Leading Australia’s largest aerospace composite research facility towards creating stronger, lighter and more repairable materials.
Director, Sir Lawrence Wackett Aerospace Research Centre
Advanced composite materials and structures, focusing on design, manufacturing, analysis and theoretical modeling; Fatigue and fracture, theoretical and computational solid mechanics; Adhesive bonding and composite repair technologies; Multifunctional structures, including structural health monitoring, load-carrying conformal antenna, energy generation and storage.
Multinational companies could go anywhere in the world for their research but they chose to come to RMIT for aerospace related research.
Professor Wang's goal is to make a significant contribution to the scientific community. Considering the number of major projects he directs simultaneously across government, industry and universities he is already making great impact.
“We are working with Boeing to repair composite materials on the 787 aircraft by reducing the amount we need to remove and replace,“ says Professor Wang, “Our repair process uses a different material from the aircraft construction material.”
A large industry leader such as Boeing might consume resources in a smaller research centre but Wang oversees a well staffed centre of research fellows, students and postdoctoral graduates across a vast array of projects.
“We are working with a company in Geelong and the Australian Research Council (ARC) in developing a one-piece carbon fibre composite wheel to replace metallic and alloy wheels in the automotive and aero industries,” says Professor Wang.
The carbon wheels are stronger, lighter and more durable than conventional alloy wheels and so reduce fuel consumption and increase aerodynamics. The project also researches techniques for efficient non-destructive testing of the structural integrity of newly manufactured and possibly damaged wheels.
Professor Wang's research projects range from reducing sound resonance in marine vessel construction to minimise engine noise and vibration; to developing an incredibly strong composite to replace very heavy metals in anti-blast vehicles like the Bushmaster that transports Australian troops in war torn areas.
He is particularly excited about two current ARC Discovery Grant projects: autonomous detecting damage in composite structures and using nanotechnology to create multi-scale composites with greatly enhanced mechanical and electrical properties.
“Traditionally, detecting damage in a composite structure involves scanning the structure inch by inch with a probe, which is incredibly time consuming. We are developing new structural health monitoring techniques by imbedding active sensors into the structure,” says Professor Wang.
By sending an electronic pulse through the sensors researchers can figure out the extent of the damage and then decide whether to ground the vehicle or repair it based on the data. The technology is being explored for aircraft, vehicles and bridges in high-risk earthquake areas.
Professor Wang is collaborating with Imperial College in London and Deakin University to improve and strengthen composite elements within the laminate structures used to make most commercial jets. Traditional composites are constructed by laying plies in different orientations, making a composite that is extremely lightweight, strong and very long lasting, but this comes at the expense of low through-thickness strength and electrical and thermal conductivities.
“We asked, 'Can we put nanotechnology fibres in the composite matrix to help connect the layers of composite and how can we align the nano-fibres rather than being randomly oriented?'” says Professor Wang.
“By using an external electromagnetic field we could re-orientate and chain the nano-fibres, to maximize the desirable properties of the composite.”
Wang is impressed with where RMIT has positioned itself within the research landscape.
"RMIT is developing areas of excellence by forming strategic partnerships. This creates a great opportunity to grow rapidly and we are doing just that.
We have the largest composite research team in Australia and we are known internationally for our research excellence and practical outcomes."