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THERMOELASTICITY: The use of thermoelastic stress analysis to identify defects in polymeric materials

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The work described here emerged from an EPSRC-funded programme investigating the thermomechanical ageing of selected engineering plastics used in the offshore oil & gas industry. The polymers investigated are PEEK and PEK, materials of the polyaryletherketone family. The latest infrared array thermoelastic camera, coupled with an innovative five-times magnification zoom lens, was used to identify and quantify sub-surface defects in the materials, which had been aged in high pressure gas environments at elevated temperatures. The results were subsequently verified using a scanning electron microscope. The work demonstrates that Thermoelastic Stress Analysis (TSA) is a powerful technique, capable of identifying defects of less than 100 microns in size. The observed defects arise from so-called explosive decompression (ED) damage; here absorbed pressurised gas can cause swelling, blistering and fracturing of non-metallic materials when the external pressure is rapidly reduced. ED is a significant industry issue for sealing elastomers, meaning that thermoplastics receive relatively little research attention.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: The University of Warwick 2: Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) 3: MERL Ltd

Publication date: 01 September 2004

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