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Smart Mater. Struct. 16 (2007) 1198–1207

Self-healing composite sandwich structures

H R Williams, R S Trask and I P Bond

ACCIS—Advanced Composites Centre for Innovation and Science, Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol, Queen’s Building, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TR, UK

Received 7 December 2006, in final form 4 May 2007 Published 29 June 2007 Online at

Abstract Impact damage can degrade the flexural strength of composite sandwich structures by over 50% due to a loss of skin support inducing localized skin buckling. Various self-healing methodologies have been applied to laminated composites but the concept of delivering a healing agent from a remote reservoir to a region of damage via a vascular network offers the potential for a robust and replenishable system housed in the core of a sandwich structure. In this pilot study a vascular sandwich structure that appears as a conventional sandwich composite has been developed and tested. The network has been shown to have negligible influence on the innate static mechanical properties of the host panel. Infiltration of the vascular network with a pre-mixed epoxy resin system after impact damage demonstrated a complete recovery of flexural failure mode and load. Infiltration with the same resin system from separate unmixed networks, where self-healing is initiated autonomously via mixing within the damage, has also been shown to fully recover undamaged failure load when both networks are successfully breached.

(Some figures in this article are in colour only in the electronic version)

1. Introduction

Sandwich structures offer very high specific flexural stiffness by using high performing skin materials, such as glass or carbon fibre composite, separated by a lightweight core. This makes them an attractive design option in aerospace and marine applications. Extensive reviews of the literature on impact to sandwich structures have been performed by Abrate (1997, 1998) and Tomblin et al (1999). The large numbers of variables in sandwich structure design and manufacture means that, in most cases, the impact behaviour of each configuration must be assessed on its own merits. The general conclusions from several studies (Akay and Hanna 1990, Ishai and Hiel 1992, Weeks and Sun 1994, Nenes and Simmonds 1992, Kim and Jun 1992) are that low velocity impact causes damage to the impacted skin, skin–core interface and the core material itself. The damage differs from typical impact damage in composite laminates primarily by the formation of a cohesive disbond in the core just under the impacted face; this damage mode absorbs energy and the delamination area in the face laminate is reduced compared to that in a laminated plate alone (Kim and Jun 1992). Residual strengths

are significantly reduced above some threshold energy and then drop asymptotically to around 50% of the initial strength, although the overall strength loss varies on a case-by-case basis. Thomson et al (1998) and Mouritz and Thomson (1999) have investigated the reduction in flexural strength of glass–fibre vinyl ester skinned, PVC cored sandwich structures subject to repeated impact to produce a disbond across the width of a beam specimen. Residual static flexural strength was found to reduce significantly above a damage size threshold. This threshold corresponded with a change in final failure mode from core shear to skin buckling. Shipsha et al (2003) have also extensively investigated the influence of impact on core damage and resulting core shear and skin compressive failure modes in flexural samples. A two-dimensional configuration with damage extending to the sample edge was used to assist visual observation. Under flexural test with the impact site located between the loading noses, the compressive strength of the skins was drastically reduced due to localized buckling. The failure stress reduced from 63% of the undamaged state after a 6.6 J impact to only 13% of the undamaged strength after 40 J impact. Further studies have investigated static indentation of panels (Zenkert


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Self-healing composite sandwich structures

et al 2004), explored the relaxation of the residual dent (Rizov et al 2005) and compared static indentation with impact behaviour (Schubel et al 2005). Three linked studies (Zenkert et al 2005, Bull and Edgren 2004, Edgren et al 2004) have been used to develop an overall damage assessment scheme for marine sandwich structures of different thicknesses subject to damage from a variety of impactor shapes and energies. The effect of damage to sandwich structures can be managed using a damage-tolerant philosophy such as that described by Tomblin and colleagues (Tomblin et al 1999). Levels of damage must be related to service loading to ensure that damage can be successfully managed in operation. Abrate (1998) summarizes the key methods of repairing impact damage to sandwich structures. Damaged skin and core is usually removed and the core replaced with inserts, with a bonded patch placed over the top to restore the skin. Whilst repair techniques are of enormous importance, they require prior diagnosis of damage and are usually impractical for use whilst the system is in operation. In the best case, even the assessment and repair of minor damage requires unwelcome effort. Conventional repair of more serious damage requires the system to be taken out of operation for some time (Aitken et al 2000). In the worst case, damage could cause failure while the system is in operation. Higher factors of safety can be used to increase the damage tolerance of a structure. An alternative philosophy would be to take a biologically inspired approach and make the structure multifunctional by incorporating a self- healing ability to complement damage-tolerant design. Several self-healing methodologies have been applied to composite materials to date. Both a microencapsulated monomer and dispersed catalyst approach (White et al 2001, Kessler and White 2001, Kessler et al 2003, Brown et al 2005) and hollow glass fibres that break under impact damage (Dry 1996, Bleay et al 2001, Pang and Bond 2005, Trask and Bond 2006) are limited to some extent by the available volume of healing agent which cannot be easily replenished. Alternatively, solid-state healing approaches using polymers with the ability to re-bond (Chen et al 2002, 2003) or undergo a form of thermoplastic pinning (Hayes et al 2007) at elevated temperatures require an external feedback system to sense damage and initiate healing, in this case by the application of heat or temperature. Healing is not autonomous with this approach. Solid-state healing approaches could not be expected to perform well with open cracks or voids in the core such as observed in impact damaged sandwich panels. Liquid based microcapsule and hollow fibre self-healing approaches used to date have combined the functions of delivery and storage. This has proven successful for damage on the laminate scale. Trask et al (2007) have reviewed these self-healing approaches and self-healing in mammals and identified a biomimetic vascular network as an advance on existing liquid based healing approaches. A vascular network offers the advantages of addressing the larger damage volume expected in sandwich structures, allowing multiple healing events and allowing replenishment of the system. The concept is that the contents of a reservoir are delivered to a damage site via a network of vessels contained in the core of the sandwich panel. This paper describes the design, manufacture and test of a simple vascular sandwich panel incorporating a self- healing ability. The manufacture of the vascular sandwich

healing ability. The manufacture of the vascular sandwich Figure 1. Manufacture of vascular sandwich panels.

Figure 1. Manufacture of vascular sandwich panels.

structure is described along with a series of experiments to quantify the effect of the vascular network on the baseline mechanical properties of the panel. The self-healing approach described relies on two processes, the physical infiltration of a repair resin into the damage initiated by the rupture of the containment vessels and the chemical process that initiates the cure of the repair agent. The physical process is assessed using a pre-mixed resin system as a step towards the autonomous self-repair incorporating a two-part network. Four-point bend flexural testing with two-dimensional damage introduced through a cylindrical impactor was selected. This approach allowed simplified sample manufacture of a wide range of design cases, easy viewing of the damage non- destructively and, because this form of damage significantly reduces the residual strength, provided a rigorous assessment of the healing approach.

2. Vascular self-healing system

2.1. Manufacture

Sandwich cores were manufactured from 52 kg m 3 Rohacell polymethacrylimide closed-cell foam. A schematic representa- tion of the manufacture process for samples containing a vas- cular network is shown in figure 1, and the process is described in more detail in this section. Initially, two half cores of 5 mm thickness were used. Straight channels 2 mm wide and 2.5 mm deep were machined into one of the half cores. PVC tubing of 1.5 mm internal diameter and 2.5 mm external diameter (Altec Ltd, UK) was laid into the channel after adhesive had been spread over the surfaces of both surfaces. The total resin coverage appropriate to produce a consistent midplane bond using this manufacture technique was found to be 1390 g m 2 . Corebond 340 (SPSystems, UK) was selected on the basis of material properties, capacity for room temperature cure and high viscosity to avoid open channels becoming filled with resin during later processing stages. The centreline bond was oven cured in a vacuum bag at 60 C for 5 h; the cure temperature was selected to limit deformation of the PVC tubing. This produced a core of 10.5 mm thickness that appeared as a conventional core, but incorporated vessels close to the midplane. To form the network, 1.5 mm holes were drilled through the core and into the tubes at appropriate locations. The risers themselves were therefore holes in the


H R Williams et al

H R Williams et al Figure 2. Schematic representation of a two-part vascular network sandwich beam
H R Williams et al Figure 2. Schematic representation of a two-part vascular network sandwich beam

Figure 2. Schematic representation of a two-part vascular network sandwich beam and four-point bend test set-up. Not to scale.

processes have been completed. A schematic representation of a vascular sandwich panel designed for a two-part resin system, along with the four-point bend flexural test set-up, is shown in figure 2.

2.2. Effect on mechanical properties

In order to assess the comparative mechanical performance of conventional sandwich beams and those containing a vascular network, a range of sandwich configurations were prepared and

subjected to flexural testing. Six conventional sandwich beams were sectioned from a larger panel. The midplane bond and vascular network was eliminated from these samples by using

closed cell foam core. Additional Corebond 340 adhesive


10.5 mm thick, one-piece Rohacell core. The manufacture

was applied to plug the exposed holes and allowed to gel for 24 h at 20 C to seal the network for the subsequent stages. After this time the plugs were solid enough to be manually sanded flush with the surface of the core in preparation for

was otherwise identical to that described in section 2.1. These were compared with beams in which the cores had various combinations of channels, tubes and risers to assess the influence of each. These are shown schematically in figure 3.

bonding to the skins. Composite skins 300 mm square of [0, 90] s layup and 0.5 mm nominal thickness were prepared from pre-impregnated E-glass/913 epoxy (Hexcel, UK) using the recommended autoclave cure cycle. The top face of each plate was then sanded using P120 grit silicon carbide paper and lightly solvent cleaned using acetone. The skins were bonded to the core using Corebond 340 (SPSystems, UK) at 830 g m 2 . This was also spread over both surfaces to ensure a consistent bond with minimum bonding pressure. Although the risers were plugged, the risk of the network becoming blocked due to skin–core bond resin entering the network through an imperfect plug was considered. To minimize this risk, the skin bonding operation was completed at room temperature for 24 h

Three specimens of each of these configurations were manufactured from two 300 mm square panels, each sectioned into nine specimens 30 mm in width. Samples were conditioned at 20 C for at least 24 h before flexural testing. Beams were tested in four-point bending according to ASTM C393 on a Roell Amsler vertical axis test machine with a 25 kN load cell. The selection of this machine was driven by practical considerations. Although it is a large capacity load cell for the tests undertaken, the calibration accuracy was judged sufficient for this comparative pilot study. Four-point bend testing was undertaken with a support span of 250 mm chosen to promote skin driven flexural failure modes in the later work on impact damaged specimens. A loading span of 90 mm was selected

under deadweight pressure of approximately 2.8 kN m 2 . This


give maximum clearance from the damage zone that would


a conservative method that could be refined in future studies.

be introduced in later specimens. This was the maximum


postcure of 60 C for 5 h was then applied to the whole panel

clearance allowed by the geometry of the test fittings. Testing


enhance the performance of all the bond lines. The network

was performed under displacement control at a test speed


filled with liquid healing agent(s) after all manufacturing

of 2 mm min 1 . Square load spreaders of 30 mm width

2 mm min − 1 . Square load spreaders of 30 mm width Figure 3. Mean
2 mm min − 1 . Square load spreaders of 30 mm width Figure 3. Mean
2 mm min − 1 . Square load spreaders of 30 mm width Figure 3. Mean

Figure 3. Mean skin stress at the failure of vascular sandwich beams of various configurations.


Self-healing composite sandwich structures

Table 1. Mass penalty of vascular network.


Normalized beam mass

Baseline: no midplane bond Single tube with risers Double tube with risers




with flexible pads were used to distribute the load to prevent localized failure under the loading noses. All samples failed by core shear approximately midway between the loading and support points. The data have been expressed in terms of skin stress at failure, even though the failure mode is core shear. The rationale for this is that the failure of damaged specimens in flexure or edgewise compression is driven by the compressive stress in the skin; thus it is convenient to express all failure loads in these terms for comparison. Regardless of failure mode, the skin stress at failure gives a fair comparison of the load-carrying capacity of the structure in this configuration. In the case of a sandwich beam subjected to four-point bending the skin compressive stress at failure σ skin is given by Zenkert (1995) as


σ skin = P(L 2bt f (t 2 f + L t c 1 ) )

where P is the failure load, L 2 and L 1 are the outer and inner support spans, b is the beam width, t f is the face thickness and t c the core thickness. The skin stress at failure for each sample, the mean for each sample group and schematic representations of each configuration in cross section are shown in figure 3. The data show that the incorporation of a vascular network within a foam cored sandwich structure has a negligible overall effect on the flexural strength of the structure within the density of features considered. The additional processing stages do increase the variability of the failure load marginally. These configurations were selected to be representative of the currently envisaged form of a self-healing vascular network and to investigate the effect of various features. If the density of the features were to be increased significantly then this investigation would need to be extended. In this flexural loading case, shear failure dominates over the compressive failure mode. In a purely compressive structure further investigation into the spacing between vertical risers would be required to ascertain if the skins risk being destabilized by a high density of risers. A further caveat is that the influence on riser density on fatigue of the core has not been considered. These experiments indicate that even with a relatively unrefined manufacturing approach a self-healing system of this configuration can be incorporated into the core space of a sandwich structure loaded in flexure with minimal disruption to the innate properties. The mean masses of the test specimen groups are given in table 1, normalized to the mass of the baseline specimen. This table shows that there is a mass penalty associated with introducing the vascular network. The mass of the tubing itself is small compared to the additional adhesive required to bond the midplane of the split core. This is very much a function of the current manufacturing process, and there has been no attempt to optimize the vascular configuration. Considerable manufacturing refinements can be expected as the technology matures, so these figures could certainly be considered an upper bound on mass penalty.

3. Initiation of self-healing

3.1. Test Procedure

Two 300 × 300 mm panels were prepared according to the

manufacturing process described in section 2.1. The panels were sectioned into nine beam specimens of nominally 30 mm

in width. Undamaged, damaged and healed specimens (three

each per panel) were selected from random positions in the panel. The damaged and healed specimen groups were subjected to uninstrumented drop weight impact of a 50 mm diameter cylindrical drop weight of 2.8 kg across the width of the sample. The use of this two-dimensional damage case as an idealized form of impact damage to sandwich panels has been

discussed by Shipsha et al (2003) as it allows non-destructive visualization of damage and, in this case, observation of the infiltrated damage zone after self-healing. The relatively large impactor diameter was found to give only core damage,

a simpler case than the combination of core and facesheet

damage usually associated with localized loading of sharper

impact heads (Zenkert et al 2005, Bull and Edgren 2004, Edgren et al 2004). Two different drop heights (108 and

130 mm) were used for samples from the two panels to give different impact energies of 3.0 J and 3.6 J respectively. The healed samples were prepared by filling the network with Ampreg 20 epoxy laminating resin (SPSystems, UK) pre- mixed with the corresponding slow hardener at the specified ratio of 4:1 by weight. This is an inexpensive resin system giving good working time, reasonable mechanical properties from cure at ambient conditions and low component and mixed viscosities. Once the network was filled using a syringe, the downstream end of the network was clamped and the syringe plunger removed to open the reservoir to ambient pressure. This produced a momentary vacuum that confirmed the integrity of the network and drew out trapped air. The syringe was elevated to give a static head of 430 mm above the damaged face and the samples impacted in this condition. The resin was allowed to infiltrate the damage and to cure for 36 h at 20 C. Strips of masking tape 60 × 12 mm were stuck

to the edges of the healed samples before impact in the damage

zone to contain the bleeding resin. To ensure these did not

cause different damage formation in the two sample groups, they were also added to the damaged samples. They were removed from all samples before flexural testing. Four-point bend testing was undertaken as described in section 2.2.

3.2. Results and discussion

The width-normalized load–crosshead displacement responses

at the two impact energies are shown in figures 4 and 5. In

all cases the final failure modes of the undamaged specimens was a core shear crack located midway between the loading and support noses preceded by core compressive yielding. In the damaged specimens the failure mode was changed to skin buckling, commencing at a point in the load displacement

curve which appears in some cases as a distinct load drop and

in others as a noticeable change of gradient or ‘knee’. Further

loading caused progressive core crushing that allowed some post-buckled increase in load. In the healed specimens the failure mode was restored to a core shear failure remote from the damage site.


H R Williams et al

H R Williams et al Figure 4. Load traces for damaged and self-healed beams impacted at
H R Williams et al Figure 4. Load traces for damaged and self-healed beams impacted at
H R Williams et al Figure 4. Load traces for damaged and self-healed beams impacted at

Figure 4. Load traces for damaged and self-healed beams impacted at 3 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel.

at ∼ 3 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel. Figure 5. Load traces for
at ∼ 3 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel. Figure 5. Load traces for
at ∼ 3 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel. Figure 5. Load traces for

Figure 5. Load traces for damaged and self-healed beams impacted at 3.6 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel.

The undamaged and healed specimens are shown to have similar traces for the two different panels. The damaged traces in figure 4 show a reduction in buckling and ultimate load and significant scatter. At the higher impact energy, the damaged traces in figure 5 show both a significantly reduced buckling and ultimate post-buckled load, but reduced scatter. This could be the influence of using an unguided drop weight, but is more likely to be a threshold damage effect, whereby the higher energy impact ensures complete disbonding across the sample width—which cannot be assured for lower energy levels—and so the buckling and ultimate loads are more consistent. The structural failure stresses are shown in figure 6 expressed as skin compressive stresses at failure for comparison purposes. In the undamaged and healed cases the failure mode is by a core shear yielding and then fracture; the ultimate load attained was taken as the point of failure since the traces remain broadly linear until close to failure. In the damaged specimens the


buckling load has been taken as the point of failure; this has been taken as the point of first significant load fall or the knee in the curve in cases where there is no distinct fall. It is accepted that these loads could be considered somewhat arbitrary but they represent a good indication of the first point at which the structural performance of the specimens has been severely compromised. Figure 6 reflects the trends in the load traces, showing first that impact damage in this configuration and material has reduced the mean flexural strength of the specimens to between 44% and 19% of the undamaged load. Within the range of impact energies studied the failure mode and strength can be consistently restored by this approach. Real impact damage is clearly subject to significant scatter; however, the variation in performance of the damaged specimen at the lower energy level does not detract from the success of the self-healing mechanism because the results suggest that this variability

Self-healing composite sandwich structures

Self-healing composite sandwich structures Figure 6. Summary of mechanical performance of beam specimens. Healed

Figure 6. Summary of mechanical performance of beam specimens. Healed specimens infiltrated with pre-mixed resin.

Healed specimens infiltrated with pre-mixed resin. Figure 7. Photograph of a vascular sandwich beam subjected

Figure 7. Photograph of a vascular sandwich beam subjected to the impact of a 2.8 kg cylindrical impactor dropped from 130 mm. The damage void has been infiltrated with pre-mixed epoxy resin healing agent through the vascular network in the core.

can be addressed successfully by the self-healing mechanism. Figure 7 shows a photograph of the region of damage viewed from the side, and clearly shows that the cohesive crack and void in the foam core under the impact site has been filled by healing agent supplied from the vascular network. That this occurred in all samples shows that the rupture of the vertical riser is consistently achieved during impact deformation and confirms that the time required to infiltrate the damage is much less than the time for the resin to cure. This study shows that the physical mechanism of using an impact load to rupture channels in the foam that allows healing agent to bleed into the damage is a successful method of initiating self-healing in sandwich structures with impact damage confined to the core, and minimal damage to the skin. This damage is typical of sandwich structures with relatively brittle cores subject to blunt impact. The failure modes of a sandwich structure depend on the test geometry and sample skin and core properties, so strictly it is only possible to conclude that the flexural strength of this particular

configuration has been restored. Viewed another way, the difference in failure mode between the damaged and healed specimens mean the overall failure load of this structure has been restored. Following initiation, the damage zone is successfully infiltrated under only moderate pressures, and curing of the resin restores the undamaged failure mode and strength. The limitation at this stage is that the healing agent is not chemically initiated to cure by the impact damage: in this instance the two parts of the resin system have been pre-mixed and the system would not have sufficient ‘shelf life’ for any real application.

4. Autonomous self-healing incorporating chemical and physical initiation

4.1. Test procedure

Two further 300 mm × 300 mm panels were prepared according to the process in section 2.1. Double tubes were laid into each beam specimen, shown schematically in figure 2. Bonding in the additional tubes required an increase of 25% in the amount of resin used for the midplane bond to produce a bond thickness equivalent to that of the earlier cases. Separate risers for resin and hardener were drilled through the core and tubes as before, but for this test these were placed at the midspan position only for simplicity. Undamaged, damaged and healed specimens were prepared, with six beams in each test group. Healed specimens had one tube infiltrated with Ampreg 20 resin (SPSystems, UK) and one with the corresponding ‘slow’ hardener using a syringe. The downstream ends of the tubes were clamped and then the syringe plungers removed to open the reservoirs to atmospheric pressure. The syringes were all raised to a static head of 430 mm. The impact method was modified from the previous experiments with the use of a guided impactor of the same mass and geometry. This modification was intended to produce a more consistent impact. Impact was undertaken at a single


H R Williams et al

H R Williams et al Figure 8. Load traces for beam specimens from first panel with
H R Williams et al Figure 8. Load traces for beam specimens from first panel with
H R Williams et al Figure 8. Load traces for beam specimens from first panel with

Figure 8. Load traces for beam specimens from first panel with double-tube vascular network self-healing approach impacted at approximately 3.6 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel.

3.6 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel. Figure 9. Load traces for beam specimens
3.6 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel. Figure 9. Load traces for beam specimens
3.6 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel. Figure 9. Load traces for beam specimens

Figure 9. Load traces for beam specimens from second panel with double-tube vascular network healing approach impacted at approximately 3.6 J and undamaged specimens from the same panel.

drop height of 130 mm, the same as the higher energy level tested in section 3. All other conditions were the same as those described above. After impact, the damage was allowed to infiltrate with the two components and cure at ambient conditions for 36 h at 20 C. There was some leakage from the edges of the samples, and this was cleaned off before testing. Four-point bend flexural testing was then undertaken using the same configuration as that described above.

4.2. Results and discussion

The width normalized load–displacement behaviour for each beam is shown in figures 8 and 9; all curves in the same figure were sectioned from the same panel. The figures show that the behaviour was very similar across the two panels. In the first panel, figure 8, one of the three healed beam


specimens shows evidence of almost complete self-healing, whereas the other two behave very similarly to the damaged beams. In figure 9 two of the three healed beam specimens show evidence of complete self-healing, and one shows no evidence of healing. By inspection, the buckling and ultimate loads of the impact damaged specimens are much higher than those in figure 4, suggesting that the double-tube arrangement improves the damage tolerance of the beams compared to the beams with single tubes. The mechanical performance of both panels is summa- rized in figure 10. Firstly, the mean skin stress at failure in the damaged specimens is reduced to 47% of the undamaged stress at failure; this confirms a considerable improvement in damage tolerance over the single-tubed specimens that can be attributed to the additional reinforcement on the midplane of the core. This figure clearly shows two distinct groups of healed speci-

Self-healing composite sandwich structures

Self-healing composite sandwich structures Figure 10. Summary of mechanical performance of beam specimens with two-part
Self-healing composite sandwich structures Figure 10. Summary of mechanical performance of beam specimens with two-part

Figure 10. Summary of mechanical performance of beam specimens with two-part self-healing network.

of beam specimens with two-part self-healing network. (a) (b) Figure 11. Photograph of damage zones of


of beam specimens with two-part self-healing network. (a) (b) Figure 11. Photograph of damage zones of


Figure 11. Photograph of damage zones of healed sandwich beams. (a) Specimens in which healing was successful with inset reference sample showing the fluorescence of the hardener component. (b) Unsuccessfully healed specimens.

mens: those that have worked successfully and those that have not. The flexural test is a robust test of the healing effectiveness because it is linked with restoration of original failure mode:

skin buckling is either adequately constrained, in which case failure reverts to core shear and failure load is restored, or it is not, and the failure matches that of the damaged specimens. To investigate the reason for the unsuccessful self-healing in half the samples, all the beam specimens were destructively inves- tigated. The top skin was carefully removed from the region of failure and the damaged region inspected. Figure 11(a) shows a photograph of the three successfully healed beams viewed under ultraviolet light. The inset shows a reference specimen of resin and hardener in recesses in Rohacell foam, showing that the hardener fluoresces strongly under ultraviolet light, while the resin does not. Cured Ampreg 20 also shows no noticeable fluorescence above that of the Rohacell. The outer edges of the damage and the immediate vicinity of the risers show evidence of unreacted hardener. Visual and tactile inspection revealed that the centre of the damage zone was filled with cured resin, with a transition region between this and the unreacted hardener at the edges. The specimens in which healing has been unsuccessful are photographed in figure 11(b). One specimen shows evidence of

extensive hardener infiltration, but no resin or cured epoxy. The other two specimens show visual and tactile evidence of resin infiltration, but no cured epoxy is present, and figure 11(b) clearly shows no evidence of hardener in the damage zone. It is suggested that, in the three samples in which healing was unsuccessful, this was due to the failure of one of the two parts to infiltrate the damage. These specimens were sectioned through the damage zone to trace the failure to infiltrate, and uncured resin and hardener were found in their respective horizontal supply tubes in all samples. These were found to run freely when a light pressure was applied to the end of each tube using a syringe. This implies that the blockages were located in the drilled vertical risers, not the horizontal supply networks. The unsuccessfully healed samples underwent skin buckling and extensive core crushing during four-point bend testing; the resulting damage in the regions of the risers meant that it was not possible to identify the reason certain risers had become blocked. The work presented in section 3, using a single riser delivering pre-mixed resin into the damage zone, showed complete success in the physical mechanism of infiltrating the damage. The most plausible explanation is that the close proximity of the hardener and resin risers in the two-part samples may have caused some form of interaction,


H R Williams et al

whereby the impact deformation that causes the preferential

rupture of one riser then blocks the adjacent riser, perhaps due

to movement of the plugs of skin–core bond adhesive in the

top of each riser. Half of the samples did not successfully heal:

increasing the reliability of this healing approach in a two-part network requires an investigation into effect of riser spacing on reliability of initiation, possibly to derive a minimum spacing between risers or an improved manufacturing processes that reduces the size of the skin–core bond resin plug at the head of each riser. A single-part network based self-healing system would require an alternative initiation of the self- healing chemistry, perhaps using a solid catalyst, temperature

or moisture activation. These approaches each have their own

advantages and disadvantages, and no ideal approach has been identified at this stage. In the samples with successful healing, both resin and hardener were released into the damage zone unmetered and with no active mixing. Despite the fact that epoxy resin systems usually only give peak performance if thoroughly mixed in the correct proportions, restoration of the original failure mode and load has been demonstrated in these samples. The physical mechanism of riser rupture releasing liquid based healing agent components into the damage zone has been demonstrated, albeit with some issues requiring further understanding, and the presence of cured epoxy in the damage zone implies that the chemical initiation has performed adequately despite the compromised conditions. Crucially, the

two-part system allows the shelf life of the self-healing system

to match the life of the component because the delivery of

fluids from reservoirs could allow the fluids to be drained and renewed periodically during the life of the structure. None of the healed samples showed a damage zone completely filled with cured epoxy—such as demonstrated in the samples infiltrated with pre-mixed epoxy described in section 3— and yet restoration of undamaged failure mode has been demonstrated. It is important to note that this conclusion

applies to a blunt impact resulting in core-dominated damage,

with minimal damage to the face laminates. As with the pre- mixed resin system, the failure mode and, strictly, the failure load of this structural configuration, have been restored. The dominant failure mode of sandwich panels subject to fatigue

is core shear (Sharma et al 2006), and impact damage could

serve as a starter crack. Further work would be required to

assess whether this self-healing system could improve fatigue- after-impact performance. The absolute mechanical properties

of the healing agent may not be critical for this application. To

first order, properties equivalent to that of the foam core may be all that is required. This conclusion allows a wider range

of candidate healing systems to be considered, some of which

may have other advantages in application, for example shelf life or lower viscosity.

5. Conclusions

A simple vascular sandwich structure consisting of horizontal

supply channels and vertical riser channels in a closed-cell foam core has been developed. It has been shown that this network has negligible effect on the baseline static mechanical properties of the panel. Rupture of a vertical riser containing a pressurized healing fluid can act as a suitable physical initiation


for infiltrating the void in the foam core that typically results from blunt impact on composite sandwich structures. The infiltration of a pre-mixed, room temperature curing laminating epoxy restored the undamaged flexural failure mode and failure load of a structure in which impact damage reduced the failure load to 20% of an undamaged specimen. The geometry and configuration of the impact and flexural test conditions were selected to induce a core shear mode of failure in the undamaged specimens. A low velocity, blunt impact produced damage that would be difficult to detect visually. By extending the scope to a two-part network, chemical initiation can occur on the intimate contact of the two parts of a resin system supplied through separate channels. Self-healing was successful, restoring the original failure mode and failure load, in cases where both resin and hardener components infiltrated the damage site. This was despite the lack of the thorough mixing and exact mix ratios usually required by two-part epoxy resin systems. However, in 50% of the self-healing specimens only one of the components successfully infiltrated the damage site and no self-healing occurred. The failure of the physical bleeding mechanism was traced to the vertical risers. This work forms the basis of ongoing research that will focus on investigating riser interaction, extending this pilot study towards more representative compressive panel configurations, including other sandwich failure modes, and addressing the implications of using this self-healing methodology in practical components.


The authors would like to acknowledge the funding provided by the University of Bristol through a Convocation Scholarship and Drs Julie Etches and Paul Weaver for useful advice offered in the preparation of this paper.


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