Elucidating the effect of cohesive zone length in fracture simulations of particulate composites

Sathiskumar Anusuya Ponnusami, Jayaprakash Krishnasamy, Sergio Turteltaub*, Sybrand van der Zwaag

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


The influence of the cohesive zone length on the crack driving force is quantified and analyzed in a representative system of particles dispersed in a matrix of a composite material. For heterogeneous material systems, e.g. particulate composites, it is known that as a crack approaches the particles, the crack driving force may increase (shielding) or decrease (anti-shielding) depending on the relative stiffness of the particles. These results have been established in numerous studies using the classical linear elastic fracture mechanics approach (LEFM). The cohesive zone method (CZM) introduces a length scale parameter, referred to as the cohesive zone (or fracture process zone) length scale, into the formulation of fracture mechanics. It is generally established that fracture mechanics predictions using the CZM are similar to those obtained using LEFM in the limit case where the process zone is very small relative to a suitable characteristic dimension of the problem. However, the influence of the length scale parameter has not been clearly demonstrated for crack propagation in a heterogeneous material system, especially when the cohesive zone length is not negligible. By considering a simple crack-particle-matrix system, it is shown that, in addition to the elastic properties, the process zone length scale parameter exhibits a critical influence on the crack driving force. For this study, the concept of configurational forces is utilized and the eXtended Finite Element Method (XFEM) is employed as a tool to simulate crack propagation. Through numerical simulations, it is shown that (i) the magnitude of the driving force vector directly depends on the length scale parameter and (ii) the direction of the driving force is largely influenced by the presence of a cohesive zone. This, in turn, alters the crack trajectory in the particulate system if the criterion for the direction of crack propagation depends on the orientation of the driving force vector. Towards this end, two different criteria for direction of crack propagation, namely maximum principal stress and maximum energy dissipation, are compared in the presence of a cohesive zone and the results are reported. The study reveals the crucial influence of the inherent length scale associated with the cohesive zone method when applied to crack propagation in particulate composite systems and elucidates important differences when comparing predictions from distinct theories of fracture mechanics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108431
Number of pages14
JournalEngineering Fracture Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Cohesive zone fracture mechanics
  • Crack driving force
  • Crack-particle interaction
  • Fracture process zone
  • Length scale
  • Particulate composites


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