and ()
signs indicating tensile and compressive strengths,
respectively, are:

(+)=1890 MPa (274 ksi)

()=1930 MPa (280 ksi)

(+)=65.5 MPa (9.5 ksi)
()=269 MPa (39.0 ksi)

=119 MPa (17.3 ksi)
Localized stress concentrations were usually predicted
to be present at the following locations; near the top left
and bottom right hand corners (loaded corners), and
the bottom left and top right hand corners (unloaded
corners) of the full gage section, and at the roots of the
notches, if present. These stress concentrations gave an
indication that premature failure might occur at that
particular location rather than in the desired gage sec-
tion region. However, the actual seriousness of these
local eects was dicult to predict since it is possible
that premature localized cracks might give stress relief,
and thus be benecial. This phenomenon has been
observed in 0

Iosipescu shear specimens. Premature

cracks in the Iosipescu specimen often initiate near the
notch tips due to transverse tensile stresses [12]. This
cracking, however, does not propagate continuously,
and was found in Ref. [12] to not aect the measure-
ment of shear modulus or strength.
The typical stress states in the test specimens of the
various Model Geometries can be summarized as follows:
1. Only the in-plane stress components, i.e., shear
, axial stress
, transverse stress
were signicant, generally over the entire gage
section (also see items 5 and 6), and up to a
distance of one-quarter of the rail width into the
gripped region (under the rails). The out-of-plane
(interlaminar) stress components, i.e.,
, although present, were small in magni-
2. The shear stress
was fairly uniformly dis-
tributed, and close in magnitude to the average
applied shear stress, throughout the entire gage
section, except in small areas near the free edges
for the [0] and [90] orientations.
3. High in-plane stress gradients (especially the
shear stress
) occurred in the transition region,
that is, between the one-quarter distance under
the rails from the inside edges of the gripped
region to a distance of two to three specimen
thicknesses into the gage section, for the [0] and
[90] orientations.
4. Local shear stresses
were signicantly larger
than the average applied shear stress
over a
small area in one or the other of the following
locations, depending on the particular model and
specimen orientation: (i) in the transition regions
and close to the specimen corners (loaded corners
or unloaded corners), (ii) in the proximity of notch
roots and curved edges, or (iii) near free edges.
5. The normalized tensile and compressive axial
stresses were very low (
< 1:0 j j), over a large
region (more than three-fourths of the total area
of the gage section) in the center of the gage
section for all [0] orientation models, and over an
even larger region throughout the gage section
for the [90] orientation, except for the Trapezoi-
dal Thickness Ratio Models. The normalized
axial stress for the [90] orientations was very
much lower than for the [0] orientation.
6. The normalized tensile and compressive trans-
verse stresses were small (
< 0:5 j j) throughout
the entire gage section, except in the vicinity of
the local stress concentrations, typically for both
the [0] and [90] orientations for all models,
excluding the [0] orientation trapezoidal with
width-tapered rails geometry.
7. The largest shear stress
occurred at the loaded
corners or the unloaded corners for [0] and [90]
orientations, and at the notch roots of the
notched specimens (particularly for [0]).
226 A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238
8. The largest tensile axial stress
(+) occurred at
the loaded corners (particularly for [90]) and at
the notch roots of the notched specimens.
9. The largest compressive axial stress
occurred at the unloaded corners (particularly
for [90]).
10. The largest tensile transverse stress
occurred at the loaded corners (particularly for
[90]) or at the unloaded corners for some of the
[0] trapezoidal geometries.
11. The largest compressive transverse stress
occurred at the loaded corners.
The deformed shapes of the model geometries #1,
rectangular A and #10, trapezoidal A for [0] specimen
orientations are shown in Fig. 3. It will be noted that
the specimens were not deformed into perfect trape-
zoids, as would be expected for the ideal case. The x-
ture and the test specimen rotated signicantly under
load, which suggested that excellent gripping is essential
in actual experiments. Moreover, the rails were slightly
bent elastically in-plane, which might imply that a x-
ture with stier rails could provide a better result than
one with less sti rails.
In the following subsections the analytical results for
selected model geometries are presented. In addition,
the results of varying specic parameters, such as aspect
ratio, loading direction, and rail conguration will be
discussed. Parameters used as the basis for making
comparisons were:
uniformity of the normalized shear stress dis-
tribution in the gage section.
magnitudes of the normalized axial and trans-
verse stresses.
magnitudes of the stress concentrations.
Several selected individual cases are shown in Figs. 4
10. Each gure shows the predicted normalized stress
distributions through the center of the specimen gage
section parallel to the rails. Table 3 shows the predicted
normalized stress concentrations and their locations for
selected model geometries. These stresses were normal-
ized with respect to the absolute value of the applied
shear stress and the x- and y-coordinates dening their
locations were normalized with respect to one-half the
gage width and gage length, respectively. Detailed
results for each individual case as summarized in Table 1
can be found in Ref. [10].
3.1. Model comparison
The normalized shear stress distribution was fairly
uniform throughout the gage section in the rectangular
A and B model geometries, varying by not more than
10% across the center of the gage section. Other
investigators [4,7,13] have obtained similar trends. The
transverse stress distribution in the vicinity of the gage
section was also very low, smaller by a factor of 10 than
for all other models. The largest normalized shear stress
concentrations for all cases (rectangular A, rectangular
B, [0], [90], and axial and diagonal loadings) varied
between 1.22 and 1.38, lower than for almost all
other models. However, the transverse tensile normal
stress concentration for the [90] laminate was among the
largest of all models.
The specimen with 12.7-mm (0.5-in) llets had been
shown to provide a greater uniformity in stress dis-
tribution [3]. However, the results of the present study
indicated that there was no signicant improvement in
the shear stress distributions for all three model geome-
tries, for either the [0] or [90] orientations. In fact, the
magnitudes of the shear stress became very large at the
free ends for the [0] orientation. Nevertheless, the axial
tensile, transverse tensile, and transverse compressive
stress concentrations were much lower than those of the
conventional rectangular models.
Notch rounding did not aect any of the three stress
distributions at the center of the gage section. However
all three stresses were decreased notably at the notch
Fig. 3. Finite element analysis output showing the deformed shapes of

orientation for (a) the model geometry #1, rectangular A and (b)
the model geometry #10, trapezoidal A.
A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238 227
roots. Due to the sharp notches, the rectangular with V-
notches model exhibited the largest magnitudes of the
three stress concentrations, for both the [0] and [90]
orientations, compared to those with the rounded
The stress distributions for the rectangular specimens
with tabs on two sides were uniformly distributed over a
smaller region in the test specimen than for the untab-
bed rectangular model. This could be due to the tabs
acting as secondary rails. Hence, the stresses were shif-
ted into the transition regions between the tab layer and
the plate specimen, rather than in the regions between
the rails and the specimen of the untabbed rectangular
model. The stress concentrations in this model geometry
were among the lowest of all the models, however. This
is very favorable, since premature failures caused by
unwanted peak stresses may not take place during test-
ing. Thus, the specimen may achieve its true strength
Fig. 4. Normalized stress distributions along the center of gage section for various model geometries: axially loaded [0] laminate (model comparison).
228 A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238
prior to failure. It was probably for this reason that the
tabbed specimens gave consistently high results in the
ASTM round-robin rail shear tests [19].
The trapezoidal A conguration was found to be the
optimum conguration for the two-rail shear specimen
from the present analyses, although the results were not
exceptionally impressive relative to the rectangular
models. By way of comparison, the axially loaded tra-
pezoidal A model provided a more uniform shear stress
distribution across the gage section than any of the
rectangular models. The normalized transverse stress
for the axially loaded [0] and [90] orientations of trape-
zoidal A only varied within 0.10 over a large area
(over more than 50% of the gage section) in the
Fig. 5. Normalized stress distributions along the center of gage section for model geometry #1, rectangular A: axially and diagonally loaded [0] and
[90] laminates (loading comparison).
A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238 229
specimen center. Although the transverse stress was
higher by a factor of 10 than that of the rectangular
models, it was still too low to cause detrimental eects.
The presence of a tensile transverse stress concen-
tration (1.19) near the unloaded corners for the [0]
orientation, and (1.08) near the loaded corners for the
[90] orientation, could initiate premature cracks. These
cracks would be acceptable if they were in the form of
many microcracks, or could be constrained locally
(without extending into the grip area). Otherwise they
could cause a lower shear strength measurement. The
normalized shear stress concentrations for the axially
loaded [0] and [90] orientations were 2.69 and 1.11,
respectively. Since these peak shear stresses developed in
Fig. 6. Normalized stress distributions along the center of gage section for model geometry #10, trapezoidal A, axially and diagonally loaded [0] and
[90] laminates (loading comparison).
230 A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238
the same small area as the highest tensile transverse
stresses, the combined stress eect could speed up the
formation of the cracks.
3.2. Axial versus diagonal loading comparison
Two directions of load introduction were applied to
rectangular A and B model geometries, a 7

(diagonal) loading and an axial loading, with both load
lines passing through the center of the specimen. The 7

o-axis (diagonal) loading followed ASTM Standard D

4255 [1] for a specimen with an aspect ratio, R=8, viz.,
the rectangular A geometry. It should be noted that the

line load nearly passed through the corners of the

specimen gage section. The axial versus diagonal load-
ing was found to insignicantly aect the shear stress
distributions across the center of the gage section for
both rectangular models (see Fig. 5). Various other
Fig. 7. Normalized stress distributions along the center of gage section for model geometries rectangular and trapezoidal, axially loaded [0] laminate
(aspect ratio comparison).
A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238 231
researchers [4,12] have also veried this. Nevertheless,
the diagonal loading did slightly reduce the axial stress
in the [0] and [90] laminates and the transverse stress in
the [90] laminate in the center of the gage section of
both rectangular models. As mentioned, the transverse
stress was very low for the [0] laminate. The diagonal
loading slightly reduced the magnitudes for nearly all of
the stress concentrations.
The eects of the o-axis (diagonal) loading on
the shear stress distribution in the trapezoidal A model
were insignicant (see Fig. 7), although the axial and
transverse stresses were very slightly reduced for both
ber orientations. The stress concentrations were
very slightly reduced for the [0] laminate, but slightly
worsened for the [90] laminate. No statement as to
preferred loading direction can be made, but the axial
Fig. 8. Normalized stress distributions along the center of gage section for model geometries trapezoidal A and trapezoidal thickness ratio axially
loaded [90] laminate (rail rigidity and thickness comparisons).
232 A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238
loading xture will likely be more readily accepted
without having to provide any justication, unlike the
o-axis loading conguration.
3.3. Aspect ratio comparison
An analytical study by Garcia et al. [4], stated that
there might be an optimum aspect ratio for a particular
test material. Comparing stress states between the rec-
tangular A and rectangular B models for the aspect
ratio study (see Fig. 7), the former is very slightly
favored, i.e., the lower aspect ratio resulted in slightly
lower stresses. Comparing the results for the trapezoidal
A, C, and D geometries (see Fig. 7), all with the same
acute angle of 45

but having dierent aspect ratios of 6,

4.5, and 9, respectively, the overall stress distributions
Fig. 9. Normalized stress distributions along the center of gage section for model geometries #10, trapezoidal A, axially loaded [0] laminate
(composite specimen and orientation comparisons).
A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238 233
did not dier much. However, the stress concentrations
of the trapezoidal A were generally lower than for the
other two model geometries.
3.4. Rail rigidity and thickness comparison
The stress concentrations at the unloaded corners
were probably induced by the rails. Factors that might
be involved include the dissimilar thicknesses and dif-
ferent material properties between the rails and the test
specimen. This led to tapering the rails. Tapering the
rails (thinner towards the unloaded ends) had been pre-
viously studied [4,5]. The trapezoidal thickness-tapered
and trapezoidal width-tapered models were compared
with the trapezoidal D model ( having the same aspect
ratio). Neither the overall stress states nor the stress
concentrations of either the [0] or [90] orientations were
signicantly aected by tapering the rail thickness.
Garcia, et al. [4], obtained the same outcome from their
Fig. 10. Normalized stress distributions along the center of gage section for model geometries #10, trapezoidal A, axially loaded [90] laminate
(composite specimen and orientation comparisons).
234 A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238
Both changing the steel rails to composite (AS4/3501-
6) rails, and varying the rail thickness were considered
to reduce the stress concentrations at the unloaded cor-
ners. Stress states for the trapezoidal (13:1) model were
compared with the [90] orientation trapezoidal C model.
Both models were identical except that the material of
the rails for the former was carbon/epoxy. The stress
states in the gage section did not dier signicantly.
Since the eect of two dierent material properties was
eliminated by giving the rails the same material proper-
ties as the specimen, the high stress concentrations near
the corners were expected to decrease in the trapezoidal
(13:1). However, the results (Table 3) indicate otherwise.
The eect of reducing rail thickness on the stress
concentrations was also found to be very unfavorable.
The stress distributions in the gage section of the three
trapezoidal thickness ratio models did not indicate any
improvement with thinner rails (Fig. 8). The local stress
concentrations for the thickest rails, i.e., trapezoidal
(13:1), were the lowest of the three (see Table 3).
Based on these results, it can be concluded that the
rigidity of the rails aects the stress states and the local
stress concentrations, with more rigid rails being super-
ior. In addition, the dissimilar material properties
between the test specimen and metal rails do not
amplify the local stress concentrations at the corners.
3.5. Additional analyses
Additional analyses were performed to verify that
increasing the rigidity of the rails did improve the stress
states. Trapezoidal A, with steel rails, titanium rails and
Table 3
Predicted stress concentrations of selected model geometries (normalized by the absolute value of the applied shear stress) and their locations
Model geometry Load, lam. orientation Normalized

x y
(+) x y
(+) x y
Rectangular A Axial, [0] 1.25 0.96 0.89 14.81 1.14 1.00 1.62 0.99 1.00

, [0] 1.22 0.96 0.79 13.52 1.14 1.00 1.08 0.99 1.00
Axial, [90] 1.38 0.96 0.97 2.67 1.13 0.99 4.28 0.96 1.00

, [90] 1.24 0.96 0.94 1.92 1.13 0.99 4.09 0.96 1.00
Rectangular B Axial, [0] 1.31 0.94 0.94 13.73 1.14 1.00 1.45 0.98 1.00

, [0] 1.26 0.94 0.83 12.14 1.14 1.00 0.92 0.98 1.00
Rectangular with Axial, [0] 1.31 0.91 0.90 4.77 1.58 0.99 1.21 1.00 1.17
0.5-in llets Axial, [90] 1.21 0.48 1.07 2.48 1.28 1.10 1.27 0.92 1.17
Rectangular with Axial, [0] 2.03 0.00 1.00 7.61 1.50 1.00 1.26 0.71 1.00
V-notches Axial, [90] 1.41 0.96 1.14 2.17 1.13 1.13 1.39 0.71 0.99
Rectangular with Axial, [0] 1.37 0.19 1.00 5.82 1.43 1.00 1.25 1.00 1.10
rounded notches Axial, [90] 1.29 0.91 1.09 2.04 1.13 1.10 1.41 0.51 1.03
Rectangular A with Axial, [0] 1.14 0.43 0.90 4.55 1.26 1.00 0.13 0.56 0.86
tabs on 2 sides Axial, [90] 1.18 0.43 0.86 1.13 1.26 0.71 1.60 0.48 1.00
Flat Bottomed Notch Extended Axial, [0] 2.93 0.96 0.79 2.34 1.96 0.80 1.50 0.92 0.80
Axial, [90] 1.39 0.96 1.21 2.08 1.00 1.18 1.35 0.96 1.21
Trapezoidal A Axial, [0] 2.69 0.94 0.84 2.84 1.73 0.84 1.19 0.87 0.85

, [0] 2.65 0.95 0.84 2.54 1.73 0.84 1.16 0.87 0.86
Axial, [90] 1.11 0.87 1.14 1.54 1.00 1.02 1.08 0.79 1.13

, [90] 1.19 0.95 1.16 1.50 1.00 1.10 1.20 0.94 1.16
Trapezoidal B Axial, [0] 1.77 0.95 0.84 2.69 1.02 0.97 1.27 1.00 1.17
(Cross-Ply) Axial, [90] 1.24 0.87 0.78 1.89 1.57 0.84 0.43 0.79 0.87
Trapezoidal C Axial, [0] 2.93 0.96 0.79 2.10 1.93 0.81 1.48 0.92 0.80
Axial, [90] 1.46 0.96 1.21 2.30 1.00 1.18 1.41 0.96 1.21
Trapezoidal D Axial, [90] 3.20 0.96 0.90 4.09 1.44 0.90 1.25 0.87 0.91
Axial, [0] 1.36 0.96 1.10 1.69 1.00 1.06 1.33 0.96 1.10
Trapezoidal A with Axial, [0] 2.87 0.95 0.84 4.33 1.73 0.84 1.30 0.87 0.86
Titanium rails Axial, [90] 1.66 0.95 1.16 2.47 1.00 1.13 1.56 0.95 1.16
Trapezoidal A with Axial, [0] 2.55 0.95 0.84 1.91 1.02 0.92 1.10 0.79 0.87
rigid rails Axial, [90] 1.23 0.95 0.56 1.46 1.00 1.17 1.06 0.94 1.16
Trapezoidal A with Axial, [0] 2.21 0.95 0.84 1.59 1.64 0.88 1.23 0.79 0.87
glass/epoxy Axial, [90] 1.39 0.95 0.78 1.39 1.00 1.17 1.10 0.94 1.05
Trapezoidal with Axial, [0] 2.97 0.96 0.90 4.14 1.44 0.90 1.03 1.00 1.10
thickness-tapered rails Axial, [90] 1.42 0.96 1.10 1.78 1.00 1.05 1.44 0.96 1.10
Trapezoidal 2:1 Axial, [90] 7.92 0.96 1.21 22.66 1.00 1.20 6.37 0.96 1.21
Trapezoidal 3:1 Axial, [90] 5.87 0.96 1.21 15.41 1.00 1.20 4.87 0.96 1.21
Trapezoidal 13:1 Axial, [90] 2.12 0.96 1.21 3.57 1.00 1.18 1.97 0.96 1.21
A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238 235
rigid rails were compared (Fig. 8), where the rigid
rails were modeled as having a modulus twice as high as
steel. It was found that for the [0] and [90] orientations,
the rigid rails provided slightly more uniform shear
stress distributions and the lowest normalized axial and
transverse stresses across the center of the gage section.
Most of the stress concentrations were the lowest for the
rigid rails, while the titanium rails gave the highest stress
concentrations in all cases.
A glass/epoxy unidirectional composite specimen with
[0] and [90] orientations, and a carbon/epoxy [0
cross-ply laminate, were analyzed using the trapezoidal
A geometry. In brief, the analytical results indicated
that the trapezoidal specimen should work well with
both glass/epoxy and carbon/epoxy (Figs. 9 and 10),
and with both unidirectional and cross-ply orientations.
The stress distribution in the cross-ply laminate did dif-
fer somewhat from that in the unidirectional laminates.
This could be due to the interply eects between the 0
and 90

bers in the cross-ply laminate.

The cross-ply may be the more practical orientation.
Reinforcement in both directions, especially in the grip
section, better connes the crack formation to the gage
region. The [90] orientation may not be suitable due to
the severity of the transverse stress. In addition, since
the bers are parallel to the rails, a thin specimen may
be relatively easily broken while the test xture is being
installed in the testing machine.
4. Summary of results
The nite element analysis results discussed in the
previous subsections were primarily for 0 and 90

directional carbon/epoxy test specimens. Two addi-
tional analyses were also performed, for a carbon/epoxy
cross-ply laminate and for a unidirectional glass/epoxy
laminate. Although other factors such as stacking
sequence, type of composite (chopped, woven, con-
tinuous ber, etc.), and type of ber and matrix mate-
rial, are expected to have some inuence also, the
following summary of results and conclusions of the
present analysis is expected to be generally applicable.
That is, the present results can be summarized as
1. The shear stress states were fairly uniform
throughout the test specimen for most of the
model geometries, especially for the trapezoidal
A model, except in small areas near the free edges
and in the transition region close to the rails.
2. Stress concentrations exist at corners and
notch roots, and may cause premature failure.
These stresses are inuenced by geometric
3. Free edges and the complex stresses at the
interface between the rails and the specimen give
rise to stress concentrations near the corners of
the gage section. However, the dissimilar mate-
rial properties of the specimen and the rails do not.
Although varying the specimen conguration and
rail stiness can minimize these stress concentra-
tions, they have not been totally eliminated.
4. The presence of compressive transverse stresses
may cause out-of-plane buckling failures, and
high tensile transverse stresses may combine with
the shear stresses to cause premature failure. The
severity of these stresses was particularly notice-
able in [90] rectangular specimens, which may
make this material orientation unsuitable for
testing. It is also relatively easy to accidentally
break a [90] specimen while installing it in the
5. The trapezoidal A model has been chosen as the
optimum test specimen conguration because the
normalized shear stress distribution is uniform
throughout almost 80% of the gage section.
Furthermore, the normalized transverse stress is
quite small in the vicinity of the gage section. The
rectangular A and the rectangular with tabs on
two sides models are worthy of consideration
also. The trapezoidal and the rectangular speci-
mens have an advantage of being easier to fab-
ricate than those with notches, and the tabbed
specimen provides reinforcement in the grip sec-
tion to resist possible crushing failure from the
6. The angle of the trapezoidal geometry does aect
the stress states. The shear stress distribution is
more uniform for a trapezoid with a smaller
acute angle, but the local stress concentrations
are larger.
7. There may be an optimum aspect ratio for each
type of specimen geometry, which could also
depend on the laminate orientation. Governing
factors in selecting an aspect ratio include the
stress states produced, the accessibility of the
gage section, and the overall size of the test
8. O-axis (diagonal) loading very slightly improves
the overall stress states in the rectangular models
and in the trapezoidal A model. However, due to
a lack of detailed study to predict the optimum
loading angle, there is not yet enough justica-
tion for it to be considered as the preferred
loading method.
9. The material stiness and thickness of the rails
inuence the stress states, with more rigid rails
being superior. Tapering the rails does not
favorably inuence the stress distributions or
reduce the stress concentrations.
236 A.K. Hussain, D.F. Adams / Composites Science and Technology 64 (2004) 221238
In most of the nite element analysis cases, the rail
components were modeled as matching the rails used in
the standard ASTM D 4255 xture, but without bolts.
The test specimen was also modeled without holes. A
signicant simplication was made by assuming a per-
fect bond between a specimen and the rails, which
explains the absence of the bolts and the holes. In an
actual ASTM D 4255 test however, bolting rather than
bonding is used. Close examination of the present nite
element analyses will reveal that they did in fact closely
represent the actual test condition imposed by the newly
designed Wyoming-modied test xture and its test
specimen, shown in Fig. 11 [2]. Thus, most of the ana-
lytical results should predict the actual response more
accurately for the newly designed xture than the exist-
ing ASTM xture.
Having analyzed various specimen and rail congur-
ations using the nite element analysis, trapezoidal A (a
trapezoidal specimen) was predicted to be the optimum
conguration. Rectangular A (a simple rectangular spe-
cimen) and rectangular with tabs on two sides (a tabbed
rectangular specimen) were also considered favorable
for potential experimental evaluation.
Thus the nite element analysis did serve its purpose,
in predicting the responses of a variety of test specimen
congurations and material orientations, and the eects
of several other parameters. The results also helped the
authors better understand the complexities of the stress
distributions near specimen edges and stress transition
regions. The large region of uniform shear stress
accompanied by insignicant transverse normal stresses
strongly indicated the presence of a pure shear state in
the gage section for almost all of the models. In addi-
tion, by knowing that the shear stress in the center of
the test area was close to the applied shear stress, the
authors became condent that the shear modulus mea-
surements obtained experimentally should be correct,
and correction factors unnecessary.
5. Conclusion
Criteria for use in the design of a new shear test x-
ture were obtained from the detailed nite element ana-
lysis study presented here. A variety of specimen and
rail congurations were analyzed. In addition, several
other parameters that were expected to aect the results
were also studied. Signicant amounts of information
were obtained through this analytical evaluation, and
considerable amounts of time were saved by utilizing
this approach for the initial evaluation of candidate test
specimen geometries.
After several candidate congurations have been
chosen, a nonlinear three-dimensional analysis using
WYO3D [17], or a failure initiation and propagation
analysis using the recently modied WYO2D program
[20], can be performed. As an alternative, experimental
evaluation can now be conducted using only a small
number of dierent congurations. In fact, a concluding
experimental evaluation is often the best approach since
analytical methods do not always accurately predict the
response in an actual test environment.
A large central region of uniform shear stress, along
with a low transverse tensile stress, was obtained for
most of the nite element analysis models. Therefore, it
is strongly believed that the [90] and [0] specimens are
capable of providing reliable shear modulus values.
However, a [0/90] cross-ply specimen should provide an
accurate measure of both the shear modulus and shear
strength of a composite material.
The authors express their sincere appreciation to their
fellow members of the Composite Materials Research
Group at the University of Wyoming for their invalu-
able advice and assistance. Special thanks are also
extended to the MARA Institute of Technology (ITM),
Malaysia, and the Federal Aviation Administration,
Washington, DC, for funding this study.
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