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2-Dimensional Mapping of Damage in Moisture Contaminated Polymer Composites Using Dielectric Properties



Polymer composite materials are increasingly being adopted in civil infrastructure, oil & gas, marine, automotive and aerospace industries. Achieving ubiquitous adoption would require new advances in development of non-destructive examination methods which are cost effective relative to composite structures under test, simple to utilize and sensitive enough to ascertain the structural integrity of composite parts, especially in the absence of visible damage. This study proposes a relatively simple method for non-destructive testing of polymer composites that detects 2-dimensional micro to nano-scale damage by analysis of the effects of polymer-moisture interactions on microwave-frequency dielectric properties. In this study, we apply this method to mapping of internal damage in two widely used aerospace composite laminates; a 12-ply bismaleimide/quartz and a 16-ply epoxy/7781 fiber glass composite laminate. Specimens are dried and then immersed in deionized water, to simulate long term exposure to humid environments while measuring gravimetric moisture uptake. Localized damage is induced in the laminate specimens via low velocity impact damage of 5 and 9 Joules. A split post dielectric resonator coupled with a vector network analyzer is used to determine the spatial variation in relative permittivity across the composite laminate. Generally, results show significant increase in relative permittivity towards the center of impact damage compared to surrounding undamaged areas. This increase is indicative of internal damage as a result of micro-crack formation around the point of impact. This new free volume in the damaged area is primarily occupied by free water; driving a local increase in the relative permittivity in the damaged area due to the locally-higher ratio of free to bound water. Due to the tendency of polymer composites to absorb measurable absorbed moisture in almost all environments, this relatively simple non-destructive examination method using water as a type of “imaging agent” demonstrates considerable promise for early detection of damage.


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