Controlling the fracture response of structures via topology optimization: From delaying fracture nucleation to maximizing toughness

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It is now a well-established fact that even simple topology variations can drastically change the fracture response of structures. With the objective of gaining quantitative insight into this phenomenon, this paper puts forth a density-based topology optimization framework for the fracture response of structures subjected to quasistatic mechanical loads. One of the two key features of the proposed framework is that it makes use of a complete phase-field fracture theory that has been recently shown capable of accurately describing the nucleation and propagation of brittle fracture in a wide range of nominally elastic materials under a wide range of loading conditions. The other key feature is that the framework is based on a multi-objective function that allows optimizing in a weighted manner: (i) the initial stiffness of the structure, (ii) the first instance at which fracture nucleates, and (iii) the energy dissipated by fracture propagation once fracture nucleation has occurred. The focus is on the basic case of structures made of a single homogeneous material featuring an isotropic linear elastic behavior alongside an isotropic strength surface and toughness. Novel interpolation rules are proposed for each of these three types of material properties. As a first effort to gain quantitative insight, the framework is deployed to optimize the fracture response of 2D structures wherein the fracture is bound to nucleate in three different types of regions: within the bulk, from geometric singularities (pre-existing cracks and sharp corners), and from smooth parts of the boundary. The obtained optimized structures are shown to exhibit significantly enhanced fracture behaviors compared to those of structures that are optimized according to conventional stiffness maximization. Furthermore, the results serve to reveal a variety of strengthening and toughening mechanisms. These include the promotion of highly porous structures, the formation of tension-compression asymmetric regions, and the removal of cracks and sharp corners. The particular mechanism that is preferred by a given structure, not surprisingly, correlates directly to the elastic, strength, and toughness properties of the material that is made of.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105227
JournalJournal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Brittle fracture
  • Critical energy release rate
  • Overall toughness
  • Strength
  • Topology optimization
  • toughening mechanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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