Composite Honeycomb Sandwich Repairs

in Advanced Composite Materials

A large proportion of current aerospace composite components are light sandwich structures that are susceptible to damage and are easily damaged. Because sandwich structure is a bonded construction and the face sheets are thin, damage to sandwich structure is usually repaired by bonding. Repairs to sandwich honeycomb structure use similar techniques for the most common types of face sheet materials, such as fiberglass, carbon, and Kevlar®. Kevlar® is often repaired with fiberglass. [Figure 7-54]

Figure 7-54. Typical repairs for honeycomb sandwich structure.

Figure 7-54. Typical repairs for honeycomb sandwich structure.

Damage Classification

A temporary repair meets the strength requirements, but is limited by time or flight cycles. At the end of the repair’s life, the repair must be removed and replaced. An interim repair restores the required strength to the component. However, this repair does not restore the required durability to the component. Therefore, it has a different inspection interval and/or method. A permanent repair is a repair that restores the required strength and durability to the component. The repair has the same inspection method and interval as the original component.

Sandwich Structures
Minor Core Damage (Filler and Potting Repairs)

A potted repair can be used to repair damage to a sandwich honeycomb structure that is smaller than 0.5 inches. The honeycomb material could be left in place or could be removed and is filled up with a potting compound to restore some strength. Potted repairs do not restore the full strength of the part.

Potting compounds are most often epoxy resins filled with hollow glass, phenolic or plastic microballoons, cotton, flox, or other materials. The potting compound can also be used as filler for cosmetic repairs to edges and skin panels. Potting compounds are also used in sandwich honeycomb panels as hard points for bolts and screws. The potting compound is heavier than the original core and this could affect flight control balance. The weight of the repair must be calculated and compared with flight control weight and balance limits set out in the SRM.

Damage Requiring Core Replacement and Repair to One or Both Faceplates

Note: the following steps are not a substitution for the aircraft specific Structural Repair Manual (SRM). Do not assume that the repair methods used by one manufacturer are applicable to another manufacturer.

Step 1: Inspect the Damage

Thin laminates can be visually inspected and tap tested to map out the damage. [Figure 7-55] Thicker laminates need more in-depth NDI methods, such as ultrasonic inspection. Check in the vicinity of the damage for entry of water, oil, fuel, dirt, or other foreign matter. Water can be detected with X-ray, back light, or a moisture detector.

Figure 7-55. Tap testing techniques.

Figure 7-55. Tap testing techniques. [click image to enlarge]

Step 2: Remove Water From Damaged Area

Water needs to be removed from the core before the part is repaired. [Figure 7-56] If the water is not removed, it boils during the elevated temperature cure cycle and the face sheets blow off the core, resulting in more damage. Water in the honeycomb core could also freeze at the low temperatures that exist at high altitudes, which could result in disbonding of the face sheets.

Figure 7-56. Vacuum bag method for drying parts.

Figure 7-56. Vacuum bag method for drying parts.

Step 3: Remove the Damage

Trim out the damage to the face sheet to a smooth shape with rounded corners, or a circular or oval shape. Do not damage the undamaged plies, core, or surrounding material. If the core is damaged as well, remove the core by trimming to the same outline as the skin. [Figure 7-57]

Figure 7-57. Core damage removal.

Figure 7-57. Core damage removal. [click image to enlarge]

Step 4: Prepare the Damaged Area

Use a flexible disk sander or a rotating pad sander to taper sand a uniform taper around the cleaned up damage. Some manufacturers give a taper ratio, such as 1:40, and others prescribe a taper distance like a 1-inch overlap for each existing ply of the face sheet. Remove the exterior finish, including conductive coating for an area that is at least 1 inch larger than the border of the taper. Remove all sanding dust with dry compressed air and a vacuum cleaner. Use a clean cloth moistened with approved solvent to clean the damaged area. [Figure 7-58]

Figure 7-58. Taper sanding of repair area.

Figure 7-58. Taper sanding of repair area.

Step 5: Installation of Honeycomb Core (Wet Layup)

Use a knife to cut the replacement core. The core plug must be of the same type, class, and grade of the original core. The direction of the core cells should line up with the honey comb of the surrounding material. The plug must be trimmed to the right length and be solvent washed with an approved cleaner.

For a wet layup repair, cut two plies of woven fabric that fit on the inside surface of the undamaged skin. Impregnate the fabric plies with a resin and place in the hole. Use potting compound around the core and place it in the hole. For a prepreg repair, cut a piece of film adhesive that fits the hole and use a foaming adhesive around the plug. The plug should touch the sides of the hole. Line up the cells of the plug with the original material. Vacuum bag the repair area and use an oven, autoclave, or heat blanket to cure the core replacement. The wet layup repair can be cured at a room temperature up to 150 °F. The prepreg repair must be cured at 250 °F or 350 °F. Usually, the core replacement is cured with a separate curing cycle and not co-cured with the patch. The plug must be sanded flush with the surrounding area after the cure. [Figure 7-59]

Figure 7-59. Core replacement.

Figure 7-59. Core replacement.

Step 6: Prepare and Install the Repair Plies

Consult the repair manual for the correct repair material and the number of plies required for the repair. Typically, one more ply than the original number of plies is installed. Cut the plies to the correct size and ply orientation. The repair plies must be installed with the same orientation as that of the original plies being repaired. Impregnate the plies with resin for the wet layup repair, or remove the backing material from the prepreg material. The plies are usually placed using the smallest ply first taper layup sequence. [Figure 7-60]

Figure 7-60. Repair ply installation.

Figure 7-60. Repair ply installation. [click image to enlarge]

Step 7: Vacuum Bag the Repair

Once the ply materials are in place, vacuum bagging is used to remove air and to pressurize the repair for curing. Refer to Figure 7-61 for bagging instructions.

Figure 7-61. Vacuum processing.

Figure 7-61. Vacuum processing. [click image to enlarge]

Step 8: Curing the Repair

The repair is cured at the required cure cycle. Wet layup repairs can be cured at room temperature. An elevated temperature up to 150 °F can be used to speed up the cure. The prepreg repair needs to be cured at an elevated cure cycle. [Figure 7-62] Parts that can be removed from the aircraft could be cured in a hot room, oven, or autoclave. A heating blanket is used for on-aircraft repairs.

Figure 7-62. Curing the repair.

Figure 7-62. Curing the repair. [click image to enlarge]

Remove the bagging materials after curing and inspect the repair. The repair should be free from pits, blisters, resinrich and resin-starved areas. Lightly sand the repair patch to produce a smooth finish without damaging the fibers. Apply top finish and conductive coating (lighting protection).

Step 9: Post Repair Inspection

Use visual, tap, and/or ultrasonic inspection to inspect the repair. Remove the repair patch if defects are found. [Figure 7-63]

Figure 7-63. Postrepair inspection.

Figure 7-63. Postrepair inspection.

Perform a balance check if a repair to a flight control surface was made, and ensure that the repaired flight control is within limits of the SRM. Failure to do so could result in flight control flutter, and safety of flight could be affected.