Simulation Based Optimization of Complex Monolithic Composite Structures Using Cellular Core Technology
Hickmott, Curtis Wade
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Cellular core tooling is a new technology which has the capability to manufacture complex integrated monolithic composite structures. This novel tooling method utilizes thermoplastic cellular cores as inner tooling. The semi-rigid nature of the cellular cores makes them convenient for lay-up, and under autoclave temperature and pressure they soften and expand providing uniform compaction on all surfaces including internal features such as ribs and spar tubes. This process has the capability of developing fully optimized aerospace structures by reducing or eliminating assembly using fasteners or bonded joints. The technology is studied in the context of evaluating its capabilities, advantages, and limitations in developing high quality structures. The complex nature of these parts has led to development of a model using the Finite Element Analysis (FEA) software Abaqus and the plug-in COMPRO Common Component Architecture (CCA) provided by Convergent Manufacturing Technologies. This model utilizes a “virtual autoclave” technique to simulate temperature profiles, resin flow paths, and ultimately deformation from residual stress. A model has been developed simulating the temperature profile during curing of composite parts made with the cellular core technology. While modeling of composites has been performed in the past, this project will look to take this existing knowledge and apply it to this new manufacturing method capable of building more complex parts and develop a model designed specifically for building large, complex components with a high degree of accuracy. The model development has been carried out in conjunction with experimental validation. A double box beam structure was chosen for analysis to determine the effects of the technology on internal ribs and joints. Double box beams were manufactured and sectioned into T-joints for characterization. Mechanical behavior of T-joints was performed using the T-joint pull-off test and compared to traditional tooling methods. Components made with the cellular core tooling method showed an improved strength at the joints. It is expected that this knowledge will help optimize the processing of complex, integrated structures and benefit applications in aerospace where lighter, structurally efficient components would be advantageous.