New software tool puts high-performance composite materials to the test

4 Dec 2012

Dr Conor McCarthy and Dr Ted Vaughan, Materials and Surface Science Institute, University of Limerick

A new software tool developed in Ireland can test failure rates in composite materials used in high-performance products, such as yachts, aircraft and sports cars, helping to ensure their safety. The software, Composite MicroMechanics (COMM) Toolbox, has been licensed to 12 countries so far, including the US, Canada and China.

Researchers Dr Conor McCarthy and Dr Ted Vaughan at the Materials and Surface Science Institute (MSSI) at the University of Limerick developed COMM Toolbox, with funding from Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council.

The toolbox is now being used to design aerospace grade bonded joints, which have to withstand loads equivalent to the weight of a large family car. Composite materials are now also making their way into everyday products.

Future Human

The COMM Toolbox’s advantage over other composites design software is that users do not need to be experts in composites failure theories.

“Product designers urgently need accurate design tools to help them understand how composite materials behave in harsh environments. This allows them to predict what impacts or pressures the material can sustain, without causing component failure. This information is vital for ensuring safety of across a wide range of composite-based products, from aircraft bodies to computer casing equipment,” McCarthy said.

The worldwide composites industry is expected to grow 6pc per year for the next four years, from €68bn in 2010 to €90bn in 2015. The need for novel composites design tools is a key requirement to ensure increased usage and more importantly increase Europe’s and Ireland’s market share in the industry.

The University of Limerick hosts the Irish Centre for Composites Research (IComp), which was established in 2010 under the Technology Centre initiative of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. One main mission of IComp, which has 14 industrial partners, is to patent and license new composites technologies, for which the COMM Toolbox is one.

The IComp director and technology leader Dr Terry McGrail said the COMM Toolbox is an excellent example of taking fundamental composites research from the lab to the marketplace.

“Such tools make designing composite structures and materials much easier, and so significantly promote their use in industry, both nationally and internationally,” McGrail said. “Ireland is already strong in software development; it is exciting to see us making headway into the composites design space using indigenous software.”

Damyanka Tsvyatkova