Honeycomb structure

Honeycomb structure
An image of aluminum honeycomb structure.
A composite sandwich panel (A) with honeycomb core (C) and face sheets (B)

Honeycomb structures are natural or man-made structures that have the geometry of a honeycomb to allow the minimization of the amount of used material to reach minimal weight and minimal material cost. The geometry of honeycomb structures can vary widely but the common feature of all such structures is an array of hollow cells separated by thin vertical walls. The cells are often columnar and hexagonal in shape. A honeycomb shaped structure provides a material with minimal density and relative high out-of-plane compression properties and out-of-plane shear properties.



Natural honeycomb structures include beehives, honeycomb weathering in rocks, tripe, and bone. Man-made honeycomb structures include sandwich composites with honeycomb cores. An example of a honeycomb structure is shown in the adjacent figure. Man-made honeycomb structures are manufactured by using a variety of different materials, depending on the intended application and required characteristics, from paper or thermoplastics, used for low strength and stiffness for low load applications, to high strength and stiffness for high performance applications, from aluminum or fiber reinforced plastics. The strength of laminated or sandwich panels depends on the size of the panel, facing material used and the number or density of the honeycomb cells within it. Honeycomb composites are used widely in many industries, from aerospace industries, automotive and furniture to packaging and logistics. The material takes its name from its visual resemblance to a bee's honeycomb - a hexagonal sheet structure.


The hexagonal comb of the honeybee has been admired and wondered about from ancient times on. The first man-made honeycomb is said to have been manufactured by Daedalus from gold by lost wax casting more than 3000 years ago[1]. Marcus Varro reports that the Greek geometricians Euclid and Zenodorus found that the hexagon shape makes most efficient use of space and building materials. The interior structure and hidden chambers of the Roman Pantheon dome is an early example of a honeycomb structure. [2]

Galileo Galilei discusses in 1638 the resistance of hollow solids: "Art, and nature even more, makes use of these in thousands of operations in which robustness is increased without adding weight, as is seen in the bones of birds and in many stalks that are light and very resistant to bending and breaking”.[3] Robert Hook discovers in 1665 that the natural cellular structure of cork is similar to the hexagonal honeybee comb.[4] and Charles Darwin states in 1859 that "the comb of the hive-bee, as far as we can see, is absolutely perfect in economizing labour and wax”.[5]

First paper honeycomb structures might have been made by the Chinese 2000 years ago for ornaments, but no reference for this has been found. Paper honeycombs and the expansion production process has been invented in Halle/Saale in Germany by Hans Heilbrun in 1901[6] for decorative applications. First honeycomb structures from corrugated metal sheets had been proposed for bee keeping in 1890.[7] For the same purpose, as foundation sheets to harvest more honey, a honeycomb moulding process using a paper paste glue mixture had been patented in 1878[8]. The three today still used basic honeycomb production techniques: expansion, corrugation and moulding where already developed by 1901 for non-sandwich applications.

Honeycomb core

A honeycomb core is a material used as a central layer material in sandwich structured composite structures. The concept was first explained in detail and published by Hugo Junkers. He proposed and patented the first honeycomb cores for aircraft application in 1915[9]. He described in detail his concept to replace the fabric covered aircraft structures by metal sheets and reasoned that a metal sheet can also be loaded in compression if it is supported at very small intervals by arranging side by side a series of square or rectangular cells or triangular or hexagonal hollow bodies. The problem of bonding a continuous skin to cellular cores led Junkers later to the open corrugated structure, which could be riveted or welded together. The first use of honeycomb structures for structural applications had been independently proposed for building application and published already in 1914[10]. In 1934 Edward G. Budd patented a welded steel honeycomb sandwich panel from corrugated metal sheets and Claude Dornier aimed 1937 to solve the core-skin bonding problem by rolling or pressing a skin which is in a plastic state into the core cell walls[11]. The first successful structural adhesive bonding of honeycomb sandwich structures was achieved by Norman de Bruyne of Aero Research Limited, who patented an adhesive with the right viscosity to form resin fillets on the honeycomb core in 1938[12].

A summary of the important developments in the history of honeycomb technology is given below:[13]

  • 60 BC Diodorus Siculus reports a golden honeycomb manufactured by Daedalus via lost wax casting.
  • 36 BC Marcus Varro reports most efficient use of space and building materials by hexagonal shape.
  • 126 The Pantheon was rebuilt in Rome using a honeycomb structure to support its dome.
  • 1638 Galileo Galilei discusses hollow solids and their increase of resistance without adding weight.
  • 1665 Robert Hook discovers that the natural cellular structure of cork is similar to the hexagonal honeybee comb.
  • 1859 Charles Darwin states that the comb of the hive-bee is absolutely perfect in economizing labour and wax.
  • 1877 F. H. Küstermann invents a honeycomb moulding process using a paper paste glue mixture.
  • 1890 Julius Steigel invents the honeycomb production process from corrugated metal sheets.
  • 1901 Hans Heilbrun invents the hexagonal paper honeycombs and the expansion production process.
  • 1914 R. Höfler and S. Renyi patent the first use of honeycomb structures for structural applications.
  • 1915 Hugo Junkers patents the first honeycomb cores for aircraft application.
  • 1931 George Thomson proposes to use decorative expended paper honeycombs for lightweight plasterboard panels.
  • 1934 Edward G. Budd patents welded steel honeycomb sandwich panel from currguated metal sheets.
  • 1937 Claude Dornier patents a honeycomb sandwich panel with skins pressed in a plastic state into the core cell walls.
  • 1938 Norman de Bruyne patents the structural adhesive bonding of honeycomb sandwich structures.
  • 1941 John D. Lincoln proposes the use expanded paper honeycombs for aircraft radomes
  • 1948 Roger Steele applies the expansion production process using fiber reinforced composite sheets.
  • 1969 Boeing 747 uses extensively fire-resistant honeycombs from Hexcel Composites using DuPont's Nomex aramid fiber paper.
  • 1980's Thermoplastic honeycombs produced by extrusion processes are introduced.


The three traditional honeycomb production techniques: expansion, corrugation and moulding where all already developed by 1901 for non-sandwich applications. For decorative applications the expanded honeycomb production reached a remarkable degree of automation already in the first decade of the 20th century.

Today honeycomb cores are manufactured via the expansion process and the corrugation process from composite materials such as glass-reinforced plastic (also known as fiberglass), carbon fiber reinforced plastic, Nomex aramide paper reinforced plastic, or from a metal (usually aluminum).[14]

Thermoplastic honeycomb cores (usually from polypropylene) are usually made by extrusion processed via a block of extruded profiles[15] or extruded tubes[16][17] from which the honeycomb sheets is sliced.

Recently a new process to produce thermoplastic honeycombs has been implemented, allowing a continuous in-line production with direct lamination of skin to cost efficient sandwich panel production[18].

Today, a wide variety of materials can be formed into a honeycomb composite. For example paperboard honeycomb is used in paper pallets and package cushioning, blocking and bracing.[19]


Composite honeycomb structures have been used in numerous engineering and scientific applications. An early example of an aircraft built using honeycomb cores was the North American XB-70 Valkyrie.

Application area Industry Company/Product
Racing shells Sport Vespoli, Janousek Racing Boats
Aerospace manufacturing Aerospace Hexcel, Neomet Ltd.
Gliders Aerospace Schleicher ASW 19, Solar Impulse Project
Helicopters Aerospace Kamov Ka-25, Bell 533, Westland Lynx
Jet aircraft Aerospace General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B, F-111 Aardvark
Rocket substructure Aerospace Saturn V Instrument Unit, Mars Exploration Rover, S-520
LED technology Lighting SmartSlab
Loudspeaker technology Audio Loudspeaker#Driver design, Woofer
Telescope mirror structure Aerospace Hubble Space Telescope
Automobile structure Automotive Panther Solo, Dome F105, Bluebird-Proteus CN7, Ferrari F50
Snowboards Sports Snowboard

More recent developments show that honeycomb structures are also advantageous in applications involving nanohole arrays in anodized alumina,[20] microporous arrays in polymer thin films,[21] activated carbon honeycombs,[22] and photonic band gap honeycomb structures.[23]


Honeycomb grille used on a computer fan to reduce noise
Honeycombed, screened center for Langley's first wind tunnel

A honeycomb mesh is often used in aerodynamics to reduce or to create wind turbulence. It is also used to obtain a standard profile in a wind tunnel (temperature, flow speed). A major factor in choosing the right mesh is the length ratio (length vs honeycomb cell diameter) L/d.

Length ratio < 1: Honeycomb meshes of low length ratio can be used on vehicles front grille. Beside the esthetic reasons, these meshes are used as screens to get a uniform profile and to reduce turbulences intensity.[24]

Length ratio >> 1: Basically, those honeycombs reduce lateral turbulence and eddies of the flow. Early wind tunnels used them with no screens. Unfortunately, this method introduced high turbulence intensity in the test section. Most modern tunnels use both honeycomb and screens.

While aluminium honeycombs are common use in the industry, other materials are offered for specific applications. People using metal structures should take care of removing burrs as they can introduce additional turbulences. Polycarbonate structures are a low-cost alternative.

The honeycombed, screened center of this open-circuit air intake for Langley's first wind tunnel ensured a steady, nonturbulent flow of air. Two mechanics pose near the entrance end of the actual tunnel, where air was pulled into the test section through a honeycomb arrangement to smoothen the flow.

Honeycomb is not the only cross-section available in order to reduce eddies in an airflow. Square, rectangular, circular and hexagonal cross-sections are other choices available, although honeycomb is generally the preferred choice.[25]


  1. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 1st century BC
  2. ^ MacDonald 1976, p. 33 "There are openings in it [the rotunda] here and there, at various levels, that give on to some of the many different chambers that honeycomb the rotunda structure, a honeycombing that is an integral part of a sophisticated engineering solution..."
  3. ^ Galilei, G., Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche, intorno á due nuoue scienze, Leiden, Elzeviers, 1638
  4. ^ Hook, R., Micrographia, London, J. Martyn and J. Allestry, 1665
  5. ^ Darwin, C., On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, London, John Murray, 1859
  6. ^ Heilbrun & Pinner, Papiernetz, DE133165, 1901
  7. ^ Julius Steigel, Verfahren zur Herstellung von Kunstwaben, DE57655, 1890
  8. ^ Küstermann, F. H., Künstliche Bienenwaben nebst den Instrumenten zur Herstellung derselben, DE7031, 1879
  9. ^ Hugo Junkers, Abdeckung für Flugzeugtragflächen und dergleichen, DE310040, 1915
  10. ^ Höfler, R. and S. Renyi, Plattenförmiger Baukörper, DE355036, 1914
  11. ^ Dornier, C. Improvements in or relating to a method for the fabrication of lightweight structural members more particularly for aircraft construction, GB515267, Dornier Metallbauten GmbH, 1937
  12. ^ http://uksaa-www.me.ic.ac.uk/awards.html
  13. ^ http://www.econhp.de/history.html
  14. ^ http://www.hexcel.com/NR/rdonlyres/599A3453-316D-46D6-9AEE-C337D8B547CA/0/HexwebAttributesandProperties.pdf, accessed Sept 21, 2006
  15. ^ http://www.nidaplast.com/en
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ http://www.plascore.com/
  18. ^ http://www.thermhex.com/en/index.php
  19. ^ Bitzer, T (1997). Honeycomb Technology: Materials, Design, Manufacturing, Applications and Testing, London: Chapman & Hall.
  20. ^ Masuda, H. and Fukuda, K., (1995), Ordered metal nanohole arrays made by a two-step replication of honeycomb structures of anodic alumina, Science, 268(5216), p. 1466.
  21. ^ Yabu, H. and Takebayashi, M. and Tanaka, M. and Shimomura, M., 2005, Superhydrophobic and lipophobic properties of self-organized honeycomb and pincushion structures, Langmuir, 21(8), pp. 3235-3237.
  22. ^ Gadkaree, KP, (1998), Carbon honeycomb structures for adsorption applications, Carbon, 36(7-8), pp. 981-989.
  23. ^ Broeng, J. and Barkou, S.E. and Bjarklev, A. and Knight, J.C. and Birks, T.A. and Russell, P.S.J., (1998), Highly increased photonic band gaps in silica/air structures, Optics Communications, 156(4-6), pp. 240-244.
  24. ^ Honeycomb in Wind tunnel design by Bradshaw, Peter & Mehta, Peter.
  25. ^ Components of a Wind Tunnel on Brighthub.com

See also

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  • Honeycomb structure — Сотовая структура …   Краткий толковый словарь по полиграфии

  • structure — {{Roman}}I.{{/Roman}} noun ADJECTIVE ▪ basic, simple ▪ complex, elaborate ▪ coherent, logical ▪ rigid …   Collocations dictionary

  • structure en nids d’abeilles — korėtoji sandara statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. honeycomb structure; honeycombed structure vok. Honigwabenstruktur, f; Wabenstruktur, f rus. сотовая структура, f pranc. structure en nids d’abeilles, f …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • honeycomb — [hun′ē kōm΄] n. [ME hunicomb < OE hunigcamb < hunig, HONEY + camb, COMB1] 1. the structure of six sided wax cells made by bees to hold their honey or eggs 2. anything like this in structure or appearance vt. 1. to cause to have many holes… …   English World dictionary

  • honeycomb — ► NOUN 1) a structure of hexagonal cells of wax, made by bees to store honey and eggs. 2) a structure of linked cavities. ► VERB ▪ fill with cavities or tunnels …   English terms dictionary

  • Honeycomb (geometry) — In geometry, a honeycomb is a space filling or close packing of polyhedral or higher dimensional cells , so that there are no gaps. It is an example of the more general mathematical tiling or tessellation in any number of dimensions. Honeycombs… …   Wikipedia

  • Honeycomb — A honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal wax cells built by honey bees in their nests to contain their larvae and stores of honey and pollen.Beekeepers may remove the entire honeycomb to harvest honey. Honey bees consume about 8.4 pounds of honey to… …   Wikipedia

  • honeycomb — /hun ee kohm /, n. 1. a structure of rows of hexagonal wax cells, formed by bees in their hive for the storage of honey, pollen, and their eggs. 2. a piece of this containing honey and chewed as a sweet. 3. anything whose appearance suggests such …   Universalium

  • Honeycomb sea wall — A honeycomb sea wall (also known as a seabee ) is a coastal defense structure that protects against strong waves and tides. It is constructed as a sloped wall of concrete blocks with hexagonal holes, which makes it look like a honeycomb. These… …   Wikipedia

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