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The effects of fire on composite structures

Fluid Structure Interactions Research Group, School of Engineering Sciences Contact: R.A.Shenoi@soton.ac.uk
P.A.Cutter School of Engineering Sciences, University of Southampton, UK

Royal National Lifeboat Institution

Fire in Composites
Fire is a major risk in many engineering structures from marine to civil to aeronautical. Traditional engineering materials such as steel, aluminium and concrete can be subjected to fire and still maintain a reasonable level of structural integrity and contain a fire. Modern polymer composite materials have very high specific strengths and moduli but very little is know about their performance in fire.

In order to understand the behaviour of composites in fire the thermal profile needs to be modelled. This is being done using a finite element MATLAB program based on the 1-D transient heat transfer equation.
E f RT T T & = k e ( QP + hC hG ) M G hG A0 t x x x 0 n

To be able to predict the thermal and mechanical response of composite sandwich materials exposed to fire. To use these predictions to evaluate the response of a full-scale structure subjected to a fire and more specifically a typical RNLI all-weather lifeboat structure to an engine room fire..

C p

Heat conduction

Volatile convection

Decomposition endotherm

MEASUREMENT OF THERMAL PROPERTIES; Thermal conductivity, specific heat capacity, Activation energy etc. THERMAL MODELLING; Producing a theoretical model to predict the heat transfer through a decomposing panel THERMAL TESTING; Validating the thermal model with fire testing of single skin and sandwich panels TEMPERATURE DEPENDENT MECHANICAL TESTING; Generating data to link the mechanical properties of the resins, cores and fibres to their temperature MECHANICAL MODELLING; Creating finite element models to predict the mechanical response of composite panels to mechanical loads MECHANCIAL TESTING; Validating the mechanical models and the apparatus RESPONSE OF PANELS SUBJECTED TO FIRE AND MECHANICAL LOAD; Combining the thermal and mechanical models using the temperature dependent mechanical data to predict the response of panels subjected to fire and mechanical load. THERMOMECHANICAL TESTING; Validating the thermomechanical models with combined fire and load testing

This can output either a temperature/time profile for a given heat source through the thickness of a panel or a mass density/time profile.

A thermo-mechanical model has been created using the results from the thermal model described above and Ansys. The flowchart below shows how the model works in a simplified manner Create geometry, define layers and material properties at set temperatures Read temperatures from heat transfer model into Ansys Start time stepping loop Select temperatures from selected time step and apply to relevant nodes If layers have failed adjust mechanical properties Apply load and constraints and solve Start failure criteria loop (Tsai Wu) - layer by layer Select max stresses and temp for that layer

Propane gas Propane gas

Using temp dependent properties calc failure criteria Furnace Furnace Load System Load System Store failed layer data End time step

Burner System

Experimental Results
1000 800

Temperature (oC)




Fig 1a- VULCAN, composite in fire testing apparatus



Test panel Contact piece Insulating disc Displacement transducer Load cell Motor
Fig 1b- VULCAN load system viewed from above
0 0 100 200 300 Time (s) 400

Flame Hot face Centre Cold face 500 600

Fig2a- Temperature recordings from a 9mm thick single skin section of a typical
lifeboat deck structure

Fig2b- Resultant panel cross


Screw jack

The results show the high levels of insulation achieved with polymeric compositestemperature difference between the fire and the cold side of the panel is approximately 700oC. This research is entirely funded by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution through the Advanced Technology Partnership