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Aluminium Splat Aluminium Splat

Image courtesy of  David Tanner, MSSI and Philip Watson, IComp

The 3D image above shows individual ‘splats’ of aluminium coating applied to an epoxy/carbon fibre composite surface by plasma spraying.  The composite was preheated before spraying but received no other pre-treatment.  When viewed with anaglyph 3D glasses, it can be seen from the image that the splats do not wet the surface well, which would result in poor bonding and low wear resistance for a continuous coating.  Here, aluminium was used as a ‘model’ coating because its behaviour in plasma deposition processes is well understood.


A collaborative project between the Irish Centre for Composites Research and Materials & Surface Science Institute at the University of Limerick and the CNRS Ceramics Processing and Surface Treatment Laboratory (based at the University of Limoges is to develop a method of applying wear-resistant ceramic-metallic (‘cermet’) coatings to an aerospace-grade epoxy/carbon fibre polymer composite material has won the ANORAA 2013 trophy.



Awarded by the National Association of Reserve Officers of the French Air Force, the trophy recognises a specific research project associated with a French engineering school that develops innovative applications which will be of benefit to the aerospace sector.

The aerospace industry is rapidly moving towards composite materials for manufacture of structural components to save weight in next generation aircraft - such as the Airbus A350, Boeing 787 and Bombardier C-Series – to reduce fuel consumption, operating costs and environmental impact.  However, composites are not durable enough be used on components subject to severe wear, such as the leading edges of aircraft wings, engine nacelles or fan blades.

The key challenge in this project is to develop a coating method that achieves good adhesion between the cermet and composite.  Otherwise the coating will not bond sufficiently when applied to composite parts and will not resist wear and abrasion.  Cermets and polymer composite surfaces are not inherently chemically compatible, as shown in the accompanying 3D image.

In addition to the potential to apply the project’s outcomes both for prevention of erosion and for resistance to high temperatures, the project also received a very positive assessment from the ANORRA jury for its international collaborative aspects and the concern for environmental issues.

The project was funded under the Ulysses 2012 programme, managed by the Irish Research Council and the French embassy in Ireland and Campus France, the French exchange agency.


The project team are:

University of Limerick

Gordon Armstrong, Research Fellow (Principal Investigator)

David Tanner, Lecturer

Philip Watson, Research Assistant

Anne Le Fahler, Undergraduate Internship (ENSIL Limoges)

Charlotte Parotin, Undergraduate Internship (ENSIL Limoges)

Benoit Noel, Undergraduate Internship (Polytech Montpellier)

Trevor Young, Senior Lecturer


University of Limoges

Armelle Vardelle, Professor (Principal Investigator)

Jeremie Diboine, Masters student

Christelle Dublanche-Tixier, Professor

Simon Goutier, Associate Professor

Sandrine Lafont, Associate Professor

Michel Vardelle, Professor

Axelle Elrikh, PhD student (from 1st October