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An Experimental Investigation of Shape Distortions in Aerospace Composites

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Time: Fri 2020-04-03 10.00

Location: Live-streaming use, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Aerospace Engineering

Doctoral student: Erik Hörberg , Lättkonstruktioner

Opponent: Professor Patrik Fernberg, LTU

Supervisor: Malin Åkermo, Lättkonstruktioner; Stefan Hallström, Lättkonstruktioner

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Composite materials are increasingly used in primary structure of modern commercial aircraft. Its excellent material characteristics enables reduction of structural weight compared to traditional metal solutions and thereby offers reduction of fuel consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In the aerospace industry, carbon fibre reinforced plastics or CFRP is the most commonly used composite material, where the reinforcement is held together by a thermoset resin, often epoxy, referred to as the matrix.

When manufacturing aircraft composite parts, the curing temperature is usually in-between 120°C to 180°C. As the constituents, i.e. fibre and matrix, have significantly different thermal expansion, the temperature difference from manufacturing of parts to assembly and in-service use results in shape distortions and/or development of residual stresses. With an increased size and complexity of structural parts used in modern aircraft, the development of efficient methods for shape distortion analysis are therefore becoming increasingly important. Shape distortions come from numerous sources and some of them like thermal expansion and chemical shrinkage during curing are fairly well studied and understood. The focus of this thesis is on less researched parameters such as the laminate bending stiffness and effects of moisture content.

The bending stiffness of a laminate can be controlled by varying the thickness of the laminate, or by changing the layup sequence of individual plies. Paper A presents an experimental study on shape distortion were the effect of laminate bending stiffness is separated from that of the laminate thickness. The results show that it is possible to tailor the laminate layup in a way that is beneficial for in-plane loads, while still reducing the built-in stresses that occur in a composite component due to shape distortions.

The second parameter investigated in this thesis is the laminate moisture content. Composite materials used in aircraft structures will be exposed to environmental effects such as varying temperatures and moisture. The exposure is seldom constant but varies over time, depending on seasonal change and geographical area of aircraft operation. In Paper B, the influence of laminate moisture content on shape distortions is experimentally investigated. It becomes clear that laminate moisture content has such a strong effect on shape distortions that it is important to control and predict for all composite structures.

The results presented in this thesis show that both laminate bending stiffness and laminate moisture content have a great influence on shape distortions, and that further research and development is needed to improve the simulation methodology used within the aerospace industry. This is key to future cost-efficient production and assembly of large composite parts.