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Supercomputing for Research and Industry

HPC Midlands case study


Predicting the impact of drilling in carbon/epoxy composites


Loughborough University, AIRBUS and University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre

Nature of collaboration

Collaboration involving private sector supply of specialist materials

Composite laminate showing destruction of fibre continuity and delamination caused by drilling

The challenge

Composite materials offer excellent strength-to-weight ratio, damage tolerance, and fatigue and corrosion resistance which make them good candidates for replacement of conventional materials for structural applications. As a result, advanced composite materials make up about 50% of the structural weight of a Boeing 787 and an Airbus A350XWB. They are also used in many other applications such as wind turbines and Formula One cars. Generally, parts made of composites are produced to a near final, or near-net, shape, but additional machining operations are often required to facilitate component assembly. For example, joining of composite components to a structure often requires manufacturing holes in order to place bolts or rivets. To manufacture these holes, drilling is a commonly used machining process. In it a rigid tool, typically a twist drill, cuts out the required area of the composite workpiece. During this process the tool encounters alternatively matrix and reinforcement materials, which can respond completely differently to machining. The process causes destruction of fibre continuity and generates large stress concentration in the material and delamination at the hole entry and exit. The damage can significantly reduce the fatigue strength of the component, thus degrading the long-term performance of composite laminates and reducing their lifetime by many years. It is therefore necessary to have an in-depth understanding of the effect of machining on the composite material and thus avoid catastrophic in-life failure of critical parts.

component damage post machining. Access to high performance computing infrastructure and expertise has enabled the research team to develop robust, numerically and computationally efficient models which are able to represent the underlying physics of deformation and damage in these heterogeneous materials. The industrial partners have supplied specific carbon/epoxy composites which have been drilled at in-house facilities available at the Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. The developed models were first calibrated with some benchmark experiments followed by an exhaustive validation study with several industrially relevant test conditions. The model has been shown to characterise accurately damage patterns at hole entry and exit.


The predictive modelling capabilities developed will be used by manufacturing experts, machining technicians and component assembly teams. Prior knowledge of the consequence of machining on these heterogeneous materials will help alleviate in-service failure and improve component life predictions, which will have far reaching economic benefits to industry as well as environmental and safety related benefits for the public. The work has been published in leading academic journals for wider dissemination to the academic community.

Next steps

The approach

The team at Loughborough, led by Professor Vadim Silberschmidt and Dr Anish Roy, developing cutting-edge state-of-the art modelling capabilities to address the challenge in predicting

The next step will be to look at the effect of the underlying microstructure in the composite and its effect on damage initiation and evolution in the composite material. It is expected that the knowledge generated will help composite manufacturers to design the next generation of components which will be lighter, stronger and more damage resistant under environmental loads.