Smart composites for aerospace applications

Matthew Collinson works on the electrification of aircraft through the electrical properties of Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastics (CFRP).


This project will help develop technologies that assist the future electrification of aircraft by taking advantage of the electrical properties of Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastics (CFRP). Two main technologies are being developed: electrical self-sensing for in service damage detection, and self-curing for low energy and rapid manufacture.


Self-cure uses the Joule effect to heat the composite during the curing phase of the manufacturing process. It requires heating to 180°C for 2-8 hours for most aerospace composites. Currently, this is completed using an oven or an autoclave. Both are prohibitively expensive, and consume large amounts of energy. For instance, a typical oven cure of a 2 x 1 meter component can consume 420kWhr. Whereas, using electric cure would consume 4.5kWhr, which is around 1% of the total energy required. Therefore, this technology could reduce the energy consumption of a key composite manufacturing process.

Additionally, this joule heating technology can be used to heat up the composite component for use in anti-icing. Anti-icing in commercial aerospace is currently achieved through bleed air systems. These take hot air from the engines and runs it through the wing to heat it. This reduces engine efficiency, and as aircraft systems are turning fully electrical, electrical heating systems are desired. As the heating element in this case is also the structural element, there is reduced weight of the component, and therefore further efficiency savings.


Self-sensing monitors the electrical resistance of the carbon fibres within a structure, and when damage occurs, such as impact damage, the fibres will be broken, electrical resistance will increase allowing for the damage can be located. If deployed correctly in an aerospace situation, will allow for less frequent maintenance schedules, as well as automated repair scheduling when damage does occur, immediately after the damage has been detected.

The final demonstrator for the project will be a leading edge wing section, which will contain all of the previously described technologies. It is part of a larger Horizon 2020 project MASTRO.

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