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Application of Flash Thermography in Automotive Carbon Fiber Composites

To achieve continuous improvement in vehicle fuel economy and emissions, automotive OEMs are examining the benefits of advanced lightweight composites based upon carbon fiber. The potential for mass reduction is substantial. However, to date, application of carbon fiber composites has been limited in the automotive market to only low volume niche market vehicles. Lack of adoption is often due to issues related to processing cycle time and material cost, but the absence of a rapid low cost quality control method is also considered a key impediment to widespread proliferation. That is, current quality systems are either time consuming or destructive which results in additional cost burden to new application development. Hence, this undermines the business case for carbon composites when compared to alternate lightweight material systems. This has prompted a need to develop low cost, low cycle time inspection methods that can be deployed in an industrial environment. One path to reducing inspection costs is the use of non-destructive test methods. As non-destructive testing enables parts to be used after testing, the cost associated with scrapping parts is eliminated. Flash thermography, a full-field NDT technology, was evaluated in order to determine the capability of the technique as a potential means of quality control and in-service damage assessment. Carbon fiber composite panels in the form of fabrics were tested to identify the capability of thermography in detecting potential manufacturing flaws. Results from testing show that flash thermography can be used to detect a wide array of potential defects. However, considerable development is still required to establish a quality control system that would be robust to a manufacturing plant environment.

1. Moore, P., Nondestructive Testing Handbook, third edition: Volume 3, Infrared and Thermal Testing, Columbus, OH, American Society for Nondestructive Testing, 2014. 2. Steven M.S., “Thermographic Characterization of Composites”, SAMPE 2013 Proceedings: Education & Green Sky-Materials Technology for a Better World, Long Beach, CA, May 6-9, 2013.
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