The dramatic increase in the use of composites in the primary structure of the latest generation of passenger aircraft, together with the stringent energy efficiency and emissions targets within the EU’s climate, energy and transport policies, are prompting the European automotive and rail industries to move towards increased adoption of advanced lightweight composite materials. A key challenge that both industries have identified in making this transition, is developing lightweight and cost-effective composite vehicle structures, which deliver a high level of occupant safety in crash events. This is fuelling renewed interest in the energy-absorbing characteristics of these materials in crash scenarios.

Various academic studies, together with the experience in Formula 1 racing, have shown the superior specific energy absorption of fibre-reinforced composites, relative to their metallic counterparts, but effectively exploiting this property in transport vehicle structures is a highly challenging undertaking. The vast array of fibres, matrices, lay-ups, weaves and processing methods available, lead to a massive increase in the design space, and a huge escalation in complexity when attempting to predict crash response. Indeed, one of the major barriers to wider adoption of composites in volume production vehicles is the lack of a predictive modelling and simulation capability for crashworthiness assessments. It is thus imperative, for the European and global industry, that the tools and expertise are available in the coming decade to develop composite structural designs optimised for occupant safety.

ICONIC brings together leading academic and private sector participants to address this very important issue of improving crashworthiness in composite transportation structures. The project is coordinated by Queen’s University Belfast (UK) and involves nine beneficiaries and six partner organisations from six different countries across Europe. The central aim of ICONIC is to develop a critical mass of research and engineering leaders, with a world-leading capability in the design of lightweight aeronautical, automotive and rail transportation composite structures with superior crashworthiness. These challenges are addressed by bringing together 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) in an innovative, multiscale and multidisciplinary research and skills development programme that goes beyond the state-of-the-art. The project has 9 Work Packages.