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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/Y016920/1
Title: Novel flat optical fibre sensors for application in process control, evaluation and health monitoring of high value composite assets
Principal Investigator: Holmes, Dr C
Other Investigators:
Beresna, Dr M
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Avalon Consultancy Services Ltd BAE Systems Boeing (International)
Composite Braiding Fibercore Ltd Insensys Ltd.
McLaren Group National Aerospace Laboratory NLR Safran Nacelles Ltd
Department: Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC)
Organisation: University of Southampton
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 April 2024 Ends: 31 March 2027 Value (£): 598,103
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
EP/Y016416/1 EP/Y016335/1 EP/Y016556/1 EP/Y017323/1
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
05 Sep 2023 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 5 6 7 September 2023 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Composite materials, such as those based on carbon and glass fibre reinforced polymer play an important role in driving global decarbonisation, through corrosion resistant and high-performance products and light-weighting sectors such as transport that lead to improved fuel economy and so reduce emissions. Our proposal targets sustainability of high value composite components, through embedding ultra-thin glass planar sensors, that can be used during manufacture and through a component's life to assess parameters linked to structural performance. Hence informed decisions can be made to extend useable life and reduce the scrappage associated with manufacture. This makes most efficient use of our limited resource of energy and raw materials. In addition to environmental sustainability, this work will also have economic advantages enabling the UK economy to continue to grow innovative technology and associated highly skilled jobs.

Despite the huge lightweighting benefit of composites they are not utilised to their full potential due to variability caused at the manufacturing stage. Composite components and the composite material they are made from are produced together. To achieve the desired material geometry features are included in their laminated structure that generate defects. To realise their full set of advantages new methodologies must be devised that support sustainable deployment integrated during production. At the manufacturing stage, many composite components are consigned to scrap before they go into service because of defect evolution. We are proposing a new non-invasive means to better monitor defect evolution and their affect on the final structural performance of the part. Once a composite component goes into service it is often heavier than necessary due to the design parameters necessary for safety assurance. Having an effective means of monitoring critical regions would motivate a means to reduce structural mass by reducing material usage, which in turn would allow increasing payload and or support a shift to heavier but more efficient designs. We are proposing a sensing methodology that can indicate a reduction in structural performance, as our sensors allow changes in through thickness strain to be captured. A laminated composite structure is designed to carry the load in the plane of the laminations as it is weak through the thickness of laminate. Any change in through thickness strain would be a prime indicator of a reduction in performance. At the end of the composite component's life there are currently limited options for recycling composites with 15% of the 110,000 tonnes of composites produced in the UK each year being reused at their end of life. Our sensors would support reuse and repurposing of large composite structures because a complete history of the component life cycle would be available through monitoring informing designers of the suitability to be deployed in other structural applications.

To highlight the advantages of using the novel sensors we have chosen three important case studies/exemplars. The first is in the manufacture of thermosetting composites replacing the costly and time-consuming autoclave with microwave processing, which reduces energy consumption significantly. Our planar glass sensors will be non-conducting and so permit comprehensive in process monitoring, supporting uptake of microwave curing. As described above the through thickness strength of laminated composite materials is limited, hence 3D fibre architectures are being explored. Our second case study focuses on braiding process exploiting the sensor's geometry to fix it into a known position during the consolidation of the 3D fibre architecture in a thermoplastic matrix. Finally, we demonstrate the versatility of our sensors in an infield retrofitting application to extend the life of concrete infrastructure using composite repair patches.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.soton.ac.uk