A framework for efficient design and manufacture of multifunctional composite materials for light-weighting aerospace structures

Academic Institution: University of Strathclyde

Academic Supervisor: Dr Catherine Jones

Industry Partner: Rolls-Royce Plc

PhD Student: TBC

Start Date: January - March 2020


The superior structural properties of Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) compared to metals has resulted in significant increase in their use in aircraft. Increased electrification of aircraft is key to improving the environmental performance of aircraft. However, electrical conduction within CFRP is complex to predict, being directionally dependent on the lay-up of the CFRP. These characteristics require the addition of metallic structures to CFRP to safely manage electrical conduction paths. Bulky cable harnesses provide isolation between electrical cables and CFRP panels. This approach results in increased system weight, design complexity, and assembly and maintenance time.

Multifunctional (MF) materials are key to enabling the light-weighting and modularisation of future aircraft, improving environmental performance. This project will develop a design framework to guide the efficient design and manufacture of MF composites, with a focus on integrated electrical-thermal-structural systems, directly addressing the challenge of systems integration at high power levels associated with more-electric aircraft, providing support for early stage selection of candidate MF composites for consistent and repeatable manufacture at scale. Further, the project will address the challenge of ensuring that the designed MF composites fit within the circular economy concept via utilising CF from renewable sources, careful choice of resins, and consideration of end-of-life processing. The project will capture underpinning knowledge of the electrical, thermal and mechanical properties required of the MF composite, design of the composite layup to achieve these properties, methods for manufacturing materials at scale, and a methodology to identify concept MF composites that are viable for mass manufacture.

Dr Jones’s research focuses on design of resilient aero-electrical power systems, including integration with composite materials. Dr Whitfield ‘s expertise lies in co-ordinated design of integrated systems. Rolls-Royce recognises the integration of mechanical and electrical technologies underpins the trend of electrification of aircraft to support a low carbon economy.