Predicting Deformations in Aircraft Parts before They’re Even Made

25 May 2022

A team of researchers from Khalifa University and STRATA has investigated the ways in which parts manufactured for the aerospace industry may deform during the manufacturing process using  simulation tools to predict these deformations before they happen. 


PhD student Mariam Ahmed Al-Dhaheri, Dr. Kamran Khan, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering, Dr. Rehan Umer, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering, and Prof. Wesley Cantwell, Director of the Advanced Research and Innovation Center (ARIC) and Associate Dean for Research, with Frank van Liempt, STRATA Manufacturing, reached accurate results in predicting the process-induced deformations of composite sandwich structures, with less than five percent error. Their research was funded by ARIC, which is a research and innovation center established by Khalifa University and Mubadala, and published in Composite Structures


A composite material combines various material ingredients to achieve specific structural properties. Polymer-matrix composite (PMC) materials are one such example used in aerospace applications. 


PMC materials can enhance performance in an aircraft while reducing weight. Their high strength, stiffness, and toughness, combined with low density, makes them the structural material of choice for aircraft components. STRATA is one of the few companies in the MENA region with established expertise and track record to manufacture composite aircraft parts for Boeing, Airbus, and other OEMs. 


However, PMCs are not immune to faults. One major issue is the potential for process-induced deformations (PIDs) that come from the manufacturing process itself. In aerospace manufacturing, these PIDs represent a significant concern during the design phase as they can cause difficulties during the final assembly. Therefore, predicting these deformations is critical to mitigate assembly challenges on the shop-floor and this is the primary objective of this PhD work. 


“Aerospace composite structures are typically cured in an autoclave at high temperatures and pressures, involving a complex thermochemical cycle that cures the polymer matrix until it reaches a solid state that yields the required mechanical properties,” Al-Dhaheri said. “Although the curing process strengthens the composite structure, it also introduces residual stresses that remain in the structure upon cooling, resulting in undesirable distortion in part geometry”


While further experimental studies are needed to further validate the simulation findings, this work provides a crucial tool to understanding the effects of various processing parameters on PIDs and improving the design and production process of aircraft composite parts. 


This PhD project is an example of on-going collaboration between STRATA and Khalifa University aimed at providing UAE nationals with opportunities to work on real-life industrial challenges. Over the past eight years, more than 60 graduate and undergraduate UAE national students performed their research work at ARIC on industrial problems provided by STRATA and other Mubadala assets. In fact, Mariam Al Dhaheri herself started this research while she was a Strata employee pursuing her master’s degree at Khalifa University utilizing ARIC program.  


“At Mubadala, we are fully supportive of this type of collaborative projects that allow UAE nationals to work on complex but practical problems as part of their education programs. ARIC has been a unique example of how industry and academia can come together to solve complex engineering problems while developing UAE national human talent” said Dr. Abdelqader Abusafieh, Head of Mubadala R&D and a Senior Management Board member of ARIC.   


Jade Sterling
Science Writer
25 May 2022