Rubber products are typically subjected to cyclic fatigue loading in service. During prolonged exposure to cyclic loading, damages initiate at intrinsic defect sites at microscopic levels and subsequently propagate, leading to catastrophic failure. Therefore, the material that offers better resistance to fatigue crack growth (FCG) is suitable for a durable product. FCG characteristics of rubber compounds depend on many factors, such as constituent material (rubber, filler, etc.) and environment and operational conditions (loading amplitude, loading pattern, etc.). To simulate the realistic service condition of a product, the choice of loading pattern is a key factor and has emerged as a very important research topic in recent times. The present work focuses on the effect of loading pattern on FCG characteristics of tire tread rubber compounds.

In the present study, FCG characteristics of a 100% natural rubber (NR) compound were measured on a tear and fatigue analyzer (TFA, Coesfeld, Germany) using double edge notched pure shear specimen. Fatigue loading was applied using sinusoidal and pulse waveforms over a wide range of tearing energy levels. Pulse mode recorded a very high crack growth rate (∼2 times) compared to sine mode at equivalent peak energy levels.

In order to understand the mechanics of the higher crack growth rate in pulse mode, finite element analysis (FEA) of a pure shear specimen was performed wherein FCG experimental conditions were used as boundary conditions. FE analyses were carried out using both linear and nonlinear viscoelastic material models. Nonlinear viscoelastic FEA results revealed that viscous energy dissipation at the crack tip is much lower in the case of pulse mode, which is in support of higher the FCG rate in pulse mode as observed in the experiments.

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