November 12, 2004

New material will enhance performance Researchers creating composite for aircraft

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - Aircraft that fly at nine times the speed of sound will perform better if the front edges of their wings are made of new friction material under development at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

"The high speed of these hypersonic vehicles generates great friction and heat - - enough to melt the metals and alloys used in regular aircraft," said Peter Filip, director of SIUC's Center for Advanced Friction Studies.

"That's why a completely new material is needed."

A $260,000 grant from the University of Dayton Research Institute is underwriting the project, which also involves Composite Innovations Corp., a California-based company specializing in product development and manufacturing scale-up. Filip expects to have a prototype composite ready by early next year, with a commercial product available in less than three years.

Among other things, the friction center specializes in creating complex hybrid materials for use in airplane and car braking systems. Center engineers will adapt some of these composites to meet the demands of hypersonic flight. This will produce a completely new hybrid that could withstand super-high and extremely low temperatures as well as sudden shifts between the two with little wear or breakdown due to thermal stress and aging.

"We have already developed hybrid metal-ceramic-carbon friction materials, but with the help of CIC, we can make them even better," he said.

The California company has come up with a unique type of furnace that will allow Associate Professor Jarlen Don and center researcher Tod Policandriotes to tease new properties out of the composites they make with it. They will then use the center's high-tech friction testing equipment to measure and describe these properties.

That information will go to Associate Professor Tsuchin "Phil" Chu and Professor Young W. Kwon of the mechanical engineering and energy processes department. They will use the data to set up a computerized model that will allow them to design "virtual" composites with certain properties and then predict how those composites will behave under specified conditions.

"Instead of doing expensive trial-and-error tests, we will be able to address the most critical performance issues by changing variables in the model," Filip said.

"Eventually, we will have determined the best properties from the model without having to manufacture thousands of samples."

Those "best properties" will serve as the specifications for the new product's components. The researchers will manufacture the composite according to those specs, then test it to see if it performs as expected.

"Once it's been proven, we are going to offer it to leading manufacturers of friction material," Filip said.

"We won't need to look for a market because it's already here. There are a lot of major companies that are just waiting for it."

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.