Established in 2005, Composite Innovations Ltd has undertaken extensive research and development into new composite manufacturing processes for lightweight aerospace composites. The Director, Dr Tim Searle, has been working in the composites industry for the last 30 years; from working on high performance composite race boats to managing the University of Plymouth’s Advanced Composite Manufacturing Centre (ACMC) which provided consultancy, training and support to industry. One of the highlights of this work was developing a manufacturing process for the Vestas AL40; 10,000 blades were produced with methods developed by Tim and his colleagues at ACMC. Composite Innovations Ltd works closely with aerospace industry primes including Safran and Airbus. In addition, Composite Innovations Ltd works very closely with Composite Integration Ltd in Saltash on these technologies.
What did they want?
Composite Innovations Ltd is refining new composites manufacturing technologies that will be used in aircraft construction. The FIB-SEM was used to analyse and image cross sections of composite samples manufactured using different processes, to identify variances in the micro-structure, which is of major importance for the durability of the aircrafts under extreme pressures and temperatures.
Agreed analysis plan
Three samples manufactured by different processes were investigated by:
- imaging of the samples’ polished profile surface to check the layers containing carbon fibre bundles with different orientations
- FIB milling of cross sections and high-resolution imaging to reveal the microstructures especially of the epoxy resin between the fibres at depth.
Comparative analysis of the three samples produced using different curing processes showed significant differences in the micro-structure. Using high resolution imaging and compositional analysis through EDS below the sample surface, resin and fibre variations were identified. In fact, nanoscale pores were found in the epoxy resin between carbon fibres in one of the investigated samples.These results provided added value to traditional mechanical testing and help demonstrate differences between samples.
"Working with PMCP has been truly informative and accessible. The challenge with composites is so often about being able to see the quality of the material. The friendly and extremely, competent expertise at PMCP together with the advanced ion beam milling capability takes this visualisation to a completely new level. This enables Composite Innovations Ltd to gain new insights and thus implement crucial process innovations that can be passed on to the customer."