"Depending on the chemistry of the capsule wall, we intend to grade the wall structure so it fractures at different energy levels corresponding to different amounts of impact," Brown said. "Some coatings could be created for applications with damage that occurs at low energy levels of impact, and others could be developed for damage that occurs at higher energy levels of impact. Alternately, we could develop a single coating with different signatures that looks different depending on different energy levels of impact. For now, we are looking to develop one coating that displays one energy level of impact. Once you've proved the technology works for one energy level, there's no reason you couldn't dial up a different wall structure for a different energy level."
Both internal and external coating applications could be developed with this technology. For example, composites inside the aircraft are exposed to a less severe environment than those on the leading edge of a wing, so the types of energy events in these environments may be very different. "As we approach the end of the first 18 months, we may therefore have certain research strands that aim toward external coatings and others that aim toward internal coatings."
The research targets glass-fiber and carbon-fiber composites. Since GKN provides aerostructures, the coatings would be provided as added functionality to its current and future product portfolio.
Dave, You just articulated the point that I was trying to make so much better than I did. It does seem like a no-brainer, especially if the technology has been around for a while. I'm wondering what hurdles there were preventing this from being put to use in any significant form prior to now. Or maybe it's that there wasn't a formal market for something like this given that composite materials are just now becoming so dominant in aerospace design.
Thanks, William and Dave, for sharing your experience in this area. It surprises me that using composites as a repair material for aluminum didn't strike anyone as not a good idea, since their properties are so different. To my limited knowledge so far, repair materials for composites are supposed to pretty closely match the material they are replacing.
The whole subject of using coatings to monitor structural health does seem obvious, doesn't it? I notice that Stresscoat does not appear to address composites. The big deal about them is the fact that damage can be invisible, hence the attempts to make it visible under other wavelengths. And yes, you would think that research such as GKN's would have already occurred, and perhaps it has. Theirs was not easy to find, so it's possible there's other such research going on quietly.
Beth, I understand that designing these different coatings is equally simple, whether one coating detects one energy level or multiple energy levels. Creating the actual coating may be a different story, but that wasn't entirely clear. In any case, GKN said it plans to sell the coatings as an integral part of its composite aircraft structural components, not as a separate product line.
Coatings such as Stresscoat have been used in experimental stress analysis for decades. It seems like a no-brainer to use something like this for structural health monitoring. Of course, it's easy to say that something is a no-brainer after someone else has already come up with it. I'm just surprised that nobody came up with something like this sooner.
Thanks for the article Ann! It is great to see this technology being commercialized and incorporated into engineering materials. I was involved in the development of diagnostic coatings which, when excited and viewed under specific wavelengths, provided surface information of temperature, pressure, strain, and cracks. The coatings were applied to the surface of the completed unit for testing. I'm delighted to learn of continued development of both surface and internal coatings during component manufacturing.
One of our biggest surprises came from using composite repair material when applied to traditional metals (aircraft aluminium). Our coatings were used to inspect the performance of a "composite Band-Aid" that could be used to field dress a fatigue crack until the panel could be replaced. The difficulty was that the mechanical performance of the composite material was so superior to the original alloy that the repair site was often a greater point of additional fatigue cracking in the original metal because of the sharp differences between the materials. I imagine things will be better and far superior when all of the components are made out of advanced composites in the first place.
Very cool piece of development and one that would certainly benefit broader use of composites. The idea that a coating could deliver intelligent inspection capabilities is in some ways out there, but then again, in keeping with steady pace of technological advances. In many ways, the development strategy makes perfect sense. Do you have a sense of how difficult or how unique it is to develop a single coating with different signatures that can appear different depending on different energy levels of impact?
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End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.