Identifying defects in aerospace composite sandwich panels using high-definition distributed optical fibre sensors

Mills, James A. and Hamilton, Andrew W. and Gillespie, David I. and Andonovic, Ivan and Michie, Craig and Burnham, Kenneth and Tachtatzis, Christos (2020) Identifying defects in aerospace composite sandwich panels using high-definition distributed optical fibre sensors. Sensors, 20 (23). 6746. ISSN 1424-8220 (

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Automated methods for detecting defects within composite materials are highly desirable in the drive to increase throughput, optimise repair program effectiveness and reduce component replacement. Tap-testing has traditionally been used for detecting defects but does not provide quantitative measurements, requiring secondary techniques such as ultrasound to certify components. This paper reports on an evaluation of the use of a distributed temperature measurement system—high-definition fibre optic sensing (HD-FOS)—to identify and characterise crushed core and disbond defects in carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP)-skin, aluminium-core, sandwich panels. The objective is to identify these defects in a sandwich panel by measuring the heat transfer through the panel thickness. A heater mat is used to rapidly increase the temperature of the panel with the HD-FOS sensor positioned on the top surface, measuring temperature. HD-FOS measurements are made using the Luna optical distributed sensor interrogator (ODISI) 9100 system comprising a sensor fabricated using standard single mode fibre (SMF)-20 of external diameter 250 µm, including the cladding. Results show that areas in which defects are present modulate thermal conductivity, resulting in a lower surface temperature. The resultant data are analysed to identify the length, width and type of defect. The non-invasive technique is amenable to application in challenging operational settings, offering high-resolution visualisation and defect classification.