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Tiffany Chen

RMIT University

Additive Manufacturing of Biomimetic Drag Reducing Surfaces for Improved Aircraft Performance

The recent increase in fuel prices and drastic need to minimise environmental impact have motivated the Aerospace industry to reduce fuel burn, which has renewed interest in innovative drag reducing technologies. Traditionally, a surface coating is designed for protection of the structures and for airline branding and quality purposes. Ideally the aircraft surface coating would also provide multi-functional attributes that improve the overall operational performance of the aircraft including a mechanism to reduce drag.

With continuous evolution, nature has intelligently engineered surfaces to play a critical role in the survival of species within diverse environmental conditions. The functional traits of such surfaces often result from hierarchically structured architectures across micro- and nano- length scales. Taking inspiration from nature, this project seeks to develop and understand new strategies to tailor surface structures to achieve drag reduction properties. Riblet surfaces inspired by fast swimming sharkskin surface structures have shown promising results in total drag reduction on aircraft. However, conventional strategies of manufacturing and applying low drag surface coatings have not yet met durability requirements for commercial usage. Additive manufacturing offers an attractive manufacturing pathway as it is potentially capable of fabricating complex hierarchical structures. This research studies the drag reducing effects of novel biomimetic architectures on aircraft surfaces, with a focus on producing these micro- scale structures directly onto aerospace grade substrates by additive manufacturing methods.


Tiffany Chen studied aerospace engineering at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, during which she also completed a 10-month internship at Rolls-Royce Deutschland. She returned to RMIT to start her PhD in 2016, where she is developing a novel method to produce biomimetic drag reducing aircraft surfaces using additive manufacturing techniques. She focuses on using the material jetting process and is working closely with the polyjet technologies at RMIT’s Advanced Manufacturing Precinct.


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