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OVERVIEW OF COMPOSITE MATERIALS 1

Theodore J. Reinhart

1.1 INTRODUCTION fraction results in increases in the levels of


Composite materials are macroscopic combi- mechanical properties up to the point where
nations of two or more distinct materials there is insufficient matrix material to support
having a discrete and recognizable interface the fibers and to transfer load within the com-
separating them. Thus composites are hetero- posite. The matrix is the adhesive binder that
geneous materials, and many are naturally supports the fibers under compressive loads,
occurring; the most common is wood. The provides shear capabilities in two dimensional
composites of interest in this discussion, how- fiber lay-ups, and transfers loads internally in
ever, are the synthetic, man-made materials, the composite among the myriad fibers and
possessing high strength and/or stiffness rela- fiber bundles that comprise the load-carrying
tive to weight which are used in high portions of the composite material. In two-
performance structural applications because dimensional composites the matrix provides
of these properties. Figure 1.1 shows the the basic resistance to impact damage and
strength- and stiffness-to-weight relationships delamination.
for several fibers when arrayed in unidirec-
tional laminates.
The narrower definition of composites
becomes more specific and can be restricted to
those combinations of materials that contain
high strength/stiffness fiber reinforcements
supported by a high performance matrix
material. Fibers and matrix materials may be
organic or inorganic in chemical make up.
Normally the fibrous reinforcement material is
referred to as the discontinuous phase and the
matrix material as the continuous phase.
The primary engineering properties of the
composite are derived predominantly from
the mechanical and physical properties of the
discontinuous phase, the fiber reinforcement.
These are the fiber-dominated properties of
the composite. Increasing the fiber volume

Fig. 1.1 Plot of specific tensile strength to specific


Handbook of Composites. Edited by S.T. Peters. Published tensile modulus for commercially available com-
in 1998by Chapman & Hall, London. ISBN 0 412 54020 7 posites.
22 Overview of composite materials

Matrix materials may be selected from composite engineering properties. At some


metallic, ceramic and organic resin materials. point in this fiber length decrease the compos-
With perhaps the exception of ceramic matrix ite properties will approach those of a system
composites, the matrix material is not as filled with particulate materials.
strong or as stiff as the discontinuous phase or Continuous fiber-reinforced composites are
fiber material. There are many exceptions or normally fabricated via a ply by ply lay-up
perhaps special cases to these statements. technique resulting in a laminar (layered) con-
Many organic resin matrix materials are mod- struction, which may be converted, before or
ified to increase toughness by the addition of after impregnation with the matrix, but prior
small amounts of rubber base or thermoplastic to consolidation and cure, to a three-dimen-
modifiers, thus forming a discontinuous phase sional composite. Figure 1.2 shows the wide
of particles within the continuous matrix range of composite constituent materials, and
phase of the composite. The classes of fiber- manufacturing and fabrication options.
reinforced composites are usually related to High performance composites offer combi-
the form of the fibrous reinforcing material nations of engineering properties which
and include continuous, long discontinuous cannot be achieved using homogeneous
and short discontinuous fiber-reinforced com- metallic alloy structural materials such as alu-
posites. Complicating the straightforward minum, titanium and steel, and may provide a
classification are the forms of the reinforce- higher level of these properties. The largest
ment, such as woven, unwoven, braided, volume usage of structural composites in
knitted and orthogonal arrays of reinforce- industrial, aerospace, commercial and military
ments. All of the above are possible and each applications is based upon resin matrix fiber-
provides a unique set of engineering proper- reinforced composites. Thus these composites
ties. The available levels of engineering will be emphasized throughout this volume.
properties are governed by fiber length, fiber High performance composite materials were
orientation and fiber volume fraction. developed by the US Air Force Materials
Continuous and long discontinuous fiber-rein- Laboratory in a systematic search for structural
forced composites offer maximum levels of materials that could offer weight savings over
translation of fiber properties into useful com- the conventional materials. This large and
posite engineering properties. Decreases in comprehensive R&D program to develop com-
fiber length are accompanied by a decline in posites was initiated in response to a general

RESIN RElNFORCEMENT FIBER PROCESS


TYPE TYPE PLACEMENT

LONG CONTINUOUS ---

\
'
MAT -===I:----- PULTRUSION COMPRESSION MOLDING

INJECTION MOLDING
THERMOPLASTIC
PARTICULATE *TRANSFER MOLDING

THERMOSTAMPING

Fig. 1.2 Display of composite constituent materials and manufacturing options.


lntroduction 23

call from the using communities for structural presently decreasing, and the commercial air-
materials that could reduce weight and reduce plane producers, specifically Boeing and
corrosion and fatigue problems in aircraft com- Aerospaciale, will continue to be a market for
ponents. Fiberglass reinforced resin base advanced composites. Large scale applications
composites have been used successfully in fila- in transportation, both air and ground, and in
ment wound rocket motor cases as well as in the civil engineering infrastructure arena are
various other aircraft and missile applications. and will continue to be an unrealized goal for
Fiberglass reinforced composites in general advanced composite materials at least in the
lacked the stiffness that is desired in h g h per- near term.
formance structural applications in aircraft, Fibers are inherently stronger than the bulk
missiles and spacecraft. The search for higher form of a material for a number of reasons.
modulus glass fibers met with only limited suc- Two major reasons are (i) the fiber’s small
cess, however the use of boron, carbon, diameter with the probability of fewer flaws
graphite and other compositions resulted in a and (ii) the opportunity to align or preferen-
technological breakthrough and provided a tially orient molecular or crystal structure. All
new class of structural materials called structural materials fail mechanically because
’Advanced Composites’. More recent develop- of the formation, propagation and growth of
ments have led to the commercialavailability of flaws. Since composite construction provides
a wide range of high strength, high stiffness very large numbers of load-carrying fibers,
fiber materials, both organic and inorganic in catastrophic failure requires the failure of
nature, for use in high performance composite many fibers. This situation then provides
applications. many early warning signs when significant
Advanced composite materials, while basi- damage is accumulating in a fiber-reinforced
cally more expensive as a raw material, more composite structure.
expensive and complicated to design with, Fibrous materials such S-glass, (Kevlar 49)
more difficult to characterize, more expensive aramid, Spectra, boron and the many types of
to manufacture and assemble and more diffi- carbon fibers produced commercially possess
cult to inspect when compared to conventional specific properties (strength/density) and
structural metallic materials, have found sig- (modulus/density) many times greater than
nificant commercial, recreational, and military structural alloys of aluminum, titanium or steel.
applications. However, when the fibers are combined with a
Inexpensive fiberglass reinforced plastic matrix into a near quasi-isotropic lay-up, a
composites, initially put to broad use in the highly useful engineering form of the material,
1950s, are found in a variety of industrial and the specific properties are greatly reduced but
consumer products from automotive and are still superior compared to conventional
truck applications, to corrosion resistant pip- homogeneous metallic materials. Figure 1.1
ing and construction, to large and small water plots the specific tensile strength versus the
craft. The service performance of these materi- specific tensile modulus for a number of unidi-
als in the above and many other applications rectional composites and compares them to
has been highly satisfactory. steel, aluminum and titanium materials. These
Advanced composites have found exten- are calculated values based upon literature
sive applications in many areas where cost is fiber values and 65 vol.% fiber content. It can
secondary to performance. Sporting and recre- readily be seen that these high performance
ational applications including golf club shafts, fiber materials form the basis for the advanced
fishing rods, and skis, have provided a signifi- composites technology. The wide variety of
cant market and will continue to do so for the materials that can be combined to form com-
foreseeable future. Military applications, while posites having highly acceptable levels of
24 Overview of composite materials

engineering properties can make the selection certain threshold stress levels. The phenome-
of specific materials a challenging task. non known as stress-rupture failure has been
This introduction will present the basic thoroughly investigated by researchers in the
materials, design factors, material forms and industry and government.
fabrication methods used in the manufacture The glass fiber that is the industry standard
and assembly of advanced composite compo- is E-glass, which is a calcium aluminoborosili-
nents. cate formulation having very good mechanical
and electrical characteristics at very reason-
able cost. Average mechanical property levels
1.2 GLASS FIBERS
for individual filaments are 3450 MPa (500 ksi)
The development of glass fibers on a commer- for tensile strength and 72.4 GPa (10.5 x lo6psi)
cial scale was the enabling technology that for Young’s modulus. Extensive research has
allowed the glass fiber-reinforced organic been conducted to develop glass fibers pos-
resin matrix composite industry to begin. The sessing higher strength and stiffness
initial understanding of organic matrix com- characteristics.
posites was based on glass fiber reinforcement. Glass formulations producing filaments of
Glass fiber composites of all descriptions increased strength and stiffness have been
have found extensive and successful applica- found to be toxic (beryllium glasses) or very
tions including low performance non-structural high melting and difficult to handle in com-
applications as well as high performance struc- mercial scale equipment. S-glass fibers contain
tural applications. The applications range from a higher percentage of alumina compared to
the building construction trades, to auto, truck E-glass. Filament strength, modulus and melt-
and rail transportation, seagoing applications ing point are higher than E-glass. Typical
including high performance racing craft and filament strength and stiffness are close to
commercial and military aerospace. Specific 4600 MPa (670 ksi) and 85.5 GPa (12.4 x lo6psi).
applications involve, decorative panels, appli- The technology developed using glass
ances, ship and boat hulls, light aircraft and fiber-reinforced resin matrix composites
glider construction, nearly all forms of recre- resulted in many high performance applica-
ational equipment, high pressure gas tions, and was the start of the effort to develop
containers and rocket motor casings. This wide stronger and stiffer fibers to meet high perfor-
spread use of glass fiber-reinforced organic mance structural needs in commercial and
composites and their continued future growth military aerospace applications. Figure 1.3
is due to many factors, including: cost, avail- shows the installation of a large commercial
ability, handling and processing ability, useful fiberglass composite pipe.
properties and characteristics and past good Closely related to the E- and S-glasses are the
experience in service. Many improvements to high silica and quartz fibers produced commer-
glass fiber composites have been made over the cially for highly specialized applications in
years including the development of hghly ben- rocket motors and electrical windows. High sil-
eficial silane coupling agents. These agents, ica fibers are produced by chemically leaching
which can be tailored for compatibility with the highly soluble components from E-glass
almost any resin matrix, provide a higher level fibers and then consolidating the fibers by a
of engineering properties and environmental heat treatment. These fibers contain upwards of
durability far exceeding earlier composites. 95% silica.
Glass fiber composites provide high levels of Quartz fibers are drawn from mineral
engineering properties, however the glass fiber quartz rods using oxy-hydrogen or laser heat-
surface is sensitive to moisture attack under ing sources. Commercially available fibers are
certain conditions of exposure and above 99.95% silica. Quartz fibers typically have
Carbon/graphitefibers 25

< -
4

Fig. 1.3 Underwater installation of a large fiberglasscomposite pipe.

similar mechanical properties as the E-glass organic precursor fibers such as rayon or poly-
materials but have a much higher melting point. acrylonitrile (PAN). The process, shown in
Fig. 1.4, involves highly controlled steps
including heat treatment and tension, to trans-
1.3 CARBON/GRAPHITE FIBERS form the organic precursor into a highly
The search for advanced fibers led to the ordered carbon or graphitic structure. Carbon
development of carbon and graphite fibers. and graphite fibers are also produced from
These fibers are currently the best known and pitch base precursor materials. Although the
most widely utilized in high performance potential for low cost exists, complex process-
resin base composites. Primarily developed ing steps involved in the pitch treatment have
for military aerospace applications, these prevented the production of really low cost
materials have found wide-spread commer- fibers. US manufactured pitch base carbon and
cial and industrial applications. This situation graphite fibers while having a very high mod-
has resulted in the availability of a wide vari- ulus, up to 830GPa (120 x 106psi), have
ety of fibers having various levels of
engineering properties at costs once thought
unachievable. These materials are now avail-
able on a world wide basis at competitive
prices and are now experiencing increasing
levels of interest for applications such as com-
mercial aerospace, ground transportation and
the infrastructure.
The production of carbon/graphite fibers is
well suited to large scale continuous operation
where economies of scale operate effectively
and the stability of operating conditions pro-
vides a narrow band of fiber mechanical
properties. Carbon fibers are produced com- Fig. 1.4 Conceptualized production process for car-
mercially by the thermal decomposition of bon fiber manufacture.
26 Overview of composite materials

demonstrated low tensile properties and thus applications in high performance structural
have not been seriously considered for high applications.
performance structural applications. The high tensile strength and low density of
Advances in PAN precursor carbon fiber aramid fibers allowed applications in filament
technology have resulted in cost reductions wound pressure vessels and rocket motor
and properties increases which have improved cases replacing S-glass. Combined with its
the status of these materials in high perfor- lower density and high levels of properties,
mance structural applications. PAN base very lightweight structures resulted. Aramid
carbon fibers are now commercially available fibers are highly damage- and cut-resistant
having modulus values of 280450 GPa and provide high levels of damage tolerance
(40-65 x lo6psi) and tensile strengths of to composite components. Other applications
4140-5170 MPa (600-750 h i ) and some versions involved aramid usage in lightly loaded sec-
up to 6890 MPa (1000 ksi) in tensile strength. ondary structures on commercial aircraft and
High fiber elongation has long been considered helicopters, reducing structural weight com-
a very desirable trait. Elongations of 2% and pared to glass composites. Issues in the use of
above are highly desirable and provide tough- these fibers have involved moisture absorp-
ness in the composite that low elongation tion by the fiber, relatively low adhesion to
fibers (<l.8%) cannot provide. Since high most resin matrix materials, low compression
strain fibers must be coupled with a tough properties and difficult machining compared
matrix resin the availability of these fibers has to other composites.
stimulated the introduction of new formula-
tions of high elongation resin matrix materials.
1.4.2 OTHER ORGANIC FIBERS
In many instances in aerospace applications,
compression is the design controlling factor. Continuing research into the various other
The new high strength, high modulus carbon rigid rod molecule fiber forming polymers
fibers have smaller diameters thus requiring including the spinning of polyethylene fibers
higher levels of support from the resin under by Allied Chemical Co. and others has
compression loading. Thus, the limiting factor resulted in high performance organic fibers
becomes resin shear modulus and the newer that are finding specialized and general com-
fibers have not resulted in increased levels of mercial applications. Spectra fiber, a high
compression strength in the composite. performance product spun from polyethylene
offers high abrasion resistance, high strength,
and high modulus at a very low density. This
1.4 ORGANIC FIBERS
material has found use in combat equipment
for both ground troops and aviators.
1.4.1 ARAMID
Recreational uses of this material include ship
Aramid is a generic term for the class of aro- sails and lines. Applications of Spectra are lim-
matic-polyamide fibers produced using ited to temperatures of about 120°C (250°F)
para-phenylene terephthalamide. These mate- due to its low crystallite melting point.
rials were introduced by E.I. DuPont de
Nemours & Co., Inc. in the 1960s. Competing
1.4.3 PBO AND PBT FIBERS
fibers are now produced in Europe and Asia.
Although organic polymer fibers can be pro- High modulus high strength organic fibers
duced that have fiber tensile strength and have been prepared by the Air Force Materials
modulus values approaching the mid-range Laboratory from the rigid rod molecules of
carbon fibers, low fiber compression capabili- poly (p-phenylene benzobisoxazole) (PBO)
ties have limited organic fiber composites and poly (p-phenylene benzobisthiazole)
Other inorganicfibers 27

(PBT). These rigid rod polymers yield high technology, carbon-epoxy composites still
modulus fibers due to their high degree of cannot compare in compression properties to
aromaticity, high planarity, and linearity in those of boron-epoxy.
the chain. These polymers in general are diffi- Boron-epoxy composites have been used in
cult to process into fiber due to their the sporting goods industry and boron fibers
infusability and insolubility in anything have been used in metal matrix composites
except the most powerful organic solvents (MMC) because of their excellent mechanical
such as methanesulfonic acid or concentrated properties, thermal stability, and reduced reac-
phosphoric acid. tivity with the matrix (compared to carbon
The h g h axial molecular orientation whch fibers). In order to prevent reaction between
leads to extreme anisotropy of mechanical the boron fiber and the molten metal matrix
properties is a distinctive feature of rigid rod during MMC production, boron fibers were,
molecule fibers. While tensile strength and until recently, available with silicon carbide or
modulus may in some instances be competitive boron carbide coatings that acted as diffusion
with carbon fibers the transverse properties of barriers. Boron fibers with these coatings are
the fiber are less than 20% of the axial proper- no longer commercially available because sili-
ties. In tension the axial characteristics con carbide fibers are now replacing boron in
dominate and excellent properties are achieved. metal matrix composites.
In compression and flexure the low transverse Boron fibers are produced as a rather large
properties result in low mechanical properties monofilament fiber or 'wire' (100-200 pm or
in composites of PBO and PBT fibers. 4-8 mils) by chemical vapor deposition (CVD)
High modulus organic fibers have not of boron onto a tungsten or pyrolyzed carbon
found serious applications in structural com- substrate. The resulting fibers have excellent
posites due to their poor compressive strength (3450 MPa or 500 ksi) and stiffness
performance and relatively high cost. (400GPa or 58 x 106psi)).However, because
both the precursor gases and the manufactur-
ing process are inherently expensive, boron
1.5 BORON FIBERS fibers cannot compete with carbon fibers on
Boron fiber in organic resin matrices was ini- the basis of cost.
tially developed by the Air Force Materials
Laboratory in the early 1960s and became the
1.6 OTHER INORGANIC FIBERS
first high performance reinforcement for use
in structural composite materials. Early appli- Continuous filament forms of other inorganic
cation of these fibers was found on the US Air fibers are also now commercially available.
Force F-15 and the US Navy F-14 fighter air- Silicon carbide (Sic) fiber is produced from
craft. Boron composites in honeycomb CVD of Sic by a method similar to that used in
structure were utilized in the empennage boron fiber production. Sic fibers are also pro-
structure of these aircraft. Subsequent studies duced from an organic borosilane precursor
have found that carbon-epoxy composites that is spun and pyrolyzed to produce silicon
could be utilized in these aircraft to reduce carbide. Aluminum oxide fibers are produced
costs of the composite structure. Considering in both the mono and polycrystalline forms.
the enormous changeover costs involved in Advanced forms of ceramic fibers are now
such a project and the limited production under intensive development for use in metal
quantities of these aircraft remaining to be matrix composites for high temperature tur-
produced it has been determined that return bine engine applications.
on investment costs would not be achieved. In
spite of the advances made in carbon fiber
28 Overview of composite materials

1.7 MATRICES and bodies, appliances, bathtubs and showers


and automobile hoods, decks, and doors.
As stated above, the purpose of the composite The very large number of resin formula-
matrix is to bind the fibers together by virtue of tions, curing agents, fillers, and other
its cohesive and adhesive characteristics, to components provide a tremendous range of
transfer load to and between fibers, and to pro- possible properties. The resulting resin systems
tect them from environments and handling. include such types as general purpose, chemi-
In continuous multifilament composites the cally resistant and heat resistant, with
fiber dominated properties form the basis for general-purpose polyester and vinyl ester resin
useful engineering properties of the material. composites being the most widely used by far.
In such composites the matrix material is sub- The development of highly effective silane
jected to high levels of strain magnification coupling agents for glass fibers allowed the
caused by the close proximity of the fiber and fabrication of glass fiber reinforced polyester
fiber bundles and becomes subject to failure and vinyl ester composites having excellent
by cracking. mechanical properties and acceptable
Thus the matrix is the 'weak link' in the environmental durability. These enhanced
composite, especially because resins do not characteristics have been the major factors in
presently exist that allow utilization of the the widespread use of these composites today.
stresses that the fibers are able to withstand. The problems of attaining adequate adhe-
Thus, when the composite is under load, sion to carbon and aramid fibers have
resins may microcrack and craze, form larger discouraged the development of applications
cracks through coalescence of microcracks, for polyester or vinyl ester composites that use
debond from the fiber surface, and generally these fibers. Although there are applications of
break down at composite strains far lower high performance fiberglass composites in
than desired. military and aerospace structures, the rela-
Thermoplastic and toughened thermoset- tively poor properties of advanced composites
ting matrices have been developed that allow of polyester and vinyl ester resins when used
increased composite strain levels but still do with other fibers, combined with the compar-
not provide for full fiber property translation. atively large cure shrinkage of these resins,
Nevertheless, the matrix resin provides have generally restricted such composites to
many essential functions; in addition to those lower-performance applications.
mentioned above, the matrix keeps the rein-
forcing fibers in the proper orientation and 1.8 EPOXY RESINS
position so that they can carry the intended
loads, distributes the loads more or less Epoxy resin R&D has provided a rich and high
evenly among the fibers, provides resistance performing family of resin materials that have
to crack propagation and damage, and pro- found extensive commercial and aerospace
vides all of the interlaminar shear strength of applications. Epoxy resins have demonstrated
the composite. Furthermore, the matrix gener- a tendency to absorb moisture both in the
ally determines the overall service green or uncured and the cured stages. This
temperature limitations of the composite, and property poses engineering limitations and
may also control its environmental resistance. resulted in the development of the cyanate,
Polyester and vinyl ester resins are the most bismaleimide, and thermoplastic materials to
widely used of all matrix materials. They are be covered later in this introduction.
utilized mainly in commercial, industrial, and Although epoxies are sensitive to moisture
transportation applications, including chemi- they are generally superior to polyesters in
callv resistant pipinn
J - I I " and reactors. truck cabs resisting other environmental influences, and
Cyanate resins 29

offer better mechanical properties. Even though No degradation of the composite materials
the elongation to failure of most cured epoxies has been observed even after over 20 years of
is relatively low, epoxies provide an attractive service exposure. The moisture absorption of
combination of handling characteristics, pro- epoxy resins causes a decrease in the glass tran-
cessing flexibility, composite mechanical sition temperature (Tg) of the material and
properties, ease of manufacture, and acceptable limits (for conservative engineering practice)
cost. Recent developments include modified epoxy resins to use at temperatures not exceed-
epoxy resin formulations that have improved ing the wet T of the cured material. While this
elongation capabilities. In addition, a substan- use limitatio$is conservative, its imposition has
tial data base exists for epoxy resins since both generally avoided unwanted service experience
the US Air Force and the US Navy have been problems. Figure 1.7 shows the range of com-
flying aircraft with epoxy matrix structural posite applications on the C-5 cargo aircraft.
components since 1972, and the in-service expe-
rience with these components has been very
1.9 CYANATE RESINS
satisfactory. Figures. 1.5 and 1.6 show epoxy
composite applications on the AV-8B horizontal The more recent commercial availability of
stabilizer and forward fuselage. cyanate resins from a number of commercial

A L u no I r
rF- r i (c -71
e-\ TE STRUCTUR€

'- TOROUF BOX LOWER SKIN WITH INTFGRAL SPARS

Fig. 1.5 Application of epoxy composites to the horizontal stabilizer of the AV-8B aircraft.
30 Overview of composite materials

Fig. 1.6 Application of epoxy composites to the forward fuselage of the AV-8B aircraft.
sources has provided a matrix material gener- epoxies in maximum hot/wet use tempera-
ally tougher and far more moisture resistant ture, extending the safe in-service temperature
compared to epoxies. Thus they possess better to 205-220°C (400430°F) or higher. They are
electrical characteristicsand are not subjected to available from a number of suppliers.
the so called hot/wet Tg service temperature The BMI materials have been selected for
reduction. The lack of a data base and manufac- structural applications on the US Air Force
turing experience base tend to inhibit the F-22 fighter in combination with carbon fiber
introduction of the cyanate materials into new reinforcements.
systems.
1.11 OTHER THERMOSETTING RESINS
1.10 BISMALEIMIDE RESINS
Polyimide resins including the PMR
BMIs have a very competitive set of features (Polymerization of Monomeric Reactants) and
including; toughness, moisture resistance, acetylene terminated versions are available
ease of handling and manufacture and good and possess service temperature capabilities,
engineering properties. They are superior to in air, close to 260°C (500°F). Applications in
Thermoplastic resins 31

Nonstructural parts,
liners, troop seats A
7 Carbon/Epoxy

Carbon/Kevlar/Epoxy

v m GFRP/Nornexcore
m Kevlar/foarn core
Kevlar/Nomex

0 CarbonlNornex

Fig. 1.7 Composite applications on the C-5 cargo aircraft; total weight of composites: 7167 kg (15 787 lb);
weight saving: 1997 kg (4398 lb).

military turbine engine casings (liners) and sulfide (PPS),polyether ketone ketone (PEKK)
electronics form the major present day appli- and several others. Most thermoplastic matri-
cations for these materials. Lack of toughness ces do not absorb any significant amount of
and difficulty in handling and in manufacture water, but organic solvent resistance is an area
characterize this family of heat resistant of concern for the noncrystalline thermoplas-
organic matrix materials. tics. Because thermoplastic matrices have an
unlimited shelf life before molding (unlike
thermosetting matrices), and because they can
1.12 THERMOPLASTIC RESINS
potentially be remolded by the application of
The families of amorphous and semicrys- heat and pressure, thermoplastic matrix com-
talline thermoplastic materials have been posites also offer the possibility of lower-cost
thoroughly evaluated for use as matrix resins. fabrication. However, cross-linking or thermal
Thermoplastic matrix materials are generally degradation with repeated temperature
tougher than most thermoset resins and offer cycling is a concern with most of the systems.
the potential of improved hot/wet resistance. The fabrication procedures necessary for the
Because of their high strains to failure, they low-cost manufacture of thermoplastic matrix
also are the only matrices currently available composites have been extensively studied,
that allow thermoforming and other forms of including effort to determine and understand
rapid manufacture to be utilized. the mechanical properties obtained from the
The thermoplastic resin materials include various techniques currently available for fab-
polyether ether ketone (PEEK),polyphenylene ricating thermoplastic matrix composites.
32 Overview of composite materials

Thermoplastic composites are deemed to be craft (Fig. 1.8) that successfully circumnavi-
a mature technology and will compete with gated the earth non-stop.
other composites on a properties and cost
basis. 1.14 MATERIAL FORMS

Reinforcing fibers are commercially available


1.13 DESIGN PHILOSOPHY
in many product forms including monofila-
The design of a high performance composite ments for fibers such as boron on silicon
structural component should be based upon a carbide to multifilament fiber bundles.
thorough understanding of the service condi- Product forms include unidirectional ribbons
tions to be encountered. The 'building block' and broadgoods up to 152 cm (60 ins) wide to
approach has been found successful in the single and multiple layer fabrics and mats that
design of both aircraft and spacecraft structural may or may not be stitched in the Z direction.
components. A comprehensive properties data These same forms are available combined with
base is required for this process. The database the matrix resin of choice for a particular com-
is obtained by a thorough program of coupon, ponent. Using prepregs rather than in-line
subelement and element fabrication test and impregnation of the fibers during the final
failure analysis. The building block program composite fabrication process can offer signif-
must account for properties in the as-manufac- icant advantages. Prepregs can have very
tured article including variables induced by precisely controlled fiber/resin ratios, highly
worker skill levels, tooling and suppliers, etc. controlled tack and drape (in the case of ther-
An example of combining these diverse build- moset matrices), controlled resin flow during
ing blocks was the rapid design and the cure process, and, in some processes, better
manufacture of the all composite Voyager air- control of fiber angle and placement. Prepreg

Fig. 1.8 All composite Voyager aircraft.


Further reading 33

materials can be produced and stored for process. High prepreg lay-down rates and
future use, normally under refrigeration for fairly low scrap rates are possible. However,
thermosetting matrices, and then used in most of the existing automatic lay-up
processes ranging from hand lay-up to highly processes are quite limited in their ability to
automated filament winding or machine tape produce satisfactory components having com-
laying. Processes such as pultrusion and plex curvatures. This is more an artifact of the
braiding can also use prepreg forms instead of tape raw material than it is an equipment lim-
in-line resin impregnation. While the latter itation.
may be lower in initial cost, it may be prohibi- To select the best composite fabrication
tive for some resin systems (such as process, the designer generally chooses the
thermoplastics), and parameters such as process that will provide an acceptable quality
fiber/resin ratio may not be as easily con- component for the lowest cost. In evaluating
trolled as is the case with a prepreg. cost and quality, however, tooling cost, pro-
duction rate, materials cost, desired part finish
and many other factors must be considered.
1.15 MANUFACTURING/FABRICATION
Only after all the relevant factors have been
The most common composite lay-up processes weighed can the fabrication method (or the
include: hand lay-up, fiber placement and material) be selected.
machine tape lay-up. In lay-up, material that is This overview chapter was intended as a
usually in prepreg form is cut and laid up, primer to introduce the reader to composite
layer by layer, to produce a laminate of the technology. Fiber and matrix materials, design
desired thickness, number of plies, and ply concerns, material forms and fabrication
orientations. In filament winding, a fiber bun- processes have been described briefly. For
dle or ribbon is impregnated with resin and more specific and detailed data and guidelines
wound upon a mandrel to produce a simple on these topics, the reader should consult the
shape, such as a tube or pressure vessel, or a technical sections in this volume. However,
more complex shape, such as a wind turbine this introduction should have clarified that
or helicopter rotor blade. composites offer tremendous opportunities -
Hand lay-up processes are usually accom- as well as impressive challenges - for the
panied by a compaction step for each one or designer and manufacturer of high perfor-
more plies that are applied. Lay-up of thermo- mance components.
plastic matrix material is always accompanied
by heat and pressure.
FURTHER READING
For most components produced for aero-
space applications, except filament wound 1. Weeton, J.W. and Peters, D.M., eds, Engineers’
components, the autoclave is the curing tool of Guide to Composite Materials, American Society
choice. The autoclave cure process is chosen for Materials, 1987.
2. SPI Composites Institute, lntroduction to
for many reasons, these include: reproducible, Composites, SPI, Washington, 1992.
high quality, low void content, parts at reason- 3. Beukers, A. and de Jon, Th., Materials Delft
able production rates and costs. There are also University Press, Delft, Netherlands, 1992.
a number of other fabrication processes that 4. Corish, P.J., ed, Concise Encyclopedia of Polymer
are used including pultrusion, resin transfer Processing and Applications, Pergamon Press,
molding and press curing. These processes Oxford, 1992.
have found application in the fabrication of 5 . Schwartz, M., ed Composite Materials Handbook
2nd edn, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1992.
various components for aerospace usage.
Very sophisticated, numerically controlled
equipment is presently available for the lay-up