The bridging of matrix cracks by fibers is an important toughening mechanism in fiber-reinforced brittle matrix composites. This paper presents the results of a nonlinear finite element analysis of the Mode I propagation of a bridged matrix crack in a finite size specimen. The composite is modeled as an orthotropic continuum and the bridging due to the fibers is modeled as a distribution of tractions that resist crack opening. A critical stress intensity factor criterion is employed for matrix crack propagation, while a critical crack opening condition is used for fiber failure. The structural response of the specimen (load-deflection curves) as well as the stress intensity factor of the propagating crack is calculated for various constituent properties and specimen configurations for both tensile and bending loading. By controlling the length of the bridged crack, results are obtained that highlight the transition from stable to unstable behavior of the propagating crack.

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