Marine and aerospace industries eye new lightweight material

A new lightweight building element designed at the University of Delaware which could contribute significantly to faster boats and more fuel-efficient airliners has, unsurprisingly, caught the notice of the marine and aviation industries.

The advanced material is described as a sandwich structure and features an inner core of composite material designed like a honeycomb, wedged between two outer panels of aluminium or composite material.

The key attribute of a sandwich structure is its light weight, resulting from the honeycomb-like design of the inner core. Wrapped around the inner core of the sandwich structure are the aluminium or composite panels, or facing sheets. These panels accept most of the moisture, pressure loads and weight-bearing forces exerted from external conditions. Although the panels of the sandwich structure take most of the pressure, researchers believe it’s critical for the core material to withstand some external forces. Engineering approaches to improved designs include reinforcing the core material and creating more separation between the core and outer panels. The research community is also looking at the problem of breakage in sandwich structures. This occurs when the material that bonds the outer sheets to the core weakens from pressure or moisture. Stronger epoxy agents and improved curing methods can prevent such damage.