Ships, tanks and jets that self repair

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Imagine being able to repair composite panels on jet aircraft, ships or armoured vehicles without having to remove the panels for repair in a workshop. Well, a team of academics at RMIT has developed a spray-on polymer that could enable ships, armoured vehicles or aircraft to self-repair the damage panels.

The polymer can be squirted onto cracked or damaged fibre composite surfaces to repair them within 10 minutes.
Lead researcher Professor Adrian Mouritz, Executive Dean of the School of Engineering at RMIT University, said the aim was to change the way Defence sustains and maintains its fighting platforms.
“At the moment, if you damage a composite, whether it’s an aircraft, a ship, a wind turbine blade or anything, you need to take it out of service to be fixed,” he said.
“You’ve got to cut out, or grind out the damaged area and put new material in, which is a pretty slow and expensive process.
“Our method allows repairs to be done immediately, at lower cost and in a faster time; when the damage forms it can heal itself in the same way our body does if you accidentally cut yourself.”
Professor Mouritz said the relatively inexpensive process should save Defence money by allowing its ships and platforms to remain in service if damaged.
“We’ve developed a material composite system that, when applied near the damaged area, will heal itself as opposed to needing manual repair,” he said.
The new polymer is developed as a fine powder and also comes in hair-like fibres, which are sprinkled into the composite during manufacturing.
“There are no adverse effects on the composite’s properties, and once damaged, the polymer is activated and will melt, flowing into the damaged area,” he said.
“The healing process is activated by moderate heating of the damaged region, which can be done relatively easily using hand-held devices.
“Using a device similar in size to a hand-held power drill, we have healed damaged composite material within 30 seconds.”
Professor Mouritz performs research into fibre reinforced polymer composites and other engineering materials and has done extensive work with the ADF during his career.
“A lot of the work we do at RMIT is focused on solving industry problems, and that extends to the ADF,” he said.
“Extensive testing has been conducted on the new technology, with really positive results.”
Photo: Professor Adrian Mourtiz with a carbon fibre loom. (RMIT)