Health monitoring of bonded composite aerospace structures

White, C 2009, Health monitoring of bonded composite aerospace structures, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Health monitoring of bonded composite aerospace structures
Author(s) White, C
Year 2009
Abstract Airframe assemblers have long recognised that for a new aircraft to be successful it must use less fuel, have lower maintenance requirements, and be more affordable. One common tactic is the use of innovative materials, such as advanced composites. Composite materials are suited to structural connection by adhesive bonding, which minimises the need for inefficient mechanical fastening.

The aim of this PhD project was to investigate the application of existing, yet immature Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) techniques to adhesively bonded composite aerospace structures. The PhD study focused on two emerging SHM technologies - frequency response and comparative vacuum monitoring (CVM). This project aimed to provide missing critical information for each technique. This included determining sensitivity to damage, repeatability of results, and operating limitations for the frequency response method. Study of the CVM technique aimed to address effectiveness of damage detection, manufacture of sensor cavities, and the influence of sensor integration on mechanical performance of bonded structures.

Experimental research work is presented examining the potential of frequency response techniques for the detection of debonding in composite-to-composite external patch repairs. Natural frequencies were found to decrease over a discrete frequency range as the debond size increased; confirming that such features could be used to both detect and characterise damage. The effectiveness of the frequency response technique was then confirmed for composite patch and scarf repair specimens for free-free and fixed-fixed boundary conditions. Finally, the viability of the frequency response technique was assessed for a scarf repair of a real aircraft component, where it was found that structural damping limited the maximum useable frequency.

The feasibility of CVM technique for the inspection of co-cured stiffener-skin aircraft structures was explored. The creation of sensor cavities with tapered mandrels was found to significantly alter the microstructure of the stiffener, including crimping and waviness of fibres and resin-rich zones between plies. Representative stiffened-skin structure with two sensor cavity configurations (parallel and perpendicular to the stiffener direction) was tested to failure in tension and compression. While tensile failure strength was significantly reduced for both configurations (up to 25%), no appreciable differences in compression properties were found.

Two potential sensor cavity configurations were investigated for the extension of the CVM technique to pre-cured and co-bonded scarf repair schemes. The creation of radial and circumferential CVM sensor cavities was found to significantly alter the microstructure of the adhesive bond-line and the architecture of the repair material in the case of the co-bonded repair. These alterations changed the failure mode and reduced the tensile failure strength of the repair. A fibre straightening mechanism responsible for progressive failure (specific to co-bonded repairs with circumferential cavities) was identified, and subsequently supported with acoustic emission testing and numerical analysis. While fatigue performance was generally reduced by the presence of CVM cavities, the circumferential cavities appeared to retard crack progression, reducing sensitivity to the accumulation of fatigue damage.

These outcomes have brought forward the implementation of SHM in bonded composite structures, which has great potential to improve the operating efficiency of next generation aircraft.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering
Keyword(s) composite
frequency response
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