Composites

Composites are combinations of two materials in which one of the materials, called the reinforcing phase, is in the form of fibers, sheets, or particles, and is embedded in the other materials called the matrix phase. The reinforcing material and the matrix material can be metal, ceramic, or polymer. Composites are used because overall properties of the composites are superior to those of the individual components. For example: polymer/ceramic composites have a greater modulus than the polymer component, but aren't as brittle as ceramics. The following are some of the reasons why composites are selected for certain applications:

High strength to weight ratio (low density high tensile strength)

High creep resistance

High tensile strength at elevated temperatures

High toughness

Typically, reinforcing materials are strong with low densities while the matrix is usually a ductile, or tough, material. If the composite is designed and fabricated correctly, it combines the strength of the reinforcement with the toughness of the matrix to achieve a combination of desirable properties not available in any single conventional material. The downside is that such composites are often more expensive than conventional materials. Examples of some current application of composites include the diesel piston, brake-shoes and pads, tires and the Beechcraft aircraft in which 100% of the structural components are composites.

The strength of the composite depends primarily on the amount, arrangement and type of fiber (or particle) reinforcement in the resin. Typically, the higher the reinforcement content, the greater the strength. In some cases, glass fibers are combined with other fibers, such as carbon or aramid (Kevlar29 and Kevlar49), to create a "hybrid" composite that combines the properties of more than one reinforcing material. In addition, the composite is often formulated with fillers and additives that change processing or performance parameters.

Three types of composites are:

Particle-reinforced composites

Fiber-reinforced composites

Structural composites

Particle Reinforced Composites:

Particles used for reinforcing include ceramics and glasses such as small mineral particles, metal particles such as aluminum, and amorphous materials, including polymers and carbon black. Particles are used to increase the modulus of the matrix, to decrease the permeability of the matrix, to decrease the ductility of the matrix. Particles are also used to produce inexpensive composites. Reinforcers and matrices can be common, inexpensive materials and are easily processed. An example of particle reinforced composites is an automobile tire which has carbon black particles in a matrix of polyisobutylene elastomeric polymer. Another example is spheroidized steel where cementite is transformed into a spherical shape which improves the machinability of the material. Another example for particle-reinforced composite is concrete where the aggregtes ( sand and gravel) are the particles and cement is the matrix. Particle reinforced composites support higher tensile, compressive and shear stresses.

Figure 1. Examples for particle-reinforced composites. (Spheroidized steel and automobile tire)

Fiber-reinforced Composites:

Reinforcing fibers can be made of metals, ceramics, glasses, or polymers that have been turned into graphite and known as carbon fibers. Fibers increase the modulus of the matrix material. The strong covalent bonds along the fiber's length gives them a very high modulus in this direction because to break or extend the fiber the bonds must also be broken or moved. Fibers are difficult to process into composites which makes fiber-reinforced composites relatively expensive. Fiber-reinforced composites are used in some of the most advanced, and therefore most expensive, sports equipment, such as a time-trial racing bicycle frame which consists of carbon fibers in a thermoset polymer matrix. Body parts of race cars and some automobiles are composites made of glass fibers (or fiberglass) in a thermoset matrix.

The arrangement or orientation of the fibers relative to one another, the fiber concentration, and the distribution all have a significant influence on the strength and other properties of fiber-reinforced composites. Applications involving totally multidirectional applied stresses normally use discontinuous fibers, which are randomly oriented in the matrix material. Consideration of orientation and fiber length for a particular composites depends on the level and nature of the applied stress as well as fabrication cost. Production rates for short-fiber composites (both aligned and randomly oriented) are rapid, and intricate shapes can be formed which are not possible with continuous fiber reinforcement.

Figure 2. Fiber orientation in fiber reinforced composites.

Modulus of Fiber-Reinforced Composites:

Fibers have a very high modulus along their axis, but have a low modulus perpendicular to their axis. If the fibers are all parallel, the modulus of a fiber reinforced composite depends upon which direction you're measuring. The modulus of the entire composite, matrix plus reinforcer, is governed by the rule of mixtures when measuring along the length of the fiber:

Ec = EfVf + EmVm

Ec is the modulus of the entire composite along the length of the fiber.

Ef is the modulus of the fiber along the length of the fiber.

Vf is the volume percent occupied by the fibers.

Em is the modulus of the matrix (usually not dependent upon direction)

Vm is the volume percent occupied by the matrix (equal to (1-Vf)).

Figure 3. Tensile strength and elastic modulus when fibers are parallel to the direction of stress.

Figure 4. tensile strength and elastic modulus when fibers are perpendicular to the direction of stress.

Fiber composite manufacturers often rotate layers of fibers to avoid directional variations in the modulus.

Structural Composites:

The properties of structural composites depend on:

Constituents

Geometrical design

Common structural composite types are:

Laminar: Is composed of two-dimensional sheets or panels that have a preferred high strength direction such as is found in wood and continuous and aligned fiber-reinforced plastics. The layers are stacked and cemented together such that the orientation of the high-strength direction varies with each successive layer. One example of a relatively complex structure is modern ski and another example is plywood.

Sandwich Panels: Consist of two strong outer sheets which are called face sheets and may be made of aluminum alloys, fiber reinforced plastics, titanium alloys, steel. Face sheets carry most of the loading and stresses. Core may be a honeycomb structure which has less density than the face sheets and resists perpendicular stresses and provides shear rigidity. Sandwich panels can be used in variety of applications which include roofs, floors, walls of buildings and in aircraft, for wings, fuselage and tailplane skins.

Figure 5. Structural composites

 

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Last Update: November 19, 1999

By: Serdar Z. Elgun