Spray-on technology repairs damaged navy ships

Professor Adrian Mourtiz with a carbon fibre loom.

Researchers have developed spray-on technology for repairing navy ships damaged by fire or missile attack.

The research led by RMIT University’s Professor Adrian Mouritz, and funded by the Australian Department of Defence and the US Navy, allows ships to repair themselves while at sea.

Partnering with CSIRO, Mouritz is developing a polymer that can be squirted onto cracked or damaged fibre composite surfaces to repair them within 10 minutes.

“At the moment, if you damage a composite, whether it’s an aircraft, a naval ship, a wind turbine blade or anything, you need to take it out of service, so you can’t use it,” he said.

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“You’ve got to cut out, or grind out the damaged area and then put new material in, and that’s a pretty slow and expensive way to do it.

“Our method allows you to do repairs immediately when the damage forms and it can heal itself in the same way that your body does,” said Mouritz.

Preserving defence fleets is critical work, but protecting personnel is even more important.

Fires on ships at sea or while docked can threaten lives, not to mention millions of dollars in infrastructure.

The research aims to prevent blazes like the one that destroyed HMAS Bundaberg, a $54 million navy patrol boat, in 2014.

This work ties in with Mouritz’s other research on the effects of fire on ships made from fibre composites and also aluminium.

While both materials are lightweight and more economical, they are sensitive to high temperatures. This has prompted Mouritz’s research into managing the fire risks of fibre composites.

“The work we’ve been doing with Defence is to develop models the navy can use to predict, if there is a fire on a ship, how long that fire can burn before it becomes a major safety hazard to the structural safety of the vessel,” he said.

“It also allows them to get a better understanding of the fire protection measures needed to put on board a ship which is made out of either aluminium or composite materials.”

Experimental tests have led the team to create predictors used to save lives in ships as well as planes and buildings.

“We took that information and then developed models, which allow people to predict how these two groups of materials will weaken, and when they’ll fail in the event of fire.”

“That sort of work has never been done before. These models that we’ve developed can be used not only for naval ships; they can be used if there’s a fire on an aircraft, or in a building,” said Mouritz.

He and his team, who are collaborating with local and international organisations, have also investigated how composite fibres react to explosions.

The team’s insights continue to inform the next generation of composite materials.

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