QinetiQ rolls out Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) material tested at the NCC

National Composites Centre (NCC) Tier 1 Member QinetiQ, rolled out a new Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) composite material, at this year’s Farnborough International Air Show. Following successful initial trials last year the British defence company developed and tested the SMA material together with fellow NCC Tier 1 Member GE at the NCC.

The collaboration identified a key area of potential application in the aerospace sector. The technology relies on the efficient, controlled introduction of a Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) into a carbon fibre reinforced plastic. The SMA wire selection, geometry and architecture, as well as the weaving process, are all designed to ensure that the high specific properties of the carbon fibre composite are maintained, whilst the SMA provides significantly enhanced ability to absorb energy before structural penetration.

Results showed the SMA technology would have significant benefits for protecting against the high impact damage from a bird strike or debris that can be thrown up into the underside of an aircraft from a runway. It found that the inclusion of only 10% by volume SMA resulted in a structure more than 3 times stronger than the baseline carbon fibre composites.

As well as protection from sudden impact damage the material has also been tested against the highest lightning strike threat level. - Aircraft can be struck by lightning up to twice a year. That type of damage can be fatal and cost the aviation industry billions each year. Just 6% by volume SMA performs to an equivalent level of commercially available lighting protection products thus negating the need for an additional parasitic material layer.

Andrew Foreman, Head of Engineering Research & Consultancy at QinetiQ, said: “Most existing safety measures require extra material to be added to vulnerable areas, adding mass and compromising the aircraft’s efficiency. QinetiQ’s patented composite would enable operators to meet or exceed the same high regulatory standards without adding mass. A lighter aircraft uses less fuel, providing opportunities for lower emissions, higher airline profits, and reduced fares for travellers.”

QinetiQ’s SMA-Reinforced Composite moving into industry application is a key example of how the NCC can support UK industry, move an idea into innovation, and support its progress into commercialisation.

To find out more, click here to see the promotional video. 

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