Lightweight composite materials provide countless opportunities to improve engineering devices and structures. Our researchers in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering use highly specialised experimental and simulation techniques to analyses, design and optimise lightweight composite structures. We have contributed to novel products and processes across the aerospace, transport and defence sectors.

Advanced carbon fibre composites for cryogenic hydrogen storage

Lightweight fuel storage is a critical technology for low-cost access to space, recognised by the Australian Government as a national priority. Although lightweight and strong fibre-reinforced polymer composites have already been deployed in space vehicle and payload components, storage of cryogenic propellants (such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen) still relies on metallic tanks.  

This project aims to create new multiscale, lightweight composite structures with enhanced strength, toughness and less gas leakage at cryogenic temperatures. Fibre reinforced polymer matrix composites with nano-reinforcements and/or nanomaterial-based interleaves have been developed to mitigate multiple matrix-cracking modes at super cold, cryogenic temperatures, leading to increased structural safety and the elimination of ignition-and-explosion hazard.  

Our work has demonstrated significant effects of nano-scale materials with low or negative thermal expansion properties in strengthening and toughening epoxies and their composites at cryogenic temperatures (-196 °C).

Design of lightweight dangerous goods transport (DGT) tankers

Dangerous Goods Transport (DGT) is a critical service to support domestic, commercial and industrial processes and accounts for thousands of vehicle movements per day. In the interests of public safety, the vessels are designed to withstand extreme loads, but are heavy and therefore inherently inefficient. 

Our researchers have collaborated with Australian SME Omni Tanker to develop a range of novel lightweight DST tankers for international markets. The vessels are manufactured from Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) composites with a highly chemically resistant liner.  

Our researchers have contributed to advances in: composite simulation and design approaches; manufacturability and repairability; structural health monitoring; and anti-surge safety systems. 

End-to-end design and manufacture of advanced composite structures using automated fibre placement

AFP is an advanced robotic composite manufacturing process which can create precision composite parts with more complex geometries than standard manufacturing techniques. Material is added to a mould in narrow strips using an 8-axis robot, allowing for precise control of part stiffness and strength characteristics and highly curved and revolute parts. 

UNSW Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering is home to the ARC Training Centre for Automated Manufacture of Advanced Composites (AMAC). AMAC is a one-stop-shop for advanced composite structure design using Automated Fibre Placement (AFP).  

The team can simulate, optimise and manufacture AFP composite structures from CAD through to finished part including: tow-path planning, tooling design and part finishing.  

Visit the AMAC website for more details of the projects and prototypes which have resulted from this advanced capability. 

Advanced composite connections: improving structural efficiency of composite joints

Composite structures are limited by the structural efficiency of the bolted and bonded joints. Improving structural connections can have a huge impact on the overall structural weight and response to extreme loading (such as vehicle crash).  

Our researchers have developed a range of novel techniques to study the static, dynamic and fatigue properties of composite joints. These techniques have led to reduced design conservatism and potential weight reduction for several advanced composite structures. 

From atoms to aeroplanes: advanced simulation tools for composite structure design

For over a decade, UNSW Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering has been working with Boeing to develop new approaches to composite failure analysis and design. Often called Strain Invariant Failure Theory (SIFT), this technique uses the fundamental properties of the polymer and carbon fibre constituents to predict (and optimise) the structural performance of the composite. 

Atomistic, micro-mechanical, meso-mechanical and structural simulations are combined in a computationally efficient approach. The simulation tools have been package in graphical user interfaces for commercial Finite Element Analysis software. This allows Boeing and other partners to rapidly train engineers to apply to techniques to new design challenges. 

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