Multi-functional SMA hybrid composite materials and their applications

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Virginia Tech


Shape memory alloy (SMA) materials such as nitinol have unique properties associated with the shape recovery effect and the material’s phase changes that have been used in a variety of actuator and sensing applications. By embedding SMA elements into host composite materials, control or modification of the SMA hybrid composite’s structural properties can be accomplished in-service, thereby increasing the hybrid composite’s structural functionality. Previous studies addressed increasing composite materials’ functionality by enabling in-service control of their dynamic response. Utilizing the SMA’s substantial recovery stress and capacity to dissipate strain energy to increase the hybrid composite’s static functionality is addressed herein. Specific applications for SMA hybrid composites include improving composite material’s impact damage resistance and composite cylinder stress and deflection control.

In stress and deflection control of cylindrical structures, SMA actuators are placed within the composite cylinder to form an active compound cylinder. The active SMA elements can significantly reduce the internal pressure-induced radial dilation and creep so that under severe loading, piston to cylinder tolerances may be maintained. Similar to a conventional metallic compound cylinder, the active compound cylinder also reduces peak cylinder hoop stresses.

Hybridizing composites with nitinol improves their impact resistance because of nitinol’s tremendous capacity to absorb impact strain energy through the stress-induced martensitic phase transformation. The amount of impact damage is reduced and the material’s resistance to impact perforation at various velocities is improved. The experimental response of nitinol hybrid composites and the associated mechanics are presented. The unique toughness and resistance to permanent deformation that is a result of the stress-induced martensitic phase transformation enables the nitinol to absorb on the order of 4 times the strain energy of high alloy steel and 16 times that of many graphite/epoxy composites.

In most static applications where SMA elements are used for reinforcement, maintaining the integrity of the interface between the SMA elements and the host polymeric matrix composite material is critical to operation. The relationship between preparation of SMA elements for hybrid composite fabrication and interfacial bond strength is presented to address this issue. The mechanics of interfacial shear failure between SMA element and composite is also presented.