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Computers and Geotechnics 62 (2014) 5160

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Computers and Geotechnics


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/compgeo

Discrete element simulation of the effect of particle size on the size


of fracture process zone in quasi-brittle materials
Ali Tarokh a,, Ali Fakhimi b,c
a

Department of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA


Department of Mineral Engineering, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, NM 87801, USA
c
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran
b

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 28 January 2014
Received in revised form 8 June 2014
Accepted 1 July 2014
Available online 18 July 2014
Keywords:
Bonded-particle model (BPM)
Particle size
Specimen size
Fracture process zone (FPZ)
Brittleness number

a b s t r a c t
Experimental tests performed on quasi-brittle materials show that a process zone develops ahead of a
crack tip. This zone can affect the strength and the deformation pattern of a structure. A discrete element
approach with a softening contact bond model is utilized to simulate the development of the fracture
process zone in the three-point bending tests. Samples with different dimensions and particle sizes are
generated and tested. It is shown that as the material brittleness decreases, the width of the process zone
becomes more dependent on the specimen size. Furthermore, the increase in the particle size, results in
increase in the width of the process zone. A dimensional analysis together with the numerical results
shows that the width of process zone is a linear function of particle size (radius). This nding is discussed
and compared with published experimental data in the literature.
2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Structures composed of quasi-brittle materials such as rock or
concrete exhibit a zone of localized microcracking when the
strength of the material is approached. The estimation of the material strength has been shown to be dependent on this localized
zone and the structure itself [1,2]. Furthermore, it has been experimentally observed that the path of the visible fracture is within
this localized zone of microcracking [3,4]. Therefore, in modeling
the response of a quasi-brittle structure, the characteristics of this
localized zone or the so-called fracture process zone should be considered in predicting the tensile failure. Many researchers have
shown signicant interest in experimental investigation of the
governing parameters affecting the fracture process zone. Some
of the parameters that have been reported to inuence the process
zone are the specimen size [3,5], crack length [6], porosity [7,8],
and loading rate [9]. Microstructure is also known to have a strong
inuence on the size of process zone [1013]. Despite the qualitative observations of the inuence of microstructure on the size of
the process zone, a few quantitative relationships have been proposed. Zietlow and Labuz [3] suggested an approximate linear relationship between the width of the process zone and the logarithm
of grain size. Mihashi and Nomura [14] studying the process zone
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 612 625 8337.
E-mail address: tarok001@umn.edu (A. Tarokh).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compgeo.2014.07.002
0266-352X/ 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

in concrete by means of acoustic emission found that the length of


process zone is independent of the maximum aggregate size but
the width of the process zone is strongly affected. Wang et al.
[15] investigated the inuence of grain size on size of the process
zone using laser speckle interferometry and reported that the size
of the process zone is inuenced by the ratio of notch width to the
average grain diameter; if this ratio decreases, the size of process
zone will increase. Otsuka and Date [5] implemented three dimensional acoustic emission and X-rays using contrast medium on
concrete and found that with the increase of maximum aggregate
size, the width and length of the process zone increase and
decrease, respectively.
To investigate the effect of particle size on the width of the process zone, the bonded-particle model (BPM), which is based on the
discrete element method (DEM), is adopted in the present work. A
tensile softening contact bond model is used to mimic the development of the process zone. By varying the particle size and the
material brittleness, different synthetic quasi-brittle samples were
generated. The material brittleness was modied by changing the
slope of the softening line (Knp). The samples were numerically
tested in the three-point bending tests. It is shown that the
increase in the particle size will increase the width of the process
zone. Furthermore, it was found that the width of the process zone
is a linear function of the particle size. For a xed specimen size
and notch length, the increase in the particle size will result in a
larger process zone making the material less brittle.

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A. Tarokh, A. Fakhimi / Computers and Geotechnics 62 (2014) 5160

2. Numerical model
In this paper, the CA2 computer program, which is a hybrid discrete-nite element program for two-dimensional analysis of
geomaterials, was used to simulate the failure process in Berea
sandstone [1618]. The bonded-particle model [19], which is one
of the discrete element method (DEM) based particle models has
been used extensively for simulating rock failure [20,21]. The rock
is modeled as a bonded particle system in which the rigid circular
particles (representing the grains) interact through normal and
shear springs to simulate elasticity. Rigid particles mean that they
maintain their shape while they can slightly overlap at the contact
points in reaction to the applied stresses. When rigid particles are
used, only translation of the centroids and the rigid body rotation
of the particles need to be considered in the simulation, i.e. there
are three degrees of freedom for a two dimensional particle. If
the particles could deform (not rigid), then the particle deformations (strains) would need to be included in the governing differential equations, effectively increasing the number of degrees of
freedom in the system and the computational cost. Therefore, the
assumption of the rigidity of the particles facilitates the simulation
involving large number of particles (for the 320  960 mm rock
beam of the simulated Berea sandstone, more than 1 million particles were used and a couple of weeks of computer time with an i7
processor were needed to nish the simulation). From physical
point of view, application of rigid particles is justied when the
particle rigidity is much greater than the binding material. Therefore, precise modeling of the particle deformation is not necessary
to obtain a good approximation of the mechanical behavior [22].
Another simplication in our model is that the particle shapes
are assumed to be circular. This assumption has given good results
compared to many experimental observations [23,24]. Hogue [25]
and Houlsby [26] present a comprehensive description of the
issues associated with the choice of particle geometry in DEM.
Finally, in the bonded particle models, it is assumed that the failure

Fig. 1. Micro-mechanical constants involved for interaction of two circular


particles.

Fn (Tension)

Fs (Shear)
sb

nb

can only occur along the particle boundaries. The relative amount
of different types of microcracks appears to depend on the mineralogy, rock type and stress state [27]. Hamil and Sriruang [28]
found that the cracks propagate mostly along the grain boundaries
in sedimentary rocks such as sandstone. On the other hand, in the
crystalline rocks such as granite, transgranular paths were most
frequent and sometimes dominant.
In order to withstand tensile and deviatoric stresses, the rigid
circular particles are bonded together at the contact points. Fig. 1
shows the micromechanical constants in this model. The micromechanical constants at a contact point in this model are Kn (normal
stiffness), Ks (shear stiffness), nb (normal bond), sb (shear bonds),
and l (friction coefcient). In addition, the radius of the particles
(R) must be specied. The genesis pressure (r0) that is the conning pressure during the sample preparation (determines the
amount of initial small overlap between particles) can affect the
material behavior too. The signicance of these parameters has
been discussed in a previous study [21].
Since quasi-brittle materials such as rock and concrete usually
display tension softening during fracturing [29,30], a softening
contact bond feature was implemented in the numerical model.
In this softening model, the normal bond at a contact point is
assumed to reduce linearly after the peak tensile contact load
(Fig. 2a). Therefore, a new microscopic constant, the slope in the
post peak region of the normal force-normal displacement
between two particles in contact (Knp), is introduced in the model.
As shown in Fig. 2b, no modication in the shear force-relative
shear displacement of a contact is assumed in this simple model.
Softening in shear is only relevant for loading under signicant
mean stress (more than 1/3 of uniaxial compressive strength). Distinct shear failure plane forms at moderate compression in which
the mean stress, p = (r1 + r2 + r3)/3 is in the following range rc/
3 < p < rc [31]. This is not the case in the three point bending tests
conducted in this study; no actual shear cracks are developed in
our tests. The loading and unloading paths for both normal and
shear contact forces are shown with arrows in Fig. 2.
After sample preparation, the numerical model was calibrated
to obtain the mechanical properties of Berea sandstone. The procedures for sample preparation and calibration have been described
elsewhere [21]. The grains in this particular sandstone range from
0.1 to 0.8 mm. The mechanical properties of the Berea sandstone
are E (elastic modulus) = 14 GPa, m (Poissons ratio) = 0.32, rc (uniaxial compressive strength) = 5565 MPa, and rN (bending tensile
strength) = 8.6 MPa for an 80  240  30 (height  span  thickness) mm rock beam [3]. After calibration of the numerical model,
uniaxial compressive test on an 40  80 mm (width  length)

Kn

Kn

1
1
Kn

Fn

Knp

Un

Us

A
Fn (Compression)

(a)

(b)

Fig. 2. Relationships in the softening contact bond model (a) normal force and normal displacement and (b) shear force and shear displacement [18].

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A. Tarokh, A. Fakhimi / Computers and Geotechnics 62 (2014) 5160

70

c = 65 MPa

60

Axial stress (MPa)

rectangular sample and three-point bending test on an


80  240 mm (height  span) beam were performed to verify the
accuracy of the numerical model. We were able to calibrate the
model for the width of the process zone as well. The ratio of Kn/
Knp = 1012 will reproduce the process zone observed in the laboratory testing of Berea sandstone [32]. The following mechanical
properties were obtained: E = 13.3 GPa, m = 0.19, rc = 60.5 MPa,
and rN = 8.7 MPa (three-point bending tensile strength) that with
the exception of the Poissons ratio are in close agreement with
the mechanical properties of Berea sandstone. The difference
between the physical and simulated values of Poissons ratio is
expected to have a small impact on the numerical results; the Poissons effect on stress distribution should not be signicant when
lateral deformation is not constrained which is the case in the
three-point bending tests studied in this paper.
Fig. 3 demonstrates the stressstrain curves of the numerical
and experimental Berea sandstones in the uniaxial compressive
tests. The two curves are in good agreement if the initial deformation of the physical specimen is ignored. The early portion of the
curve in the physical test is known to be caused by the closure of
the space between the specimen and the loading platen (also
referred to as machine seating) as well as closure of existing microcracks in the specimen. In the numerical model such phenomena
are absent and therefore, the initial curvature of the stressstrain
curve cannot be captured. Note that as suggested by Fig. 3, there
is a variation as great as 18% in the uniaxial compressive strength
of the physical specimens (rc = 5565 MPa) and that the numerical
test result lies within the physical range.
The micromechanical properties that were obtained through
sample calibration are reported in Table 1. The radii of circular particles (R) were assumed to have a uniform random distribution
ranging from 0.27 to 0.33 mm with an average radius of Rave =
0.3 mm. In order to study the effect of particle size on the process
zone, two other particle radii of 0.6 (with a radius range of 0.54
0.66 mm) and 1.2 mm (with a radius range of 1.081.32 mm) were
used. To obtain relatively similar macro-properties for the three
synthetic materials with three different particle sizes, the normal
and shear bonds (nb and sb) for materials with larger particle radius
(R) need to be increased in proportion to the average radius (Rave)
of the particles, but the normal and shear stiffnesses (Kn and Ks) do
not need any modication (see Table 1). The normal and shear
stiffnesses mostly affect the elastic modulus (E) and Poissons ratio
(m) whereas normal and shear bonds have great impact on the uniaxial compressive and tensile strengths of the material [19,21]. The
increase in normal and shear bonds in proportion to the particle
radius causes no change in normal and shear contact strengths.
Normal contact strength (rn = nb/2R) and shear contact strength
(rs = sb/2R) should remain constant in the three different simulated
rocks. In addition to the micro-mechanical parameters, the corresponding macro-mechanical properties obtained for different
synthetic materials are reported in Table 1.
Beams with different sizes were generated from these three
synthetic materials with different particle sizes. Numerical
three-point bending tests (Fig. 4) were conducted on ve different
beam sizes of 20  60, 40  120, 80  240, 160  480 and
320  960 mm. The rst number in each beam size shows the
beam height and the second number is its span. A small applied
vertical velocity at the top center of each beam (2.5  1010 meter
per numerical cycle) and a damping force proportional to the
unbalanced force or moment of each particle was used in order
to achieve a quasi-static solution [33]. The ratio of notch length
to beam height (a0/D = 0.375) was assumed to be constant for all
three-point bending tests. The slope of the softening line (Knp)
was modied to obtain different quasi-brittle synthetic materials.
Five different synthetic materials ranging from perfectly brittle
(Kn/Knp = 0) to less brittle (Kn/Knp = 100) were used in this analysis.

c = 55 MPa

50
40
30
20
10

Numerical result
Experimental result

0
0.0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

1.0

Axial strain (%)


Fig. 3. Stressstrain curves of the numerical and experimental Berea sandstone
specimens in the uniaxial compression tests. The observed maximum and
minimum values of the compressive strengths of the physical specimens are
shown in the gure.

Table 1
Micro-mechanical and macro-mechanical properties for samples with different
particle sizes.
Properties
Micro-mechanical
Kn (GPa)
Ks (GPa)
Knp (GPa)
nb (N/m)
sb (N/m)

l
r0/Kn

R = 0.3 (mm)

R = 0.6 (mm)

R = 1.2 (mm)

22
5.5
1.83
2800
12,300
0.5
0.1

22
5.5
1.83
5600
24,600
0.5
0.1

22
5.5
1.83
11,200
49,200
0.5
0.1

13.6
0.18
63.6
6.1

13.2
0.18
71.0
6.2

Macro-mechanical
E (GPa)
13.3
m
0.19
rc (MPa)
60.5
rt (MPa)
6.1

Kn is the normal stiffness and Ks is the shear stiffness. Knp is the slope of the softening line.
nb is the normal bond and sb is the shear bond.
l is the friction coefcient and ro is the genesis pressure in sample preparation.
E is the elastic modulus whereas m is the Possions ratio.
rc and rt are the uniaxial compressive and tensile strengths of the material,
respectively.

D
a0
S
Fig. 4. Three-point bending test set-up in discrete element simulation.

Fig. 5 shows the different Kn/Knp values used on the normal forcenormal displacement graph. Other micromechanical constants
were left unchanged for each particle size.
Inspection of the rc values in Table 1 suggests a 15% increase in
the uniaxial compressive strength from R = 0.3 mm to R = 1.2 mm.

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A. Tarokh, A. Fakhimi / Computers and Geotechnics 62 (2014) 5160

Fn (Tension)
Knp= 0

nb

Kn/Knp= 0 ---Perfectly Brittle


Kn/Knp= 10
Quasi-brittle
Kn/Knp= 20
Kn/Knp= 50
Kn/Knp= 100
Kn/Knp= ---Perfectly Plastic

Kn/Knp=
Perfectly Plastic
Knp

Kn

1
1
Kn

Knp=

Un

Kn/Knp= 0
Perfectly Brittle

A
Fn (Compression)
Fig. 5. Demonstration of the effect of Kn/Knp values on the material behavior. By
increasing Kn/Knp value, we move from perfectly brittle to perfectly plastic
materials.

This difference is not considered signicant as even in the laboratory testing, the compressive strength of one specic type of rock
from the same block could vary noticeably. The Berea sandstone
strength used in our calibration varied by 18% (rc = 5565 MPa).
Serena sandstone has been reported to have a rc = 100120 MPa
which shows a 20% difference in its strength [34].
Note that the bending tensile strength of the simulated specimen (rN = 8.7 MPa) is greater than that in uniaxial testing
(rt = 6.1 MPa in Table 1). The higher value of the bending tensile
strength (modulus of rupture) is consistent with the physical
observation [35].
3. Numerical results
3.1. Uniaxial compressive and tensile tests
Uniaxial compressive strength (rc) and tensile strength (rt) are
the most common parameters used to describe the strength of
rocks. Several numerical uniaxial compressive and tensile tests
with different particle size and various material ductilities (i.e. different Kn/Knp values) were conducted. The size of the rectangular
specimen in the uniaxial tests was 40  80 (width  length) mm.
Fig. 6a shows a numerical specimen under uniaxial compression
loading. The upper and lower nite element grids are used as the
loading platens. The interface between the nite element grid
and the particles were modeled by using normal and shear springs
(Kn = Ks = 100 GPa). The friction coefcient of this interface was
assumed to be zero. Details of the mathematical description of

the interface between the grid and the particles have been discussed in [17]. The lower platen moves with a constant quasi-static
upward velocity of 0.2  108 meter per cycle whereas the top of
the upper platen is xed in the vertical direction. The axial stress,
axial and lateral deformation are recorded during loading. The lateral deformation is simply calculated by means of two nite element grids that are glued to the lateral sides of the numerical
specimen. The use of these nite element grids facilitates the measurement of lateral displacement compared to calculating the individual ball displacements from the model. In order to avoid any
kind of unreal resistance of the material, a low elastic modulus is
used for the two nite element grids glued to the lateral sides of
the specimen. The lateral deformation is used to calculate the Poissons ratio. Fig. 6b illustrates a numerical specimen under uniaxial
tensile loading. Similar to the uniaxial compression loading, the
upper and lower nite element grids are used as the loading platens. The top of the upper platen is xed in the vertical direction
while the lower platen moves with a constant downward quasistatic velocity of 0.2  108 meter per cycle. The interfaces
between the circular particles in contact with the platens are
bonded so that no cracks could develop along these interfaces.
The axial stress and axial deformation were recorded during the
loading.
Fig. 7 depicts the stressstrain curves for the synthetic materials with different material ductilities (different Kn/Knp values) for
the particle size (Rave) of 0.3 mm. The values for the compressive
and tensile strengths are reported in Table 2.
From these results it is observed that the Kn/Knp ratio has little
inuence on the compressive strength of the simulated materials
(for different R values) whereas it has affected the tensile strength;
in the uniaxial compression test, the failure mechanism is governed by a combination of the effects of shear and tensile cracks
whereas in the uniaxial tension test, majority of the induced damages are tensile cracks. This means that changing the tension softening parameters (i.e. the ratio of Kn/Knp) will have a stronger
impact on the tensile strength compared to the compressive
strength of the simulated material. Therefore, the value of Kn/Knp
has an impact on the rc/rt (compressive to tensile strength) ratio;
as Kn/Knp increases, rc/rt decreases for all particle sizes. This is
expected because with increase in Kn/Knp, the simulated material
becomes less brittle. This is consistent with the general behavior
of materials. More brittle materials such as rock typically show
high ratio of uniaxial compressive strength to tensile strength.
On the other hand, for ductile metals, the ratio of compressive to
tensile strength is normally close to one.

Fig. 6. Demonstration of the numerical tests for (a) uniaxial compressive test and (b) uniaxial tensile test. The arrows represent the loading direction while the crosses at the
top represent the xed displacement in x and y directions. The two nite element grids used to measure the lateral displacement are shown in Fig. 6a.

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A. Tarokh, A. Fakhimi / Computers and Geotechnics 62 (2014) 5160

80
70
60

10

Axial stress (MPa)

Axial stress (MPa)

12

Brittle
Kn/Knp=10
Kn/Knp=20
Kn/Knp=50
Kn/Knp=100

50
40
30
20

8
6
4
Brittle
Kn/Knp=10
Kn/Knp=20
Kn/Knp=50
Kn/Knp=100

10

0
0.0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

0.0

0.1

0.2

0.3

Axial strain (%)

Axial strain (%)

(a)

(b)

0.4

0.5

Fig. 7. Axial stress vs. axial strain for numerical specimens with Kn/Knp = 0 (perfectly brittle), 10, 20, 50, 100 and R = 0.3 mm. (a) Uniaxial compressive test. (b) Uniaxial tensile
test.

Table 2
Uniaxial compressive and tensile strengths of the numerical specimens with different particle sizes.

rc (MPa)

Kn/Knp

rt (MPa)

rc/rt

R = 0.3 (mm)

R = 0.6 (mm)

R = 1.2 (mm)

R = 0.3 (mm)

R = 0.6 (mm)

R = 1.2 (mm)

R = 0.3 (mm)

R = 0.6 (mm)

R = 1.2 (mm)

57.9
63.1
64.8
66.3
73.1

57.5
64.2
64.4
74.5
82.4

63.1
70.6
71.2
68.5
73.0

4.2
5.6
7.0
8.6
10.7

4.9
6.1
6.5
8.1
9.8

5.4
6.1
6.8
8.7
10.6

13.8
11.3
9.3
7.7
6.8

11.7
10.5
9.9
9.2
8.4

11.7
11.6
10.5
7.9
6.9

0
10
20
50
100

3.2. Fracture process zone width


The main goal of this work was to study the effect of particle size
on the width of the fracture process zone in the vicinity of the notch
tip. The process zone in the numerical model is dened with contact
points between circular particles that are in the post peak regime
(e.g. point D in Fig. 2a). These damaged contact points for a specimen size of 40  120 mm and Kn/Knp = 20 with particle size of
Rave = 0.6 mm at two different loading stages are shown in Fig. 8.
The damaged contacts are shown in blue while the actual sharp
crack inside the process zone has been shown in red. It is interesting
to note that the width of the process zone at the tip of the propagating crack remains constant. Furthermore, the width of the process
zone at the crack tip is almost identical to the width of the damage
zone surrounding the crack. This is expected as with the extension
of the main crack, unloading of the damaged zone around the crack
prevails. This prevents further widening of the damaged zone.
Fig. 9 illustrates the width of the process zone vs. the particle
size for the synthetic materials with different beam sizes. This gure suggests that:
(i) For a xed Kn/Knp value and a xed beam size (D), the width
of the process zone (W) increases when the particle size (R)
increases.
(ii) For a xed Kn/Knp value and a xed particle size (R), the
width of the process zone (W) increases as the beam sizes
(D) increases.
In a previous work, Fakhimi and Tarokh [36] suggested the following equation for the width of fracture process zone (W):

W 1b
1 b

Fig. 8. The width of the fracture process zone at the crack tip for the specimen size
of 40  120 mm with R = 0.6 mm, a0/D = 0.375, and Kn/Knp = 20 at (a) the peak load
(b) 80% of the peak load in the post peak.

in which b = D/D0 is the brittleness number [30] and W1 is the


width of the process zone for very large specimens. The structural
response is not physically similar when varying the size scale of a
body. As the size of a structure increases, it has been documented
experimentally that the failure mode changes from the plastic collapse to the brittle failure. To characterize the brittleness of the
structural response quantitatively, various denitions of the socalled brittleness numbers have been proposed [3739]. The D in
the brittleness number (b) dened by Bazant [39] stands for the
effective structural dimension (e.g. the specimen height) and D0 is
a constant with the dimension of length. D0 depends on the fracture
properties of the material and on the geometry (shape) of the structure, but not on the structure size [30]. Eq. (1) suggests that as the
brittleness of the material increases (i.e. lower Kn/Knp), the width of

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A. Tarokh, A. Fakhimi / Computers and Geotechnics 62 (2014) 5160

16

60

W (mm)

12

W (mm)

80

D=20 mm
D=40 mm
D=80 mm
D=160 mm
D=320 mm

D=20 mm
D=40 mm
D=80 mm
D=160 mm
D=320 mm

40

20

0
0.0

0.3

0.6

0.9

1.2

0
0.0

1.5

0.3

0.6

0.9

R (mm)

R (mm)

(a)

(b)

1.2

1.5

Fig. 9. Fracture process zone width vs. particle radius for different beam sizes for (a) Kn/Knp = 20 and (b) Kn/Knp = 50.

120
Kn/Knp=20
Kn/Knp=50
Kn/Knp=100

0.2

y = 1.9176x + 0.0160
R = 0.9989

80
60
40

0.1
y = 1.3382x + 0.0069
R = 0.9985

0.0
0.00

Kn/Knp=20
Kn/Knp=50
Kn/Knp=100
Fitting Kn/Knp=20
Fitting Kn/Knp=50
Fitting Kn/Knp=100

100
y = 3.6313x + 0.1047
R = 0.9914

W (mm)

W-1 (mm-1)

0.3

20
0

0.01

0.02

D-1

0.03

0.04

0.05

0.06

40

80 120 160 200 240 280 320 360

D (mm)

(mm-1)

(a)

(b)

Fig. 10. The relationships between (a) W1 and D1, (b) W and D for R = 0.6 mm.

the process zone becomes less dependent on the specimen size; for
a high brittleness number, the width of the process zone can be considered an intrinsic material property which will not change by
varying the specimen size. This nding is consistent with some
experimental evidences [32]. In order to nd D0 and W1, Eq. (1)
can be written in the linear form by

1
1
D0 1

W W1 W1 D

Table 3
The data from linear regression analysis of Eq. (1) for different particle sizes.
R (mm)

Kn/Knp

Slope

0.3

20
50
100

3.3947
2.1531
1.009

0.6

20
50
100

1.2

20
50
100

The variations of W1 vs. D1 for R = 0.6 mm and different Kn/Knp
values are shown in Fig. 10a. The slopes (D0/W1) and y-intercepts
(1/W1) obtained from these plots were used to calculate the D0
and W1 reported in Table 3. The linear trend observed in the variation of W1 vs. D1 conrms the ability of Eq. (1) to predict the
variation of the width of the process zone with the specimen size.
In Fig. 10b, the width of the process zone (W) as a function of specimen height (D) is shown. The tting curves predicted by Eq. (1) are
in close agreement with the numerical data; Eq. (1) can closely
model the numerical data. This equation has been shown to closely
model the experimental data as well [32].
Bazant and Planas [30] suggested two linear and a non-linear
regression method in nding the D0 values. Depending on the
method used, different D0 values are obtained. The use of the width
of process zone is yet another approach in nding the D0 values.
The D0 values from the table suggest that:

y-Intercept (mm1)

W1 (mm)

D0 (mm)

0.2181
0.0197
0.0099

4.6
50.8
101.0

15.6
109.3
141.3

3.6313
1.9176
1.3382

0.1047
0.0160
0.0069

9.6
62.5
144.9

34.7
119.9
193.9

2.8500
1.7182
1.3487

0.0615
0.0143
0.0050

16.3
69.9
200.0

46.3
120.2
269.7

(i) For a xed Kn/Knp value, D0 increases when the particle size (R)
increases. Therefore, for a specic beam size (i.e. xed D), the
brittleness number (b = D/D0) reduces as the particle size
increases. When the brittleness number decreases, less brittle
behavior should be expected [30]. This implies that as the particle size increases, the behavior becomes less brittle.
(ii) For xed particle (R) and beam sizes (D), with increase in Kn/
Knp, D0 increases which results in the decrease in the brittleness number. This is also expected because when Kn/Knp
increases the material will have a larger process zone. The
larger the process zone, the less brittle the material
behavior.

57

A. Tarokh, A. Fakhimi / Computers and Geotechnics 62 (2014) 5160

3.3. Effect of rock strength on size of fracture process zone

120

The width of the process zone is a function of Kn/Knp, specimen


size [36] and particle size. By increasing the compressive strength
of the simulated rock (i.e. only increasing the normal and shear
bonds nb and sb in the numerical model) and leaving the rest of
the micro-mechanical parameters, specimen size (D) and particle
size (R) constant, the width of the process zone will not change.
For example if we consider two specimens of 80  240 mm with
Kn/Knp = 20 and Rave = 0.6 mm, but with different uniaxial compressive strengths (for rock beam 1, rc = 64.4 MPa and for rock beam 2,
rc = 130 MPa as nb and sb are doubled in specimen 2), the width of
the process zone will be about 6 mm for both cases (Fig. 11). Therefore, the compressive strength does not have an effect on the process zone dimensions. This is also true for the applied
displacement. In this example, the amount of displacement in
the second rock is higher than the displacement in the rst rock
while the size of the process zone is identical in both cases.
Fig. 12 shows the loaddisplacement curves for these two different
cases.

100

3.4. Relationship between fracture parameters and particle size


In this section, dimensional analysis [40,41] is used to obtain
relationships between the fracture parameters and the particle
radius (R). The fracture toughness of the synthetic material is
assumed to be a function of the following parameters: Kn, Ks, nb,
sb, r0, Knp, R, and l, i.e.

K IC f1 K n ; K s ; nb ; sb ; r0 ; K np ; R; l

The effect of sb is ignored. This is due to the fact that only mode I
loading (opening mode) is considered in this study. Therefore, only
seven parameters inuencing the fracture toughness will remain.
Considering the two independent dimensions, i.e. length and force
that are used to describe the parameters in Eq. (3), ve (7  2 = 5)
dimensionless parameters will be required to fully describe the
relationship between the fracture toughness and the micromechanical parameters. These ve dimensionless parameters are
introduced in the following:

K n K n nb r0
;
;
; ;l
K s K np RK n K n

K IC
Kn
p f2
K
np
rn R

80
60
40
20
0
0.0

0.1

0.2

Displacement (mm)
Fig. 12. Load vs. displacement for rock beam 1 (rc = 64.4 MPa) and rock beam 2
(rc = 130 MPa).

in which rn = nb/2R is the normal contact strength. The data points


from numerical analysis are shown in Fig. 13 which indicates that
the dimensionless fracture toughness has a linear relationship with
the Kn/Knp parameter for the range of Kn/Knp values used in this
study. The apparent fracture toughness (KICA) for a single-edge
cracked specimen under three-point bending for arbitrary depth
to span ratio, could be calculated by

p
K ICA rN D

1 2a1  a1:5

PS=D a

in which rN is the nominal tensile strength, D is the specimen


depth, S is the specimen span, a is the ratio of notch length to specimen depth (a0/D), and PS/D(a) is a shape factor. The expression for
PS/D(a) can be determined by [42]

PS=D a P 1 a 4

 
D
P4 a  P1 a
S

in which the expressions for P4(a) and P1(a) are:

P4 a 1:900  a0:089 0:6031  a  0:4411  a2


1:2231  a3 

The four parameters nb/RKn, Kn/Ks, r0/Kn, and l are xed in our
study. Therefore, the following dimensionless equation could be
written:

Load (kN)

Rock Beam 1
Rock Beam 2

P1 a 1:989  a1  a0:448  0:4581  a


1:2261  a2 


4

60

All particle sizes


Linear (All particle sizes)

KIC /(n.R 0.5)

50

y = 0.45x + 5.09
R = 0.99

40
30
20
10
0
0

Fig. 11. Process zone for a 80  240 mm notched beam at 80% of peak load in the
post peak with Kn/Knp = 20 and Rave = 0.6 mm for a synthetic rock with (a)
rc = 64.4 MPa and (b) rc = 130 MPa.

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90 100

Kn /Knp
Fig. 13. The relationship between dimensionless fracture toughness and Kn/Knp.

A. Tarokh, A. Fakhimi / Computers and Geotechnics 62 (2014) 5160

To obtain the fracture toughness values in Fig. 13 using the


apparent fracture toughness KICA, (1/KICA)2 is plotted vs. 1/D.
According to Eq. (5), a linear relationship should be expected. From
this plot, the KIC value corresponding to very large specimens (1/D
equal to zero) is obtained [36].
The dependence of the fracture toughness to the square root of
particle radius in Eq. (4) is consistent with that reported by Potyondy and Cundall [43] and Huang et al. [41] for an ideally brittle
material (Kn/Knp = 0).
A dimensional analysis similar to that used for the fracture
toughness for the direct tensile strength of the synthetic material
shows that:

rt
Kn
f
rn 3 K np

150
y = 20.02x + 47.05
R = 0.90

100
50

y = 12.72x + 1.23
R = 0.99

0.0

0.3

0.6

0.9

1.2

1.5

R (mm)

W 1 nlch

10

in which n is the coefcient of proportionality. The characteristic


size is dened by

 2
K IC

11

rt

If Eqs. (4) and (9) are substituted in the above equations, we


obtain

W1

200

y = 107.39x + 73.47
R = 0.98

Fig. 14 suggests a linear relationship between dimensionless


tensile strength with the Kn/Knp parameter for the range of Kn/Knp
values used in this study.
In Fig. 15, the variation of W1 vs. the radius of particles for different synthetic materials is shown. The values of W1 are obtained
from Table 3. Notice that a linear relationship between W1 and the
particle size (R) exists for a given value of Kn/Knp; by increasing the
radius of particles in the material, W1 increases which results in a
less brittle behavior of the material as for an ideal brittle material,
the thickness of the process zone is zero.
It has been claimed that the size of the process zone in the mode
I loading for a very large structure is proportional to the characteristic size [30], i.e.

lch

Kn/Knp=20
Kn/Knp=50
Kn/Knp=100
Linear (Kn/Knp=20)
Linear (Kn/Knp=50)
Linear (Kn/Knp=100)

250

W (mm)

58

 2
K IC
nlch n
n

rt

p!2

rn f 2 R
rn f 3

0  12
f2 KKnpn
Rn@  A
f3 KKnpn

12

Eq. (12) suggests a linear relationship between the width of the


process zone and the size (radius) of particles. It is important to
note that the bond strength between particles (rn) that is the
major factor in controlling the material tensile or compressive
strength is cancelled in Eq. (12). This indicates that the width of

All particle sizes


Linear (All particle sizes)

t /n

2
y = 0.01x + 1.15
R = 0.94

0
0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90 100

Kn /Knp
Fig. 14. The relationship between dimensionless tensile strength and Kn/Knp.

Fig. 15. Variation of W1 vs. particle radius (R) for different synthetic materials
(different Kn/Knp values).

process zone is independent of the material strength. This observation is consistent with the results of numerical simulation reported
in Section 3.3 of the paper.
4. Discussion of the results
Preceding discussions demonstrate that the width of the process zone increases as the radius of particles increases and that this
increase is a linear function of the particle size. To display physical
supports for ndings of this study, some experimental observations regarding the effect of grain size in rock or maximum aggregate size in concrete have been reviewed. The work of Otsuka and
Date [5] was concentrated on concrete. They performed tensile
tests on different sample sizes. X-ray and three-dimensional
Acoustic Emission (AE) techniques were used to investigate the
process zone around the notch tip. They calculated the energy of
individual events from the square of the amplitude of the wave
multiplied by the incremental duration time. They considered the
region associated with over 95% of the total AE energy to be related
directly to the fracture of concrete and called this area the fracture
process zone (FPZ). In this area, more densely distributed AE events
were observed. The area that contains 70% of the total AE energy is
referred to the fracture core zone (FCZ). The shape and the size of
FCZ are identical to the microcrack zone obtained by X-ray inspections. It is important to note here that the same trend is observed
for both the FPZ and FCZ, i.e. if the size of one of them increases, the
size of the other one will increase as well. Fig. 16 demonstrates the
FPZ and FCZ in the work of Otsuka and Date [5].
Otsuka and Date [5] used different concrete specimens with different maximum aggregate sizes. All specimens had a constant
uniaxial compressive strength of 20 MPa. They observed that when
the specimen size is identical, the width of FPZ and FCZ both
increase with the increase of the maximum aggregate size. They
demonstrated a linear relationship between the width of FCZ and
the maximum aggregate size (Fig. 17).
Apart from some data scatter, Fig. 17 displays an approximate
linear relationship between the width of FCZ and the aggregate size
which supports the numerical simulation nding in this paper. It is
important to realize that in the work of these authors, the same
material with a constant strength was used and only the aggregate
sizes were modied. This is consistent with the assumptions made
in this study as the tensile and compressive strengths of the synthetic materials used in the numerical modeling were almost constant (see Table 2). It should be emphasized that typically
aggregates do not fail and their action is to arrest the tensile cracks
which are developed through the matrix (i.e. cement). This fact is

A. Tarokh, A. Fakhimi / Computers and Geotechnics 62 (2014) 5160

59

of the process zone and the grain size. This can be the reason for
inconsistency of the current results with those reported by these
authors.
Brooks et al. [13] investigated the role of grain size in fracture
process zone development of two different marbles with different
grain sizes using the nano-indentation technique. Although the
extent of the fracture process zone dened by these authors was
based on the observation of the reduction of nanomechanical properties, their work provided a support for the increase in the size of
the fracture process zone (distance of nanomechanical property
reduction) with the grain size. The uniform mineralogy of both
marbles (mainly calcite) made the grain size the sole controlling
parameter in their study.
Fig. 16. Fracture process zone and fracture core zone (after Otsuka and Date [5]).

5. Conclusions
also consistent with the assumption made in the model that the
cracks develop along the contact interfaces and the particles
remain intact. The scatter of the data in Fig. 17 suggests that the
width of the process zone can vary even if tests are performed
on the apparently similar quasi-brittle materials with the same
particle size distribution. This can be caused by the random distribution of the location of the particles and initial microscopic
defects. We expect that as the intensity of initial defects and the
rock porosity are increased, a wider process zone to be obtained.
In fact it has been recently shown through some physical tests that
greater porosity can result in a greater process zone within a quasibrittle material [44]. This issue needs to be addressed in future
numerical studies.
Zietlow and Labuz [3] studied the fracture process zone in different rock types using acoustic emission measurements. They
suggested a linear relation between the normalized process zone
width (x = W/D) and the logarithm of the normalized average
grain size (d = dave/D); a non-linear relationship between the grain
size and the size of the process zone was suggested. What should
be noted here from the work of Zietlow and Labuz [3] is that their
proposed equation was based on the test results on four different
rock types which in general can have different bonding material
and initial defects. The interfacial material between the particles
and the initial defects have proven to have strong inuences on
the properties of composite materials like concrete and rock.
Therefore, to study the effect of grain size or aggregate size on fracture process zone dimensions, one particular rock or concrete but
with different grain size or aggregate size should be studied; the
effect of different contact bond material and initial micro-cracks
has possibly caused a non-linear relationship between the width

A two-dimensional discrete element model with tension softening was used to study the effect of particle size on the width of the
fracture process zone in quasi-brittle materials like rock. The rock
was idealized as an assembly of unbreakable grains that interact
through the contact points. The contact points can break if the
applied normal or shear force exceeds the normal or shear bonds
(contact strengths). It was found that the width of the process zone
is in general a function of both the specimen and particle sizes. It
was also shown that the width of the process zone is a linear function of the radius of particles. The discrepancy in the literature
regarding the effect of particle size on the size of fracture process
zone in quasi-brittle materials could be a result of conducting
experimental tests on materials with different bonding characteristics and initial defects. With the numerical tests such as the
method implemented in this study, all the relevant parameters in
fracture of a material can be held unchanged while the particle size
is modied. This allows the effect of this single parameter to be
studied in details. The analysis of the numerical results indicates
that the discrete element method with a tension softening contact
bond model is able to mimic the effect of particle size on the width
of the process zone in quasi-brittle materials and that it can be
used as a reliable tool to study crack initiation and propagation
in mode I (opening mode) loading condition.
Acknowledgment
The authors acknowledge the valuable discussions and comments provided by professors Otto D.L Strack and Joseph F. Labuz
at the University of Minnesota.
References

Width of FCZ (mm)

80

Concrete, after Otsuka & Date (2000)

60

40

20

0
0

10

20

30

dmax (mm)
Fig. 17. Relationship between maximum aggregate size and the width of the FCZ
(Otsuka and Date [5]).

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