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Dr Wei Tan


Research Overview

Solid Mechanics, Polymer Composites, Modelling and Simulation, Machine Learning, Impact and Crush Modelling, Advanced Thermal Management, Systems Engineering, Sustainable Energy

                                         Mechanics of Composite Materials Group (MCM Group)


Mechanics of Composite Materials Group (MCM Group) at Queen Mary University London is a vibrant team led by Dr. Wei Tan. Our group focuses on the understanding, predicting and optimising the mechanical properties of composite materials. Lightweight composite materials are finding increasing applications in aerospace, automotive and energy sectors due to their high specific strength, modulus and energy absorption. Particularly, lightweight composite materials that make future vehicles and wind turbine blade lighter and damage-tolerant are particularly relevant to UK in achieving the 2040 net-zero target. The synergy of multi-phase materials often results in unique behaviour of composite materials, outperforming the single-phase constituents. We aim to reveal the deformation and failure mechanisms of composite materials by a combination of experimental, analytical and numerical approaches. This will not only address some fundamental scientific questions, but also accelerate the discovery and development of composite materials.

My research concerns at the understanding, predicting and optimising the mechanical response of composite materials. Particularly, these research projects include:

(1) proposing novel characterisation methods to reveal the microstructures and deformation/failure mechanisms of composites operating over different length scales;

(2) developing novel, robust and efficient models for the mechanical response of composites under impact, crush or other extreme loading;

(3) Intergrate data-driven approaches with advanced computational models to optimise the structural designs. 

(4) promoting a new generation of damage tolerant and multifunctional composites using carbon nanotube materials.

The highlights of my research work are as follows,

1. Proposed a multiscale composite model based on sequential computational homogenization, accurately predict the damage behaviour of composites under impact or crush loading.

Composite structures are susceptible to impact damage, which requires costly and highly inefficient experimental testing to meet safety-critical certification. My project aimed to develop a predictive material model for capturing impact damage and energy absorption capacity of CFRP.

1) A multiscale model was also proposed to take into account the physical mechanisms of deformation at different length scales of composite structures. This efficient strategy enables carrying out multiscale modelling from the properties of the constituents (fibre, matrix and interfaces) and homogenise the results into a constitutive model, followed by the transfer of information to the next length scale, which is both time-saving and economical for industry.


[1] W. Tan, F. Naya, et al., The role of interfacial properties on the intralaminar and interlaminar damage behaviour of unidirectional composite laminates: experimental characterization and multiscale modelling, Compos. Part B. 138 (2018) 206-221.

2) A physically-based model based on crystal plasticity has been proposed to accurately capture the inelastic behaviour and strain rate effect of composites subjected to shear or compressive or impact loading.


[2] W. Tan, and B. Liu, A physically-based constitutive model for the shear-dominated response and strain rate effect of Carbon Fibre Reinforced composites. Composites Part B: Engineering, (2020) 108032.

3)  Low-velocity impact damage can drastically reduce the residual strength of a composite structure even when the damage is barely visible. The ability to computationally predict the extent of damage and compression-after-impact (CAI) strength of a composite structure can potentially lead to the exploration of a larger design space without incurring significant time and cost penalties. A high-fidelity three-dimensional composite damage model, to predict both low-velocity impact damage and CAI strength of composite laminates, has been developed and implemented as a user material subroutine in the commercial finite element package, ABAQUS/Explicit.   


[3] W. Tan, B.G. Falzon, L.N.S. Chiu, M. Price, Predicting low velocity impact damage and Compression-After-Impact (CAI) behaviour of composite laminates, Compos. Part A 71 (2015) 212-226. (JCR Q1, IF:6.28, Citations: 182).

4) A crushing model based on a new distorted element deletion strategy was presented to capture the crushing behaviour of composite materials.  This model solves the convergence issue due to element distortion under large deformation via deleting element based on the determinant of deformation gradient.   


[4] W. Tan, B.G. Falzon, Modelling the crush behaviour of thermoplastic composites, Compos. Sci. Technol. 134 (2016) 57-71.

2. Data-driven modelling of composite materials

The adoption of cellular structures for applications involving crash energy absorption are increasing due to their beneficial mechanical properties including low weight and high specific energy absorption. This project aims to integrate the data-driven approach and finite element modelling for designing energy-absorbing composite materials.

Data-driven framework

Figure: The framework of machine learning in designing cellular composites (credit of Qichen Zhou)


[5] H Kansara, JZX Luk, G Koh, M Varghese, EF Gomez, S Kumar, H Zhang, E. Martinez-Paneda, W. Tan*, UK Association for Computational Mechanics (UKACM) conference 2021, Loughborough, 2021. 

3. Revealed the mechanical, electrical and thermal properties of direct-spun carbon nanotube (CNT) mat and proposed method to enhance CNT properties.

CNT with superior structural, electrical and thermal properties, is of great potential to introduce multi-functionalities to CFPR, such as impact-tolerance, lightning strike protection and de-icing. Cambridge University has first proposed floating catalyst chemical vapour deposition method (FFCVD) to produce macroscopic CNT fibres/mats continuously in large volume (500 m2/day).   However, the properties of macroscopic CNT fibres/mats haven’t yet reach the full potential of individual CNT (only 1% at present). To understand the properties of macroscopic CNT sheet, I have developed various novel characterisation and computational methods.

1) Achieved the first in-situ microscopy that reveals the deformation mechanisms of CNT mat.  We found that CNT bundles form random interlinked bundle network and the network deforms like a foam under tension, with dominate transverse deflection of struts. The lack of stretching on CNT bundles limits the macroscopic mechanical properties of CNT mat. 


[6] J.C. Stallard, W. Tan, F.R. Smail, A.M. Boies, N.A. Fleck, Mechanical and electrical properties of direct-spun carbon nanotube mats, Extrem. Mech. Lett. 21 (2018) ,65-75 

2) Elemental mapping of CNT-epoxy composite firstly revealed that epoxy resin does not penetrate CNT bundle. Consequently, the interfacial properties between individual CNTs are not improved. This explains the limitation of epoxy in the enhancement of CNT performance.

3) Proposed a novel micromechanical model to relate macroscopic CNT mat properties to those of CNT bundle network and CNT-epoxy composites. The model was able to describe the degree of elastic and plastic anisotropy of the composite and the dependence of modulus and yield strength upon composition. I also developed a special four-point probe system to measure the electrical conductivity of CNT-epoxy composites, eliminating the contact and wire resistance. A novel steady-state method using infrared camera to measure thermal conductivity of CNT-epoxy composite under vacuum was also presented. These results found that the electrical and thermal conductivities of CNT-epoxy composite is primarily dependent on the CNT volume fraction.


[7] W. Tan, J. Stallard, F.S. Smail, A.M. Boies, N.A. Fleck, Mechanical and electrical properties of direct-spun carbon-nanotube composites, Carbon, 150 (2019) 489-504. 

4. Elecctrochemical properties of CNT composites for energy-storage application

Structural supercapacitors that can simutaneouly pick up mechanical loading and store electrical energy are proposed. These supercapacitors are made from carbon nanotube-polyaniline (CNT-PANI) composites. The conventional liquid electrolyte are replaced by polymer electrolyte to manufacture an all-solid-state supercapacitor.