Limoges and Limerick R&D make it to the stars

The collaboration between two teams of Limoges and Limerick Universities led to further improvements in composite materials used notably in spacecrafts

Two labs with complementary skills

It’s with stars in their eyes that University of Limoges professor Armelle Vardelle and University of Limerick doctor Gordon Armstrong met. Not only because of the excellent relationship between Limerick and Limoges but also because the two scientists, former laureates of the French Embassy’s Ulysses funding programme, saw the possibility of further collaboration.

They both manage a research team specialised in material science. In Limoges, the department specialises in the development of ceramic materials and more particularly a process called "plasma spraying". In Limerick, professor Armstrong and his team focus on composite materials.

From ceramics to the stars

The two teams are indeed trying to tackle one of aeronautics’ issues: the wear of certain materials. Polymer-based composite materials (e.g., Carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers) can reduce the weight of objects hence reducing the fuel consumption, operating costs and environmental impact on a transportation means but they are not resistant enough to be used on components subject to erosion wear, such as the leading edges of plane wings, aircraft engine nacelles or fan blades.

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Students and University of Limerick professors in front of a Boeing jet used for experimenting

The wear comes principally from the impact of dust or sand grains during the take-off and landing phases and of rain drops during the flight phase.

Plasma spraying

In order to increase resistance to erosion, one possibility is to protect the materials with a coating – made of ceramic or cermet. The two French and Irish teams have pooled their skills to develop a way of processing ceramic or cermet coating on the composites, a technique that is not used yet by the industry of composites.

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Students and Limoges professors in their lab

Plasma spraying, already used in aeronautics, is a technique that can allow depositing refractory materials on composites. It is however still difficult to produce a coating which can be strongly bonded to the substrate.

A collaboration that continues!

At the time of their Ulysses’ grant, the two teams could collaborate through the presence of a student from University of Limoges who was working with the Irish team in Limerick.

Their collaboration was continued after the end of the Ulysses programme and the results emerging from such cooperation led the Franco-Irish team to win the ANORAA Award (the French national association of reserve officers of the Air Force.

They have since then continued collaborating and have set-up a double-degree between the two universities. Student exchanges continue and multiple students have now travelled between the two countries, meeting high-level specialists and professionals in various meetings all over Europe. Students with stars in their eyes!

Published on 18/05/2015

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