Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Sullivan, Rani W.

Committee Member

Clay, Stephen B.

Committee Member

DuBien, Janice L.

Committee Member

Tian, Zhenhua

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Aerospace Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


James Worth Bagley College of Engineering


Department of Aerospace Engineering


The purpose of this research is to evaluate the influence of through-the-thickness reinforcements on the fracture behavior of stitched sandwich composites and to develop predictive methodologies to aid in simulating their damage-tolerant capability. Sandwich composites are widely used for their high stiffness-to-weight ratio due to their unique material architecture, which is composed of two rigid, outer facesheets that are bonded to a light-weight internal core. However, sandwich composites are limited by their low interlaminar strengths and can develop core-to-facesheet separation when subjected to low out-of-plane loads. In this study, sandwich composites were manufactured with through-the-thickness reinforcements, or stitches, to act as crack-growth inhibitors and to improve interlaminar properties. Stitch processing parameters, such as the number of stitches per unit area (stitch density) and stitch diameter (linear thread density), have considerable influence on the in-plane and out-of-plane behavior of composite structures. A design of experiments (DoE) approach is used to investigate stitch processing parameters and their interaction on the fracture behavior of stitched sandwich composites. Single cantilevered beam (SCB) tests are performed to estimate the required energy to propagate crack growth, or Mode I fracture energy, during the separation of the facesheet from the core. Additionally, embedded optical fibers within the SCB test articles are used to determine the internal crack front variation. During testing, unique fracture morphologies are obtained and show dependency on stitch processing parameters. Furthermore, embedded optical fibers indicate that the internal crack front is approximately 10% greater than visual edge measurements, which is primarily attributed to Poisson’s effect. The DoE approach is then used to develop a statistically informed response surface model (RSM) to optimize stitch processing parameters based on a maximum predicted fracture energy. Novel analytical formulations are developed for estimating the mode I fracture energy using the J-integral approach. The DoE approach is then used to inform and validate finite element models that simulate the facesheet-to-core separation using a discrete cohesive zone modeling approach. The predicted load and crack growth response show good agreement to experimental measurements and highlights the capability of stitching to arrest delamination in stitched sandwich composites.


Air Force Research Laboratory, Award No.: FA8650-19-2211