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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/M013170/1
Title: Structural Efficiency and Multi-Functionality of Well-Behaved Nonlinear Composite Structures
Principal Investigator: Pirrera, Dr A
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Airbus Group Limited Arup (Ove Arup and Partners Ltd) (UK) Dassault Group
Nanyang Technological University University of Nottingham
Department: Aerospace Engineering
Organisation: University of Bristol
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 April 2015 Ends: 31 March 2020 Value (£): 866,291
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Design & Testing Technology Manufact. Enterprise Ops& Mgmt
Materials Processing
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Manufacturing Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
08 Oct 2014 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 8th October 2014 Announced
04 Nov 2014 Manufacturing Fellowships Interview Panel Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Composite materials and advanced structures are predicted to be major drivers for the growth and competitiveness of UK's value-added manufacturing economy. Maintaining and further enhancing the current national competitive advantage has been identified as a government strategic priority. This fellowship will contribute toward this goal by considering engineering structural design and composite materials in a different light.

When conceiving structures, it is common practice to rely on well-established design principles and robust analysis tools. This may be for several reasons, but the lack of experience with different approaches is probably the most important. Exploring the opportunities that are available outside the 'designer comfort zone' is a risky, expensive and time-consuming gamble that engineering companies can rarely afford to take.

History shows several examples of structural designs that, despite being at the forefront of current material technologies, missed out on remarkable engineering opportunities. The Iron Bridge, across the river Severn near Coalbrookdale, is probably the most famous case in point in Britain. Completed in 1779, the bridge was the world's first to be made of cast iron and is renowned for being substantially overdesigned, having been conceived following rules for wood rather than metal constructions. Composite materials are a modern example. One of their most remarkable features is the versatility that allows engineers to design not only a structure but also its constituent materials. However, partly due to their excellent specific stiffness, there is often the tendency to use them to replicate the well-known behaviour of isotropic materials, thus missing the opportunity to exploit many of the benefits that they could potentially provide. Owing to the colour of carbon fibre composites, this modus operandi is known as the 'black metal' approach. In a similar way, structural design is normally limited to linear regimes. In other words, structures are often designed to be stiff and exhibit small displacements, i.e. to respond linearly to the applied loads. Under these circumstances design methods are well established and based on decades of experience. This is indeed the engineer's comfort zone. Designers usually avoid large displacements because they may cause unwanted shape changes and trigger the transition to nonlinear regimes, potentially leading to catastrophic and often sudden, uncontrolled failure. However, if we could learn to control such behaviour, it could actually be exploited for a benefit.

The aim of this proposal is to explore the possibilities given by nonlinear responses in structural design. The principal objectives are the development of a new generation of adaptive/multifunctional structures working in elastically nonlinear regimes and the creation of novel paradigms for structural efficiency. The ambition is to harness the possibilities presented by composite materials and to deliver new design principles by removing the barriers imposed by the current practice of restricting structures to behave linearly. Imagine aircraft wings or wind turbine blades tailored to be lighter and still meet the requirements imposed at different operating conditions, thanks to nonlinear stiffness characteristics; buildings whose structural response is compliant only if subjected to extreme earthquake loads, so as to prevent catastrophic failure; or a bridge whose stiffness increases in case of strong winds preventing detrimental aeroelastic instabilities. This is my vision. This is what the elastic properties of composite materials can offer, if we move away from the 'black metal' approach.
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Organisation Website: http://www.bris.ac.uk