Raja Ganesh (left) and Subramani Sockalingam won first place in the American Society for Composites inaugural Student Simulation Challenge.

Simulation success

Engineering doctoral students win Composites Simulation Challenge

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11:17 a.m., Sept. 24, 2013--Two University of Delaware mechanical engineering doctoral students working in the Center for Composite Materials, Subramani Sockalingam and Raja Ganesh, took first prize at the American Society for Composites (ASC) inaugural Student Simulation Challenge held Sept. 9 at Pennsylvania State University.

The goal of the 12-hour competition, held during the annual ASC Technical Conference, was to see which student team could best predict the behavior of a composite laminate material that included a pattern of holes.

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Composite laminates are consolidated layers of composite lamina that are valued for their strength and stiffness. The most commonly known composite laminate is carbon fiber/epoxy, which is used in the aerospace and automotive industries to reduce weight without sacrificing strength. 

“In the aerospace industry, the use of composite laminates is rapidly increasing due to their high strength, low weight, and ability to be manufactured into complex geometries, among other factors,” said Sockalingam. “Of particular interest are structural components with discontinuities — holes and cutouts — which are often used to fasten structures together.”

However useful, Sockalingam continued, having a hole in a composite weakens the surrounding area and subjects the material to increased likelihood for failure under certain load conditions, important considerations in aerospace applications.

“Strength and failure are important design considerations for engineers to meet safety requirements. You want to be able to predict accurately any failure because once it fails it’s no good, so researchers try to prevent the damage through testing,” explained Sockalingam.

Competing teams were given limited data about the composite’s properties and charged with calculating the maximum load the material could support. Teams had to predict additional information about the unknown composite’s properties and run computer simulations to determine the needed information.

Thinking on their feet, the UD team ran two simultaneous simulations — one broad simulation to capture major data about the material’s performance, and another more detailed simulation to validate their predictions and accurately depict the material’s load carrying capability. Their results most closely matched those of the contest organizers, earning them first place in the competition, which included a certificate and $1,000 cash prize.

The UD team was advised by Jack Gillespie, director of the Center for Composite Materials (CCM) and Donald C. Phillips Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering; Bazle Haque, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; and Michael Keefe, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Sockalingam, a third-year doctoral student studying mechanical engineering, conducts research at CCM focused on modeling high performance polymer fibers and fiber-matrix interface subjected to high velocity impact and bridging length scales from fibers to yarns. He hopes to pursue a research career in the automotive or aerospace industry, or at a national laboratory, and said the competition “helped us understand the kind of simulations one would conduct in the industry as part of the product development process”.

Ganesh, a first year doctoral student also studying mechanical engineering and conducting research at CCM, said he hopes to become a professor.

Article by Kevin Cella

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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