Composite components with bio-inspired micro-structures: Exploiting improved damage tolerance

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Aeronautics


The project aims to develop original and improved CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer) composite solutions which will give component designers control of the component failure. This will be achieved by manipulating the microstructure of the CFRP to achieve greater damage tolerance and bespoke translaminar fracture properties at component level.
This PhD is being completed in parallel with a larger project with Rolls-Royce which aims to develop original and improved CFRP composite solutions to implement alternative release planes (ARP) in CFRP fan blades and to improve the energy dissipation in CFRP containment casings during blade-off events. This PhD will explore novel solutions to these industrial challenges.
Through the process of evolution, nature has had hundreds of millions of years to develop microstructures to improve the performance of biological structures. Such structures can serve as inspiration for synthetic materials with drastically improved properties. This PhD will explore developing new bio-inspired CFRP microstructures to improve the toughness of composite components. This PhD will consider new sources of bio-inspiration, a potential suitor being the scales of the African Pangolin. A manufacturing route to develop prototype components will be developed, followed by an experimental study of the microstructure performance.
This PhD will additionally explore manipulating the behaviour of CFRP components upon an event causing fracture. A component without an engineered microstructure may typically fail at an undesirable location, for example a fan blade failing close to the root upon a bird strike. This PhD will explore how the microstructure of CFRP could be manipulated to change the failure mechanisms. One route of investigation would be to design the microstructure such that fracture occurs at an ARP; another route would be exploring the feasibility of designing a CFRP microstructure to achieve fragmentation of the component.
CFRP laminates are often combined with other materials in components. It has been found experimentally that when metal is bonded to CFRP, initial failure of the CFRP component coincides with the edge of the metal. This PhD will explore how this joint may be better designed to delay the onset of failure. An experimental study will be carried out testing a variety of novel solutions.
Finally, AFP (Automated Fibre Placement) has emerged as a leading manufacturing route for composite components. This PhD will explore how AFP may be used to develop new CFRP microstructures with greater damage tolerance and bespoke translaminar fracture properties.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/T51780X/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2025
2445252 Studentship EP/T51780X/1 30/09/2020 31/03/2024 Adam Whitehouse