Aerostructural Efficiency of Damage Tolerant Composites via Optimised Fibre Placement

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Aerospace Engineering


The proposed project will create new capability to improve the structural efficiency of laminated carbon fibre composites. It will reduce weight and production cost by at least 10% (and possibly up to 30%) compared with existing stiffened panels made from pre-impregnated material. The new methods will facilitate the development of game-changing technology. The key innovation of the project will be to exploit state-of-the-art manufacturing, Variable Angle Tow (VAT) placement (where stiff carbon fibres are steered along curves to maximize structural performance). Ongoing studies suggest that such savings are achievable for standard test specimens (coupons) but new understanding is required to fully characterise structural and material behaviour from the full component level down to individual lamina and their interfaces. The entire structural system including material, geometrical and manufacturing parameters will be optimised. The extra design freedoms, created by curved fibre trajectories, provide scope for pushing back the envelope of structural efficiency. The academic team provide a unique capability to fulfil this vision. They have a proven track record in manufacture, modelling and design of composite materials and structures and have clear routes to exploitation via a pivotal industrial base. Their novel damage tolerance modelling techniques indicate that large improvements in material efficiency can be achieved if critical positions of delamination damage are tailored via through-thickness laminate optimisation. The team's preliminary VAT results indicate the prospect of developing buckle-free structures, reducing the need for stiffeners, with associated substantial cost and weight savings. Moreover, the specific manufacturing capability to produce variable angle fibres is unique to the UK, having been modified from an embroidery machine, using dry fibres rather than pre-impregnated material. Airbus and GKN will support the project with 290k of direct funding.


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Coburn B (2014) Buckling analysis of stiffened variable angle tow panels in Composite Structures

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Coburn B (2016) Buckling analysis, design and optimisation of variable-stiffness sandwich panels in International Journal of Solids and Structures

Description Developed and patented applied for new manufacturing process of composite materials , Continuous Tow Shearing.

Methods we developed for stress analysis are being adopted by various researchers as shown by the high number of citations for our papers
Exploitation Route EPSRC Cimcomp grant for Eric KIm (PDRA on this grant)
ATI VIEWS grant led by GKN
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine

Description The analysis methods were adopted by Airbus and passed a technology gate level 1 review in 2013. ICOMAT spinout from University in 2019 ICOMAT has grown and has attracted VC investment (as of March 2020)
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description Industrial CASE award
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2014 
End 12/2018
Description VIEWS programme
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation Aerospace Technology Institute 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2014 
End 02/2016
Description centre for doctoral training
Amount £240,000 (GBP)
Funding ID two studentships under CDT 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Title buckling and postbuckling methods 
Description Software 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Software delivered to Airbus on buckling and postbucking of variable stiffness panels 
Description Airbus tow steering 
Organisation Airbus Group
Department Airbus Operations
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Quarterly technical meetings/presentations. Conference and journal papers
Collaborator Contribution Airbus provided feedback on our progress and also gave us case studies to work with
Impact See publication list for EPSRC grant EP/H026371/1
Start Year 2010
Description GKN tow steering 
Organisation GKN
Department GKN Aerospace
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Technical presentations/discusssions
Collaborator Contribution Advice on progress and case studies
Impact See publication list for EPSRC grant EP/H026371/1
Start Year 2010
Description NASA 
Organisation National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Department NASA Langley Research Centre
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Buckling of plates and shells methods.
Collaborator Contribution Hosted visits from 2001 inwards
Impact Journal papers with Nemeth 2007, 2009
Title Tow placement apparatus and method 
Description New Composite materials manufacturing technique. 
IP Reference GB2492594 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2013
Licensed No
Impact Further investment by GKN and Airbus. CIMcomp fellowship for Kim and lectureship for Kim at University of Bristol
Title Buckling and Postbuckling models 
Description Matlab codes to Airbus 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Successively passed Technology Gate review with Airbus 
Description We developed a new composites manufacturing procedure, called continuous tow shearing. We also patented this. The work was further developed by postdoc (Kim), whi is now alecturer at Bristol and Zympeloudis (ACCIS CDT PhD student). The latter is now Chief executive, after having completed his PhD 
Year Established 2019 
Impact too early