“As the proportion of the airframe that is composite structure grows, the ability to reliably and swiftly identify damage and understand its extent becomes ever more critical to an effective repair procedure," reports John Cornforth, Head of Technology, GKN Aerospace.

"However, composite damage can be hard to spot with the naked eye as this material has the ability to appear to ‘recover’ post-impact.”

GKN Aerospace says its new coating will contain 'smart microspheres' which will signal in the ultraviolet (UV) visible spectrum when damage has occurred. Careful design of the microspheres will mean the coating is able to provide a signature reflecting different energy levels, indicating the extent and level of damage to trained maintenance staff.

In this research, GKN Aerospace is exploiting both the intelligent coatings expertise contained within its market-leading aircraft transparencies business and its experience in complex composite structure design and manufacture.

“We commenced this research activity with Bristol University just last year and already results are very promising," Cornforth says.

"We believe this coating has the potential to make damage detection far easier across all types of composite structure and in difficult, real world, operating conditions.”