Mechanics of materials approach in composites
Heterogeneous materials, such as composites, solid foams, poly-crystals, or bone, consist of clearly distinguishable constituents (or phases) that show different mechanical and physical material properties.
Given the (linear and/or nonlinear) material properties of the constituents, one important goal of micromechanics of materials consists of predicting the response of the heterogeneous material on the basis of the geometries and properties of the individual phases, a task known as homogenization. The benefit of homogenization is that the behavior of a heterogeneous material can be determined without resorting to testing it. Such tests may be expensive and involve a large number of permutations (e.g., in the case of composites: constituent material combinations; fiber and particle volume fractions; fiber and particle arrangements; and processing histories). Furthermore, continuum micromechanics can predict the full multi-axial properties and responses of inhomogeneous materials, which are often anisotropic. Such properties are often difficult to measure experimentally, but knowing what they are a requirement, e.g., for structural analysis involving composites. To rely on micromechanics, the particular micromechanics theory must be validated through comparison to experimental data.
The second main task of micromechanics of materials is localization, which aims at evaluating the local (stress and strain) fields in the phases for given macroscopic load states, phase properties, and phase geometries. Such knowledge is especially important in understanding and describing material damage and failure.
Because most heterogeneous materials show a statistical rather than a deterministic arrangement of the constituents, the methods of micromechanics are typically based on the concept of the representative volume element (RVE). An RVE is understood to be a sub-volume of an inhomogeneous medium that is of sufficient size for providing all geometrical information necessary for obtaining an appropriate homogenized behavior.
Most methods in micromechanics of materials are based on continuum mechanics rather than on atomistic approaches such as molecular dynamics. In addition to the mechanical responses of inhomogeneous materials, their thermal conduction behavior and related problems can be studied with analytical and numerical continuum methods. All these approaches may be subsumed under the name of “continuum micromechanics”.