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 fuel tanks

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.  

Our researchers have developed lightweight composite tanks with enhanced strength and toughness at cryogenic temperatures and reduced gas leakage. Fibre reinforced polymer matrix composites with nano-reinforcements and/or nanomaterial-based interleaves have been developed to mitigate matrix-cracking modes at temperature as low as -196 °C, leading to increased structural safety and the elimination of ignition-and-explosion hazards.

Multiple ongoing projects in the School are continuing to advance cryogenic storage technology, aiming to reduce weight, increase storage density, decrease manufacturing costs and improve safety and reliability.

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 DGT tankers for domestic and international markets. The vessels are manufactured from Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) composites with a highly chemical 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. 

Design and manufacture of advanced composite structures using Automated Fibre Placement (AFP)

AFP is an advanced robotic composite manufacturing process which can create precision composite parts with more complex geometries than standard manufacturing techniques.

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.

Our School also hosts the Sovereign Manufacturing Automation for Composites Cooperative Research Centre (SoMAC CRC) with an ambitious program of composites automation research over the next decade across many industry sectors. 

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

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. Atomistic, micro-mechanical, meso-mechanical and structural simulations are combined in a computationally efficient approach. The tools are now being deployed to accelerate sustainable material development.

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