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NDT&E International 36 (2003) 433439 www.elsevier.


Transient thermography in the assessment of defects of aircraft composites

N.P. Avdelidis*, B.C. Hawtin, D.P. Almond
Materials Research Centre, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK Received 9 January 2003; revised 3 April 2003; accepted 4 April 2003

Abstract Transient thermography was employed in the inspection of defects in various aircraft composite panels. Three different categories of defects were investigated in the laboratory; notches on aluminium alloy panels under carbon or boron composite patching, a simulation of delamination on a boron composite patch, and bre breakout on carbon composites. In all situations, the defects were articially created. After detecting the defects, quantitative analysis concerning the contrast of the detected defects was carried out. Finally, information about the size of the articial delaminated panel in relation to transient time was also performed. q 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Thermography; Composites; Defect size; Transient time; Contrast

1. Introduction Due to the ever increasing demands within the aerospace industry for cheaper, more efcient and cost effective aircraft the industry is investing in the development of new testing and evaluation methods. Such methods are needed during the manufacture of the aircraft and during subsequent maintenance. The development of quick cost effective methods for evaluating the integrity of aircraft structures are necessary to both reduce manufacturing costs and to reduce out of service time of aircraft due to maintenance. There has also been a steady increase in the use of high performance composite materials within modern aircraft in both primary and secondary structures. This move towards high performance composites is due to their increased mechanical performance with weight savings. In addition to this, they are less prone to corrosion and fatigue, which should lead to longer service life for components manufactured from composites [1]. Composite components, composite reinforcements are also widely used in aircraft repair technology. Composite patches are often used within
* Corresponding author. Tel.: 44-1225-385443; fax: 44-1225386098. E-mail address: (N.P. Avdelidis).

the aerospace industry to repair damaged or defective regions of an aircraft. The thickness and the nature of the material(s) that form a repair (patch) or a composite aircraft part may have an effect on the suitability of the nondestructive inspection technique employed to examine the component in question. A large amount of research work has been conducted using various NDT & E techniques in the detection and identication of defects in both real [2] and/or simulated [3] aircraft parts. Transient thermography is one of the latest NDT & E techniques in development for effective use in the assessment of aircraft materials. It is a non-contact technique where the investigated areamaterial is heated or cooled by an external source (ash lamps, air gun, etc.) and the resulting thermal transient at the surface is monitored using an infrared camera [4]. Since transient thermography is a high-speed, portable, non-contact and large area inspection technique, it has great potential for wide variety applications. In this research work, transient thermography was employed in the imaging of articially created defects. Three types of defects were investigated: Notches in aluminium aircraft skin panels under composite patching.

0963-8695/03/$ - see front matter q 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/S0963-8695(03)00052-5

434 Table 1 Description of investigated samples Sample Description of sample

N.P. Avdelidis et al. / NDT&E International 36 (2003) 433439

Thickness of Dimensions each ply (mm) of composite X-axis Y-axis (mm) (mm)

A simulation of a delamination between two composite plies of a patch. Hole exit side bre breakout around drilled hole in carbon composites. Thermal images of various defects were obtained during this research work and a number of image processing and quantitative analysis methods were used [5].


7-ply carbon epoxy patch on notch on Al 2024-T3 NBP7P 7-ply boron epoxy patch on notch on Al 2024-T3 DBP6P Simulation of delamination (Teon 25 25 mm2 between third and fourth ply) on 6-ply boron epoxy patch on Al 2024-T3 FBO15 Hole exit side bre breakout on 16-ply carbon (AS4-8552) composite

125 125 125

160 160 120

65 65 70

2. Materials and methods A variety of different defects and material systems were examined during this research work. There were patches made from carbon or boron composites bonded with FM73 adhesive lm, to the surface of 2024-T3 aluminium and multi-ply laminates of HEXCEL AS4/8552 carbon bre composites containing drilling induced defects. Details of the samples are shown in Table 1. A pulsed thermographic system (thermoscope) [6] employing a medium wave (3 5 mm) infrared camera (Indigo) was used to image the defects. Thermoscope is a portable state-of-the-art non-destructive evaluation system with an integrated ash heating system. The Indigo Merlin mid-wave infrared camera (also attached to the system) uses a cooled InSb detector with a frame rate of 60 Hz and a focal plane array pixel format of 320 256. A typical pulsed thermographic inspection set-up [7] is shown in Fig. 1.




Fig. 1. Transient thermography set-up.

Fig. 2. Infrared images of 7-ply carbon epoxy patch (NCP7P) obtained at various times.

N.P. Avdelidis et al. / NDT&E International 36 (2003) 433439


Fig. 3. Infrared images of 6-ply boron epoxy patch (DBP6P) obtained at various times.

Investigation was made of the dependence of defect image contrast and of defect image size on transient time [8]. 3. Results and discussion Representative thermal images of the investigated samples obtained during the transient phase of the pulsed thermographic inspection are presented in Figs. 2 and 3.

Fig. 2, presents images that were obtained at times of: 1.7, 2.9, 3.7 and 4.9 s of sample NCP7P during the cooling down process. The notch in the aluminium plate beneath the bre patch was clearly visible throughout the transient. Similarly, the notch on the surface of the aluminium panel was evidently detected beneath the seven plies of the boron epoxy composite patch. Thermal images, once more obtained at various times (0.1, 0.5, 1.3 and 3.7 s) from sample DBP6P are

Fig. 4. Infrared images of 16-ply carbon sample (FBO1) using a spindle speed of 2000 rpm and a feed rate of 2 mm/min obtained at various times.


N.P. Avdelidis et al. / NDT&E International 36 (2003) 433439

Fig. 5. Infrared images of 16-ply carbon sample (FBO2) using a spindle speed of 1000 rpm and a feed rate of 3 mm/min obtained at various times.

presented in Fig. 3. In this case, the articially created defected applicationdelamination (Teon with dimensions 25 25 mm2) in the boron composite patch between the third and fourth ply was readily revealed by thermography. Figs. 4 6 are images of the hole exit surface carbon bre composite samples drilled with varying drilling parameters

[9]. The drilling parameters used are shown in Table 2. Thermal images were obtained at various times and show the extent of delamination and bre breakout around the drilled hole. The damage was much less for samples FBO4 (Fig. 6) and FBO5 in comparison with that evident for samples FBO1 (Fig. 4), FBO2 (Fig. 5) and FBO3. This is specically due to the drilling parameters used; good hole

Fig. 6. Infrared images of 16-ply carbon sample (FBO4) using a spindle speed of 3000 rpm and a feed rate of 1 mm/min obtained at various times.

N.P. Avdelidis et al. / NDT&E International 36 (2003) 433439 Table 2 Drilling parameters used Sample FBO1 FBO2 FBO3 FBO4 FBO5 Drill bit (mm carbide) 6.35 6.35 6.35 6.35 6.35 Spindle speed (rpm) 2000 1000 1000 3000 5000 Feed rate (mm/min) 2 3 2 1 1 Clamping None None None Light Firm


Back support None None None Pre-drilled Wood

Fig. 7. Contrast curves of 7-ply boron epoxy patch (NBP7Pleft) and 16-ply carbon sample (FBO1right) using a spindle speed of 2000 rpm and a feed rate of 2 mm/min.

quality was produced for FBO4 and FBO5 using high spindle speeds, low feed rates and good support of the hole exit surface of the laminate. All samples were drilled with a manual feed drill and carbide drill bit. In addition, quantitative results were also obtained from the thermal images (thermography). Firstly, plots of the contrast versus the transient time of the identied defects were performed. In other words, the difference in intensity (DIntensity) between the detected defect and the sound region of the sample against the transient time during the cooling down process was plotted. Fig. 7 presents representative contrast curves from two

of the investigated samples. The contrast-time plot of an investigated patch (sample NBP7P) and the contrast curve of a hole exit side bre breakout (sample FBO1) are presented. The times at which maximum defect image contrast was formed for all the samples investigated are shown in Table 3. Defect image line proles were plotted in order to obtain information about the size

Table 3 Maximum thermal contrasts of investigated samples Sample Time (s) Maximum thermal contrast (DIntensity) 15 451 4919 431 653 6451 163 1661


6.267 3.333 0.800 0.284 0.601 0.317 0.251 0.117

Fig. 8. Characteristic line prole (X-axis) of 6-ply boron epoxy patch (DBP6P) at 0.533 s.


N.P. Avdelidis et al. / NDT&E International 36 (2003) 433439

Fig. 9. Size vs transient time graph of 6-ply boron epoxy patch (DBP6P).

of the detected delamination and how this varies with time. In Fig. 8, a characteristic line prole indicating the detected delamination of the investigated sample (DBP6P) is presented. The variation of this measure of defect size with time is shown in Fig. 9 (information obtained from the analysis of the line proles). From the line proles it was possible to calculate the size of the defect in the sample DBP6P employing the full width half maximum approach [10]. A noticeable shrinkage of the apparent defect size with time was evident (Fig. 9).

Although the best possible results concerning the size of a detected defect (as in this example) are attained at particularly short transient times, the clearest images (high contrast) are acquired at longer periods, indicated in Table 3. For this sample, maximum contrast occurs after 0.8 s and it can be seen that at this time image shrinkage is quite signicant. Finally, the 3D plot in Fig. 10, constructed by the 2D thermal image, presents the patch area and the detected defect of sample DBP6P in three dimensions. The ability to

Fig. 10. 3D Plot of 6-ply boron epoxy patch (DBP6P).

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vary the perspective (elevation and azimuth) on these 3D plots provides a great deal of exibility for viewing complex images.

for funding one of the authors (fth Framework ProgrammeAHEAD) and for providing the thermographic system.

4. Conclusions The main objective of this research work was to examine the effectiveness of transient thermography to detect a selection of representative aerospace component defects. Infrared thermography provided excellent results on all investigated samples. The notches beneath the seven plies of carbon or boron epoxy composite patches, as well as, the simulated delamination were clearly identied. Furthermore, thermography proved to be an excellent means of revealing the extent of bre breakout in the carbon around drilled holes. The advantages of the technique are that it investigates rapidly large areas for surface or near surface defects and that it produces easily interpretable results. Its disadvantage is that its success is highly dependent on defect depth and size, which restricts its application to near surface defect imaging [11].

[1] Avdelidis NP, Moropoulou A, Marioli-Riga ZP. Review paper: the technology of composite patches and their structural reliability inspection using infrared imaging. J Prog Aerospace Sci 2003; 39(4):317 28. [2] Bates D, Smith G, Lu D, Hewitt J. Rapid thermal non-destructive testing of aircraft components. J Compos: Part B 2000;31:17585. [3] Moropoulou A, Avdelidis NP, Haralampopoulos G, Marioli-Riga ZP. Non-destructive techniques in the investigation of aircraft materials: determination of defects and patches assessment. Adv Non-destruct Eval Meth Appl 2001;4335:167 73. [4] Maldague X, Marinetti S. Pulse phase infrared thermography. J Appl Phys 1996;79(5):26948. [5] Giorleo G, Meola C. Comparison between pulsed and modulated thermography in glassepoxy laminates. J NDT & E Int 2002;35(5): 28792. [6] Thermal Wave Imaging Inc., 845 Livernois St, Ferndale, MI 48220 USA. [7] Shepard SM. Introduction to active thermography for non-destructive evaluation. J Anti-Corros Meth Mater 1997;44(4):2369. [8] Almond DP, Hamzah R, Delpech P, Peng W, Beheshty MH, Saintey MB. Experimental investigations of defect sizing by transient thermography. In: Quantitative Infrared Thermography 96, Stuttgart, Germany; 1996. [9] Chen WC. Some experimental investigations in the drilling of carbon ber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) composite laminates. Int J Mach Tools Manufact 1997;37(8):1097108. [10] Saintey MB, Almond DP. Defect sizing by transient thermography. II: a numerical treatment. J Phys D: Appl Phys 1995;28:2539 46. [11] Almond DP, Peng W. Thermal imaging of composites. J Microsc 2001;201:163 70.

Acknowledgements Acknowledgements are attributed to the Hellenic Aerospace Industry for the preparation of the composite patches, to Airbus UK for providing the HEXCEL AS4/8552 carbon bre composites and along with EPSRC for their nancial support concerning the carbon bre composites research project. Finally, the authors would also like to thank the EU