Comparison of different adhesively-bonded joint types for mechanical structures
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Adhesively-bonded joints are widely used to join structural components. The most common joint types are single-lap joints (SLJ), double-lap joints (DLJ), stepped-lap joints and scarf joints. Several factors influence the behaviour and strength of an adhesive joint, namely the type of adhesive (brittle or ductile, strong or weak) and joint geometry. One of the most important parameters that affects the joint strength is the overlap length (LO). A comparative study that involves several joint geometries and uses adhesives with different characteristics was carried out to check which type of adhesive is most suitable for a particular joint geometry. For this purpose, SLJ, DLJ, stepped-lap joints and scarf joints were chosen for testing with three adhesives. The experimental results were compared with numerical results obtained from Abaqus® using an integrated cohesive zone modelling module. Initially, a stress analysis was carried out to compare the different joint geometries. With this work, it was concluded that the optimal joint type significantly depends on the type of adhesive used, such that less strong and ductile adhesives are more suitable for joint geometries that exhibit large stress variations, while stronger but more brittle adhesives are recommended for joint geometries with more uniform stresses.
KeywordsEpoxy Polyurethane Finite element analysis Fracture mechanics Cohesive zone models
cohesive zone model
Finite Element Method
glass-fibre reinforced polymer
total length of the joint between grips
vertical adhesive layers’ thickness for the stepped-lap joints
thick adherend shear tests
cohesive strength in mixed-mode
extended finite element method
through-thickness normal stresses
average value of τxy in the adhesive bond for respective value of LO
Adhesive bonding has been widely used in several industries, such as automotive and aeronautical. Nowadays, and with the advances of adhesive science, the use of this type of joining method has become more appealing due to the higher peel and shear strengths and also allowable ductility up to failure of the adhesives [1, 2]. Adhesively-bonded joints have some advantages over traditional joints (welded, bolted or riveted), such as reduced weight, more uniform stress distributions, absence of damage in the bonded parts, ease of manufacture and the possibility to join dissimilar materials . However, bonded joints are yet not reliable in critical connections because of issues like fatigue and long-term behaviour uncertainties, and large scatter in the failure loads . Two alternatives may be chosen for the analysis of adhesive joints: closed-loop analyses or analytical methods and numerical methods (e.g. finite element method or FEM). The first prediction methods for adhesive structures consisted of analytical formulations, and the work of Volkersen  and Goland and Reissner  were precursors of several theoretical studies. The main advantage is the simplicity in obtaining the stress distributions in the adhesive, due to the simplified assumptions in terms of structure geometry, load, and boundary conditions. The most popular technique for the strength prediction of adhesive joints is the FEM [7, 8]. Initially, the continuous mechanics approach was considered, which required the stress distributions and an adequate failure criteria . A FEM analysis can also be used in conjunction with fracture mechanics criteria for strength prediction, either by stress intensity factors or by an energy approach . In the last decades new methodologies were introduced, one of which is modelling damage growth by combining the FEM with CZM . This technique combines conventional FEM modelling for regions that are expected to be undamaged and a Fracture Mechanics approach for the cohesive elements to stimulate the crack growth . A very recent alternative to the crack propagation model inside materials is the extended finite element method (XFEM), which uses enriched form functions to represent a discontinuous displacement field . Few works apply this technique in bonded joints .
The most used joint types are SLJ, DLJ, stepped-lap joints and scarf joints. Undoubtedly, the SLJ is the most studied joint type due to the easy fabrication process, although the efficiency averaged to the bonded length is the worst between the mentioned joint types [15, 16]. DLJ are also simple to fabricate but there is a need to have access to both sides of the structures to perform these joints. However, the efficiency of this joint is much higher than that of the SLJ because of duplicating the shear-resistant area for the same LO . Stepped-lap and scarf joints have an improved overall performance for the same bonded area, but the components to be bonded need milling operations, which makes the joints more demanding to fabricate [18, 19].
A large number of authors presented studies on different joint configurations, and some of these are purely experimental. The study of Papanicolaou et al.  focuses on an experimental and analytical investigation of unbalanced boron/epoxy-aluminium (2024-T3 alloy) SLJ subjected to a tensile loading, after being exposed to a corrosive environment, in order to study this effect on the maximum load (Pm) and failure mode. A high strength adhesive (FM94) was used for bonding and different LO were tested. The results mainly prove that LO and the aging conditions directly affect Pm, and that an optimum value of LO can be defined. The maximum through-thickness normal (σy) and shear stresses (τxy) increase with bigger LO, resulting in a non-proportional Pm improvement with LO. The experimental work of Lee et al.  reports on joint strengths, σy stresses (by extensometry) and failure modes in adhesively-bonded double-strap and supported glass-fibre reinforced polymer (GFRP) SLJ, bonded with three different epoxy adhesives. The load–displacement curves and Pm of the double-strap joints were compared with those of the supported SLJ to show the superior strength characteristics of the double-strap joints. It was shown that Pm was almost independent of the adhesive type, decreased with the adhesive layer thickness and increased with LO. It was also concluded that Pm of the double-strap joints is highly dependent on LO. Actually, an almost 50% increase in Pm was found by doubling LO from 50 to 100 mm.
Other works included numerical simulation, eventually supported by experiments for validation purposes. Nunes et al.  compared the tensile performance of SLJ and DLJ bonded with three different adhesives. The authors concluded that the joints’ behaviour is highly dependent on the adhesive type. Pm, either for SLJ or DLJ, was very limited with the increase of LO for the adhesive Araldite® AV138, due to its brittle behaviour. For the Araldite® 2015, which enables plasticization of the adhesive bond when the limiting stresses are attained, results showed an increased performance for higher LO. The Sikaforce® 7888, which manages to combine high strength with ductility, showed a better performance for both small and large LO. Liao et al.  numerically studied the effects of the adhesive thickness (tA), adhesive type and scarf angle (α), on the failure behaviour of adhesive scarf joints subjected to uniaxial tensile loading. A mixed-mode CZM with a bilinear shape coupled to a FEM subroutine was used to induce cohesive failure of the adhesive. The numerical results demonstrated that Pm increases with the reduction of tA. The authors concluded that the main parameters that evaluate the performances of SLJ, e.g. Pm, maximum applied displacement and failure energy, increase with the reduction of α. Regarding Pm, the joint loses the load-bearing capacity when adopting the brittle adhesive, while it keeps partial load-bearing capacity with the ductile adhesive. The strength improvement of adhesively-bonded scarf repairs in aluminium structures with external reinforcements was investigated in Ref. , using two adhesives (a brittle and a moderately ductile). It was concluded that the repair strength increases with the decrease of α and also with the bonding of external reinforcements. The strength of the adhesively-bonded stepped-lap joints with different step numbers was analysed by Akpinar . The tensile behaviour of SLJ, one-step lap joints and three-step lap joints was experimentally and numerically examined by keeping an identical bonding length between all samples examined. The samples for the three different joint types used in the experimental studies were modelled three dimensionally by using Ansys package software. Multilinear isotropic hardening-von Mises plasticity was considered as material model. Failure was assessed by using a simple continuum mechanics criterion based on the von-Mises stresses. The AA2024-T3 aluminium alloy was used for the adherends, while a flexible adhesive and a stiff adhesive were applied separately. The authors concluded that changing the joint geometry in the bonding region has a large impact on the stress concentrations arising in the adhesive joint and on the joints’ load carrying capacity. According to the test data, the one-step and three-step lap joints bonded with the flexible adhesive suffered a strength improvement of 11% and 60%, respectively, over the SLJ. Comparison of the load carrying capacities of joints bonded with the stiff adhesive shows that the one-step lap and three-step lap joints carried 8.8% and 68% more load than a conventional SLJ, respectively. The authors also concluded that the results of the experimental study and FEM are in close agreement. The results of the numerical analysis and experimental study show that critical loci for failure are the interface between adhesive layer and upper adherend. Ichikawa et al.  carried out a three-dimensional FEM stress analysis and strength evaluation of stepped-lap adhesive joints between mild steel adherends, subjected to static tensile loadings. The authors concluded the value of the maximum principal stress in the adhesive decreased with the increase of the adhesive Young’s modulus, with the decrease of tA and with the increase of the number of butted steps.
The main objectives of this work are to carry out a comparative study that involves several joint geometries and uses adhesives with different characteristics, to check which type of adhesive is most suitable for a particular joint geometry. For this purpose, SLJ, DLJ, stepped-lap joints and scarf joints were chosen for testing with three adhesives. The experimental results are compared with numerical results obtained using Abaqus® using an integrated CZM module. Initially, a stress analysis is carried out to compare the different joint geometries.
Characterization of the joint materials
Properties of the AW6082 T651 aluminium alloy 
Young’s modulus, E (GPa)
70.07 ± 0.83
Yield stress, σy (MPa)
261.67 ± 7.65
Tensile strength, σf (MPa)
324.00 ± 0.16
Tensile failure strain, εf (%)
21.70 ± 4.24
Young’s modulus, E (GPa)
4.89 ± 0.81
1.85 ± 0.21
0.49 ± 0.09
Poisson’s ratio, ν
Tensile yield stress, σy (MPa)
36.49 ± 2.47
12.63 ± 0.61
3.24 ± 0.48
Tensile failure strength, σf (MPa)
39.45 ± 3.18
21.63 ± 1.61
11.48 ± 0.25
Tensile failure strain, εf (%)
1.21 ± 0.10
4.77 ± 0.15
19.18 ± 1.40
Shear modulus, G (GPa)
Shear yield stress, τy (MPa)
25.1 ± 0.33
14.6 ± 1.3
5.16 ± 1.14
Shear failure strength, τf (MPa)
30.2 ± 0.40
17.9 ± 1.8
10.17 ± 0.64
Shear failure strain, γf (%)
7.8 ± 0.7
43.9 ± 3.4
54.82 ± 6.38
0.43 ± 0.02
2.36 ± 0.17
4.70 ± 0.34
5.41 ± 0.47
CZM parameters of the three adhesives
t n 0 (MPa)
t s 0 (MPa)
Results and discussion
This Section initially presents a description of the failure modes. A numerical stress distribution analysis in the adhesive layer is then undertaken, which assists in the following discussion regarding the experimental and numerical strength analysis, for a detailed understanding of the joints’ behaviour.
Peel and shear stresses comparison
This Section compares σy and τxy stress distributions for the SLJ, DLJ, stepped-lap and scarf joints at the adhesive mid-thickness and for LO = 12.5 mm and 50 mm, such that a detailed discussion of the joint strengths can be introduced later in this work. It should be mentioned that the LO = 12.5 mm curve for the scarf joint was taken for α = 15°, which corresponds to LO ≈ 11.2 mm. All stress plots are normalized by τavg, representing the average value of τxy in the adhesive bond for respective value of LO. These stresses were taken during the elastic part of the loading (adhesive and adherends) and are valid up to the onset of adhesive or adherend plasticization. The stress distributions relate to the Araldite® 2015, although they can also represent the behaviour of the other adhesives in which regards a qualitative comparison between joint types and geometries (different LO and α). In fact, stress distributions are similar between adhesives, although small quantitative variations in σy and τxy peak stresses were found depending on the adhesives’ stiffness. This effect was tested in the work of Ribeiro and Tita . Thus, this study enables a perception of the stress modifications induced by changing either the joint type and geometry and to discuss the Pm tendencies found.
Thus, this discussion makes clear that the scarf joint should perform best for the same bonded area of adhesive, followed by the stepped-lap joint. The DLJ only outperforms the SLJ, which clearly gives the worst performance, but it should be considered that, for the same LO, the DLJ has twice the bonded area than all other joints. As a result, these differences should result in a distinct joint behaviour, although the joints’ performance also depends on the adhesive type, in the sense that, typically, more brittle adhesives are more sensitive to peak stresses. Moreover, at high transmitted loads, which typically take place for higher LO, another issue has importance: plasticization of the adherends. All these issues will be discussed further in the strength analysis that will follow.
Experimental joint strength
Figure 11b presents the experimental Pm results for all joints bonded with the Araldite® 2015. For this adhesive, the DLJ performs best, irrespectively of LO. This difference to the previous adhesive is due to the plasticization capacity of this adhesive, which makes the double bonding area of the DLJ preponderant, despite the existing peak stresses (Figs. 9, 10) . Despite this fact, it is possible to verify that, for LO > 25 mm, Pm is little affected by the increase of LO, once the adherends’ yield limit is reached. Due to its improved stress distributions (Figs. 9, 10) , the scarf joints show a nearly proportional increase of Pm with LO. For LO = 50 mm (α = 3.43°), it approaches Pm of the DLJ. However, further LO increase (or, correspondingly, α reduction) would trigger adherends’ yielding with small benefit to the joint strength. The SLJ and stepped-lap joint attained very similar values to the scarf joint up to LO = 25 mm because, under these conditions, peak stresses are limited (Figs. 9 and 10) [25, 39] and the adhesive still has some peak stress absorption capacity. However, above this LO these joints show increasing differences to the scarf joint (especially the SLJ), because of the corresponding degradation of stress distributions The SLJ and the stepped-lap joint obtained identical Pm values up to LO = 25 mm but, above this value, the stepped-lap joint clearly outperforms the SLJ. This difference is based on the moderate ductility of this adhesive, which allows to absorb the smaller peak stresses of the SLJ up to LO = 25 mm, but fails to do so for higher LO because of the higher peak stresses, which reflects in the cancel of the proportionality between Pm and LO. On the other hand, due to the more uniform stress distributions of the stepped-lap joints (Figs. 9, 10) , higher strengths are attained for the bigger LO. To conclude, for the Araldite® 2015, the DLJ always provide the best results since, due to this adhesive’s ductility, the bonded area is preponderant over peak stresses of the different joint types. The difference is highest for short LO, while for higher LO the scarf joint approaches the DLJ.
Figure 11c compares Pm for the different joint types with the Sikaforce® 7752. For this adhesive, the DLJ outperforms all other joint types by a significant amount. For this joint type, up to LO = 37.5 mm, the increase of Pm with LO is proportional. Above this value, the adherends’ plasticization limits the joint strength and the proportionality is cancelled. Since LO = 50 mm nearly reaches the failure strength of the aluminium adherends, no further LO increase is recommended with this adhesive. The other joint types showed identical results between them, with maximum Pm of ≈ 15 kN compared to Pm ≈ 24 kN for the DLJ. The identical behaviour between the SLJ, stepped-lap joints and scarf joints is caused by the extreme ductility of this adhesive, which manages to absorb practically all peak stresses. Under these conditions the scarf joint, which has the most convenient stress distributions (Figs. 9, 10) , excels only by a slight difference the SLJ and stepped-lap joint. However, between these three joint types, the SLJ may be recommended because of the fabrication ease. The scarf and stepped-lap joint may be a good solution if a flush joining surface is required.
Numerical joint strength
The DLJ results are presented in Fig. 12b for the three tested adhesives. The behaviour for the joints bonded with the Araldite® AV138 is similar to that of the SLJ, and almost a perfect match was attained between the CZM and experimental results (maximum deviation of 5.4% for LO = 12.5 mm). This level of agreement is mainly due to this adhesive’s brittleness, which is accurately modelled by a triangular CZM. The Pm predictions were also in agreement with the experimental values for the Araldite® 2015 but, in this case, the adherends’ failure governed Pm for LO ≥ 25 mm. Thus, in these simulations, there are the adherends’ properties rather than those of the adhesive that dictate the outcome of the simulation. The maximum percentile deviation for this adhesive was 1.9%, for LO = 25 mm. The numerical results for the Sikaforce® 7752 reveal some deviation, equally to what happened for the SLJ, due to identical reasons (maximum deviation of 15.6% for LO = 12.5 mm). Only for LO = 50 mm this was not true, but in this case, due to the high loads involved, it was the adherends’ failure that dictated Pm. For this joint type, for short LO the best results are obtained with the Araldite® AV138 and 2015. For intermediate LO, the Araldite® 2015 clearly outperforms the other adhesives and the respective joints quickly reach the adherends’ limiting strength. For bigger LO, the Araldite® AV138 becomes clearly inadequate, while the Sikaforce® 7752 approached the Araldite® 2015 due to the limiting strength of the adherends.
Figure 12c presents the results for the stepped-lap joints bonded with the three adhesives studied in this work. The triangular CZM law resulted once again in a good Pm prediction for all LO. For the Araldite® AV138, the maximum deviation was 3.6%, obtained for LO = 12.5 mm. The reasons for this behaviour were previously documented. The predictive capabilities for the Araldite® 2015 were also good, although for LO = 50 mm the Pm prediction was 2.0% above the experimental result (corresponding to the largest difference). The strength of the aluminium adherends was not attained, like in the DLJ, but the adherends suffered plastic deformation for LO = 50 mm. For the Sikaforce® 7752, the same discrepancy between numerical and experimental Pm values was found, with the numerical values falling short of the experiments. For this joint type, the deviation increases for higher LO. Thus, the maximum deviation was 13.9% for LO = 50 mm. The best performing adhesive was the Araldite® 2015, except for LO = 12.5 mm, for which the Araldite® AV138 provided the highest Pm. The Sikaforce® 7752 only becomes competitive for large LO.
The Pm comparison for the scarf joints is presented in Fig. 12d for the three tested adhesives. The Araldite® AV138 is clearly the best choice for this joint type, for all LO. The CZM predictions were very accurate, and they were always inside the experimental scatter, except for LO = 17.0 mm (α = 10°) and LO = 5.2 mm (α = 30°). The maximum error was found for the latter of these two, of 5.8%. The good agreement extends to the Araldite® 2015. For this adhesive, the biggest discrepancy, of 8.0%, was found for LO = 5.2 mm (α = 30°). Moreover, only in this case was the numerical value outside of the experimental range (by approximately 130 N). For the other LO, much smaller deviations were found. The numerical Pm values for the scarf joints bonded with the Sikaforce® 7752 were typically below the experimental ones and outside the limits defined by the standard deviation. The maximum error was 12.7% for LO = 17.0 mm (α = 10°). The reasons for this difference were already discussed. However, due to the more uniform stress distributions for the scarf joints (Figs. 9, 10), the under prediction is smaller, since the failure displacement of the CZM laws is not as preponderant as the cohesive strengths . Also due to the typical shape of the stress distributions, the strong yet brittle Araldite® AV138 is clearly the best choice since, under these conditions, the ductility becomes almost irrelevant for Pm.
In this work, an experimental and numerical (CZM) comparison was made between several types of adhesive joints, and considering three adhesives. From the experimentally obtained results, it is possible to conclude that the performance of the joints is very influenced by the choice of the adhesive. For the Araldite® AV138 and large values of LO, the joint with the best performance was the scarf joint, because the this joint takes advantage of the adhesives’ strength, even for brittle adhesives, due to the typically flat stress distributions. However, for shorter LO, due the area effect in the DLJ, these joints behave better. Higher LO lead to large peak stresses and the area effect is cancelled because of the adhesive’s brittleness. On the other hand, for the Araldite® 2015, since this adhesive is more ductile, the DLJ performs best. Under these conditions, the joints take advantage of the higher bonded area, despite the peak stresses. The scarf joint approaches the DLJ for higher LO because of taking advantage of the more uniform stress distributions and due the DLJ attaining the adherends’ limit strength. The Sikaforce® 7752 also performs best in the DLJ joint type. Moreover, for LO = 50 mm, Pm is identical to the Araldite® 2015 due to the adherends’ plastic deformation effect. The other joint types are much below the DLJ, with slight advantage for the scarf joint. However, the fabrication complications may not justify the advantage over the SLJ. The CZM simulations with triangular cohesive laws showed a good match to respective experiments, except for consistent Pm under predictions when using the Sikaforce® 7752, because of the ductility of this adhesive, which is not correctly modelled with a triangular CZM. Nonetheless, rough predictions were achieved. The scarf joint showed slightly better strength predictions by CZM modelling. Actually, due to the improved stress distributions of this joint type, the cohesive strengths rule the failure process, instead of the failure displacements. The maximum errors obtained by joint type were as follows, always for the Sikaforce® 7752: 16.0% (SLJ), 15.6% (DLJ), 13.9% (stepped-lap joint) and 12.7% (scarf joint). For the other adhesives, the correspondence was significantly better. Thus, it can be concluded that CZM is an accurate tool for the strength prediction of bonded joints, which enabled to define the best geometry for each adhesive type (and vice versa).
NGCB performed the experimental tests and respective data analysis, and he also performed the numerical analysis. RDSGC and RDFM developed the numerical technique and participated the paper writing. FJGS participated in the paper writing. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors would like to thank Sika® Portugal for supplying the adhesive.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Availability of data and materials
The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
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