Swinburne University, IIM announce ‘smart composites’ project

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A collaborative project involving Swinburne University and Imagine Intelligent Materials will develop graphene-reinforced smart composites.

The composite will be able to report on the condition of large structures, with significant commercial potential in the transport sector, including automotive and aerospace.

The integrity of large composite structures can degrade over time, affecting performance and safety though not always being easily detectable.

“Smart composites using graphene are an area we have been focused on for several years,” said Dr Phillip Aitchison, Head of R&D at Imagine IM, the external partner for the project.

“Structural health monitoring of parts for automotive and aerospace, as well as any other composite part, allow real-time monitoring of damage or stress.

“The global cost of preventative servicing and maintenance is enormous. By shifting maintenance from needing to be regularly scheduled to being on-demand and IoT-connected will change the way servicing of complex equipment, such as aeroplanes, is conducted.”

The global composites market grew by 11 per cent between 2014 and 2016, according to research from JEC Group, reaching $US 82 billion.

The project is supported by a $20,000 Seed grant from the university under a program, targeting “interdisciplinary projects that are aligned with the Swinburne research institutes’ external partnership and collaboration objectives”.

It will combine expertise from experts in sensors, electronics engineering and aerospace manufacturing at the university.

The research, led by ARC DECRA Fellow and Senior Research Fellow Dr Nishar Hameed, will develop graphene ink coatings for glass fibres embedded in an epoxy matrix.

The graphene nanoplatelets used are highly conductive and highly sensitive to strain, and offer an innovative and affordable solution for sensor manufacture.

“Lightweight construction and function integration are the current major trends in the global mass transport sector, and this can be optimally realised through the clever design of fibre -reinforced composite materials,” said Dr Hameed.

“The integration of graphene is an efficient and viable way to achieve functionalities in composites to record and report the state of the component in service. In this collaborative initiative, Swinburne and Imagine IM are identifying and tackling the challenges in manufacturing graphene enabled smart composite materials”.

Expected outcomes from the six-month project include understanding what opportunities the technology will offer aerospace and automotive industries, and the potential to migrate it to other sectors, such as defence.

Challenges include manufacturing methods, ensuring the reliability of sensors, and evaluating structure-property relationships.

The announcement follows last month’s launch of the Graphene Supply Chain CRC-P, led by Swinburne University and Imagine IM, at Swinburne’s Factory of The Future.