Tag Archives: damage mechanics

Out of the valley of death into a hype cycle?

Fig 5 from Middleton et al with full captionThe capability to identify damage and track its propagation in structures is important in ensuring the safe operation of a wide variety of engineering infrastructure, including aircraft structures. A few years ago, I wrote about research my group was performing, in the INSTRUCTIVE project [see ‘INSTRUCTIVE final reckoning‘ on January 9th, 2019] with Airbus and Strain Solutions Limited, to deliver a new tool for monitoring the development of damage using thermoelastic stress analysis (TSA) [see ‘Counting photons to measure stress‘ on November 18th, 2015].  We collected images using a TSA system while a structural component was subject to cycles of load that caused damage to initiate and propagate during a fatigue test. The series of images were analysed using a technique based on optical flow to identify apparent movement between the images which was taken as indication of the development of damage [1]. We demonstrated that our technique could indicate the presence of a crack less than a millimetre in length and even identify cracks initiating under the heads of bolts using experiments performed in our laboratory [see ‘INSTRUCTIVE update‘ on October 4th, 2017].  However, this technique was susceptible to errors in the images when we tried to use low-cost sensors and to changes in the images caused by flight cycle loading with varying amplitude and frequency of loads.  Essentially, the optical flow approach could be fooled into identifying damage propagation when a sensor delivered a noisy image or the shape of the load cycle was changed.  We have now overcome this short-coming by replacing the optical flow approach with the orthogonal decomposition technique [see ‘Recognising strain‘ on October 28th, 2015] that we developed for comparing data fields from measurements and predictions in validation processes [see ‘Million to one‘ on November 21st, 2018] .  Each image is decomposed to a feature vector and differences between the feature vectors are indicative of damage development (see schematic in thumbnail from [2]).  The new technique, which we have named the differential feature vector method, is sufficiently robust that we have been able to use a sensor costing 1% of the price of a typical TSA system to identify and track cracks during cyclic loading.  The underpinning research was published in December 2020 by the Royal Society [2] and the technique is being implemented in full-scale ground-tests on aircraft structures as part of the DIMES project.  Once again, a piece of technology is emerging from the valley of death [see ‘Slowly crossing the valley of death‘ on January 27th, 2021] and, without wishing to initiate the hype cycle [see ‘Hype cycle‘ on September 23rd, 2015], I hope it will transform the use of thermal imaging for condition monitoring.

Logos of Clean Sky 2 and EUThe INSTRUCTIVE and DIMES projects have received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreements No. 685777 and No. 820951 respectively.

The opinions expressed in this blog post reflect only the author’s view and the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.


[1] Middleton CA, Gaio A, Greene RJ & Patterson EA, Towards automated tracking of initiation and propagation of cracks in Aluminium alloy coupons using thermoelastic stress analysis, J. Non-destructive Testing, 38:18, 2019.

[2] Middleton CA, Weihrauch M, Christian WJR, Greene RJ & Patterson EA, Detection and tracking of cracks based on thermoelastic stress analysis, R. Soc. Open Sci. 7:200823, 2020.

Designing for damage

Eighteen months ago I wrote about an insight on high-speed photography that Clive Siviour shared during his 2016 JSA Young Investigator Lecture [see my post entitled ‘Popping balloons‘ on June 15th, 2016].  Clive is interested in high-speed photography because he studies the properties of materials when they are subject to very high rates of deformation, in particular polymers used in mobile phones and cycle helmets – the design requirements for these two applications are very different.  The polymer used in the case of your mobile phone needs to protect the electronics inside your phone by absorbing the kinetic energy when you drop the phone on a tiled floor and it needs to be able to do this repeatedly because you are unlikely to replace the case after each accidental drop. A cyclist’s helmet also needs to protect what is inside it but it only needs to do this once because you will replace your helmet after an accident.  So, the kinetic energy resulting from an impact can be dissipated through the propagation of damage in the helmut; but in the phone case, it has to be absorbed temporarily as strain energy and then released, like in a spring.

Of course there is at least an order of magnitude difference in the consequences associated with the design of a phone case and a cycle helmet.  We can step up the consequences, at least another order of magnitude, by considering the impact performance of the polycarbonate used in the cockpit windows of airplanes.  These need to able absorb the energy associated with impacts by birds, runway debris and other objects, as well as withstanding the cycles of pressurisation associated with take-off, cruising at altitude and landing.  They can be replaced after an event but only once the plane as landed safely.  Consequently, an in-depth understanding of the material behaviour under these different loading conditions is needed to produce a successful design.  Of course, we also need a detailed knowledge of the loading conditions, which are influenced not just by the conditions and events during flight but also the way in which the window is attached to the rest of the airplane.  A large and diverse team is needed to ensure that all of this knowledge and understanding is effectively integrated in the design of the cockpit window.  The team is likely to include experts in materials, damage mechanics, structural integrity, aerodynamic loading as well as manufacturing and finance, since the window has to be made and fitted into the aircraft at an acceptable cost.  A similar team will be needed to design the mobile phone casing with the addition of product design and marketing expertise because it is a consumer product.  In other words, engineering is team activity and engineers must be able to function as team members and leaders.

I wrote this post shortly after Clive’s lecture but since then it is has languished in my drafts folder – in part because I thought it was too long and boring.  However, my editor encourages me to write about engineering more often and so, I have dusted it off and shortened it (slightly!).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Airbus_A350_cockpit_windows_(14274972354).jpg