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«In-Service Inspection Concept for GLARE® – An Example for the Use of New UT Array In- spection Systems Wolfgang BISLE, Theodor MEIER, Sascha ...»

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ECNDT 2006 - Tu.2.1.1

In-Service Inspection Concept for GLARE® –

An Example for the Use of New UT Array In-

spection Systems

Wolfgang BISLE, Theodor MEIER, Sascha MUELLER, Sylvia RUECKERT

Airbus, Bremen

Abstract. UT phased arrays and array transducers for FIT (Field Inspection Technology)

open new chances for NDT of complex structure materials in aeronautics. GLARE® is

such a new material which will widely be used on the new Airbus A380. Even as

GLARE® in the A380 needs no scheduled NDT inspections, it is usual to be prepared for accidental damages like impacts, lightning strike, etc. to secure the integrity of the affected area. Well fitted for quality control of GLARE® in the production the UT array technique also proved to be a powerful tool for unexpected maintenance tasks. The pres- entation will show how this new technique deals with the complexity of that new mate- rial providing reliable diagnostics for maintenance.

1. General Due to the continuously increasing requirement for cost savings in aeronautics there is a need for improving manufacturing process and material properties of aircraft parts. Aircraft manu- facturers have to provide cost-effective but safely operating aircrafts. High performance mate- rials allow to smart-up the design and structure of aircraft parts. This results in significant weight savings and, finally, cost savings, too.

One of these high-tech materials recently large-scale introduced into AIRBUS A380 design and manufacturing is GLARE®. Related to its specific build-up the Fibre Metal Lami- nate (FML) allows to adapt its material properties to specific stress and fatigue requirements by locally optimised lay-up configurations. However, its inhomogeneous structure of alternating metal and glass fibre layers is a great challenge for application of non-destructive inspection methods during manufacturing process, and for in-service tasks as well.

In general ultrasonic testing (UT) is a feasible technique to inspect for inner quality of complex GLARE® structures. For non-production applications the pulse-echo method became important because of the mostly single side access to the areas to be inspected. The UT pulse echo array technique turned out to be a powerful instrument for rapidly and reliably inspecting the complex GLARE® components appearing in AIRBUS A380 structures.


2. What is GLARE®?

General build-up and configurations GLARE® (GLAss fibre REinforced aluminium) is a member of the Fibre Metal Laminates family. It consists of alternately arranged aluminium sheets and glass fibre reinforced prepreg layers. The thickness of the aluminium sheets may be between 0.2 mm and 0.5 mm, glass ply thickness is 0.125 mm. Each glass layer consists of two or three glass plies, depending on GLARE® grade. To cover several stress scenarios different GLARE® types are available.

GLARE® lay-up configurations only consisting of Aluminium sheets and prepreg layers are referred to as “undisturbed laminate”. Furthermore, with respect to specific load cases implementation of interlaminar doublers might become necessary. Interlaminar doublers are additional aluminium sheets and related prepreg layers implemented into the present laminate configuration in order to locally reinforce the GLARE® structure.

For some cases a local reinforcement of the GLARE® structure by adhesively bonded (internal) GLARE® doubler(s) becomes necessary, e.g. in door corner areas.

Selective application of best fitting GLARE® type and the possibility of locally adjusted material properties enable the designers to provide customized solutions for specific tasks in the aircraft. Furthermore, there is an enormous weight saving potential of structures designed this way in comparison to the materials classically used in aircraft manufacturing[1].

Brief History

Basic research on GLARE® started in mid 80’s at Delft University of Technology, Netherlands, with preceding investigations on metal bonding and bonding of fibre reinforced metal sheet materials. In 1991 a subsidiary of ALCOA and AKZO was founded to develop and introduce GLARE® for applications in aerospace industry. In the late 80’s and early 90’s extensive general design and feasibility studies on the application of GLARE® as an aircraft fuselage skin material were carried out by several institutions and aircraft manufacturers.

During the A380 general feasibility studies Airbus launched an investigation program for

advanced fuselage skin materials which had to cover the following requirements:

• High strength performance

• Increased damage tolerance behaviour

• Maximum weight savings.

Amongst others, GLARE® became one of the options for further investigations. After a GLARE® Technology Program (GTP, launched by Dutch government) to ensure the technology readiness of GLARE® for application as fuselage skin material had been launched, material and process qualification of all parts and elements related to design, properties and manufacturing of GLARE® components has been started[2].

[1] Ad Vlot, Jan Willem Gunnink: “Fibre metal laminates an introduction” Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht NL, (2001) [2] G. Heidenwolf,: “Overview on GLARE development” Airbus Deutschland GmbH, Hamburg, 2003

–  –  –

After the studies mentioned above had shown the feasibility of GLARE® as an aircraft fuselage skin material this became the main application of GLARE® in the Airbus A380 project. A total of 27 skin panels of the A380 fuselage are made from GLARE® resulting in respectable weight saving in comparison to traditional aluminium panels. Furthermore, GLARE® material is used for manufacturing of butt straps for joining of fuselage shells and, in the near future, for D-nose parts on the vertical/horizontal tail plane (VTP/HTP).


The aluminium sheets and glass fibre reinforced prepreg layers have to be adhesively joined by means of specific temperature and pressure charging.

Before being put into the autoclave the laminates are built up using pre-formed bonding tools (moulds) providing the contour (2D; 3D) of the skin panel to be manufactured. This technology is referred to as “Self Forming Technique”. Furthermore, a second important item in manufacturing process of GLARE® fuselage panels is the “Splice Technology”. Therewith the size of a part is not limited to the size of the raw aluminium shells as provided by the supplier.

By means of splicing and overlapping the raw sheets the width of GLARE® panels might be increased far beyond the width of aluminium sheets without any loss of material performance.

3. Non-destructive inspection of GLARE® parts

Due to the inhomogeneous lay-up and the complex laminate structure comprehending interlaminar doublers, spliced areas, and attached doublers the application of ultrasonic inspection methods on GLARE® fuselage panels, related GLARE® parts, and GLARE® assemblies is a great challenge. Nevertheless, investigations in feasibility of through transmission and pulseecho inspection methods have been carried out and resulted in well fitting inspection procedures for specific GLARE® tasks.

Non-destructive inspection of GLARE® parts in production

For GLARE® parts a 100% non-destructive inspection for internal quality during manufacturing process is required. This applies to GLARE® laminates and GLARE® assemblies. Due to the both-side accessibility of GLARE® parts at this stage ultrasonic through transmission inspection in squirter technique (“C-scan”) is a feasible method to inspect for the required kinds of defects (delamination, inclusions, porosities for laminates) and the minimum defect sizes to be detected. Inspection of the GLARE® fuselage panels, doubler laminates, and GLARE® assemblies (GLARE® laminate with attached GLARE® doublers) as well and evaluation of the C-scan data files is executed computer-based at GLARE® production sites Airbus Nordenham and Stork Fokker, Papendrecht.

3Non-destructive inspection of GLARE® parts for FAL and in-service tasks

Preconditions for non-destructive inspection of GLARE® parts in Final Assembly Line (FAL) and in-service are different from those for inspection of GLARE® parts during manufacturing.

The most significant ones are

• The mostly single-side (outside) accessibility of the parts to be inspected

• The relatively small areas to be inspected

• The different damage cases (e.g. lightning strike, impact, overheating, etc.) The mentioned damage cases may cause defects distinct from defects that might occur during manufacturing process, e.g. bulging, debonding, strength reduction or cracks within Aluminium layer, melted aluminium layer (exceptional case).

General in-service inspection techniques applied to GLARE® parts

Most commonly used inspection method for in-service inspection of aircraft parts is an initial visual inspection of the damaged area. Supplementary to the visual inspection several NDI methods might be applied for more detailed damage assessment. These NDI methods are

• High-frequency eddy current technique (HFET) for crack inspection

• Ultrasonic Pulse/Echo testing for delamination inspection

• Conductivity measurement for strength reduction inspection in Al layers (in case of overheating).

Below the manual pulse-echo inspection methods applied to GLARE® parts for unscheduled in-service tasks will be described more detailed.

Manual ultrasonic pulse-echo inspection method – conventional

Impact or overheating may cause delaminations. Therefore GLARE® parts have to be inspected supplementary in case of visual external damage by means of NDI method(s). Manual pulse-echo inspection method had been selected as a feasible method.

Principle of the inspection method: A single-element transducer generates an ultrasonic signal that is transmitted into the part to be inspected. Internal inhomogeneous areas and interfaces cause reflections of the ultrasonic beam that are received by the same transducer, refer to Figure 1.

Figure 1: Sound path and reflections of ultrasonic beam in GLARE® undisturbed laminate Displayed information that is relevant for defect assessment are the amplitudes of all echoes from inside the structure and the time of flight of the ultrasonic signal.

4 The complex lay-up of GLARE® structures (varying thickness and number of Aluminium sheets and prepreg layers, interlaminar doublers, spliced areas, attached doublers and stringers, and combinations of these cases, refer to Figure 2) complicates the inspection.

Figure 2: Variety in GLARE® lay-up configurations Extensive investigations to optimise inspection parameters have been performed and resulted

in the following conclusions:

• For inspection of undisturbed laminate a test frequency between 1 MHZ and 2.25 MHz has been determined. The minimum configuration to be inspected is GLARE® 3/2.

• The inspection of undisturbed laminate areas with bonded doublers is more difficult due to the intense sound attenuation caused by the adhesive layers between GLARE® skin and doublers. The test frequency to be used is 1 MHz, a time corrected gain is to apply.

• The GLARE® structures providing most of the problems for conventional ultrasonic P/E inspection are splices and interlaminar doubler run outs due to adhesive film accumulations in gap areas that cause an increased attenuation of the ultrasonic signal. So in these areas it is difficult to distinguish between structural founded influences and defects using single-element probes, refer to Figure 3. Delaminations in areas behind adhesive accumulations are not detectable using conventional, single-element transducers.

Figure 3: A-scan images of GLARE® spliced areas To overcome this problem investigations to assess feasibility of ultrasonic phased-array inspection technique have been carried out.

–  –  –

The multi-element configuration of phased array probes and their electronic triggering allows for adapting the ultrasonic beam to specific inspection scenarios. Therefore several beam deflection modes are applicable, refer to Figure 1.

Figure 4: Beam deflection modes By means of beam steering (or sectoral scanning), electronic scanning (or linear scanning), and beam focusing the ultrasonic beam characteristics are closely adjustable to different inspection cases, as caused for instance by complex laminate configurations, thickness steps, and accumulations of adhesive film[3].

Advantages of phased array ultrasonic inspection technique

There are some basic and very important advantages of phased array technique in comparison

to standard single element pulse/echo inspection:

• Feasibility for beam deflection, therewith feasibility of exact adaptation of test parameters to specific inspection scenarios

• Feasibility for electronically scanning (linear, sectoral)

• Imaging method (A-scan,B-scan, C-scan images, sectoral image)

• Time saving method All these advantages turn the phased array inspection method into a well-fitting method for inspection of complex GLARE® parts for in-service tasks.

4. Application of phased array method to in-service inspection of GLARE® parts

Even GLARE® parts on Airbus A380 are not designated to be inspected according to schedule, there must be feasible NDI methods to inspect for defects caused by incidental damage, as there are impacts, lightning strikes, etc. In case of incidental damage at the aircraft a visual inspection is performed. If a more detailed assessment of the damage is required additional NDI methods have to be applied. One of these methods, especially applied to GLARE® parts because of their complex structure, is the phased array ultrasonic inspection as described [3]

Helge Hicken, Jens Kethler, Juergen Krueger, Andreas Kueck, Sascha Mueller:

“Seminar Ultraschallprüfung mit Gruppenstrahlern“ Airbus Deutschland GmbH, Bremen, (May 2006)

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