Defect detection in aerospace sandwich composite panels using conductive thermography and contact sensors

Gillespie, David I. and Hamilton, Andrew W. and Atkinson, Robert C. and Bellekens, Xavier and Michie, Craig and Andonovic, Ivan and Tachtatzis, Christos (2020) Defect detection in aerospace sandwich composite panels using conductive thermography and contact sensors. Sensors, 20 (22). 6689. ISSN 1424-8220 (

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Sandwich panels consisting of two Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) outer skins and an aluminium honeycomb core are a common structure of surfaces on commercial aircraft due to the beneficial strength–weight ratio. Mechanical defects such as a crushed honeycomb core, dis-bonds and delaminations in the outer skins and in the core occur routinely under normal use and are repaired during aerospace Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) processes. Current practices rely heavily on manual inspection where it is possible minor defects are not identified prior to primary repair and are only addressed after initial repairs intensify the defects due to thermal expansion during high temperature curing. This paper reports on the development and characterisation of a technique based on conductive thermography implemented using an array of single point temperature sensors mounted on one surface of the panel and the concomitant induced thermal profile generated by a thermal stimulus on the opposing surface to identify such defects. Defects are classified by analysing the differential conduction of thermal energy profiles across the surface of the panel. Results indicate that crushed core and impact damage are detectable using a stepped temperature profile of 80 ∘C The method is amenable to integration within the existing drying cycle stage and reduces the costs of executing the overall process in terms of time-to-repair and manual effort.