In this paper, a research activity, focused on the investigation of new reinforcements able to improve the toughness of composite materials systems, is introduced. The overall aim is to delay the delamination propagation and, consequently, to increase the carrying load capability of composite structures by exploiting the fiber bridging effects. Indeed, the influence of fiber bridging related Mode I fracture toughness (GIc
) values on the onset and propagation of delaminations in stiffened composite panels, under three-point bending loading conditions, have been experimentally and numerically studied. The investigated stiffened panels have been manufactured by using epoxy resin/carbon fibers material systems, characterized by different GIc
values, which can be associated with the material fiber bridging sensitivity. Experimental data, in terms of load and delaminated area as a function of the out-of-plane displacements, have been obtained for each tested sample. Non-Destructive Inspection (NDI) has been performed to identify the debonding extension and position. To completely understand the evolution of the delamination and its dependence on the material characteristics, experiments have been numerically simulated using a newly developed robust numerical procedure for the delamination growth simulation, able to take into account the influence of the fracture toughness changes, associated with the materials’ fiber bridging sensitivity. The combined use of numerical results and experimental data has allowed introducing interesting considerations of the capability of the fiber bridging to substantially slow down the evolution of the debonding between skin and reinforcements in composite stiffened panels.
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