FRP involves two distinct processes, the first is the process whereby the fibrous material is manufactured and formed, the second is the process whereby fibrous materials are bonded with the matrix during moulding.
Reinforcing Fibre is manufactured in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional orientations:
Two-dimensional fibreglass-reinforced polymer is characterized by a laminated structure in which the fibers are only aligned along the plane in x-direction, and y-direction of the material. This means that no fibers are aligned in the through-thickness or the z-direction, this lack of alignment in the through thickness can create a disadvantage in cost and processing. Costs and labor increase because conventional processing techniques used to fabricate composites, such as wet hand lay-up, autoclave and resin transfer molding, require a high amount of skilled labor to cut, stack and consolidate into a preformed component.
Three-dimensional fiberglass-reinforced polymer composites are materials with three-dimensional fiber structures that incorporate fibers in the x-direction, y-direction and z-direction. The development of three-dimensional orientations arose from industry's need to reduce fabrication costs, to increase through-thickness mechanical properties, and to improve impact damage tolerance; all were problems associated with two-dimensional fibre-reinforced polymers.
Fibre preforms are how the fibres are manufactured before being bonded to the matrix. Fibre preforms are often manufactured in sheets, continuous mats, or as continuous filaments for spray applications. The four major ways to manufacture the fibre preform is through the textile processing techniques of weaving, knitting, braiding and stitching.
Weaving can be done in a conventional manner to produce two-dimensional fibres as well in a multilayer weaving that can create three-dimensional fibres. However, multilayer weaving is required to have multiple layers of warp yarns to create fibres in the z- direction creating a few disadvantages in manufacturing,namely the time to set up all the warp yarns on the loom. Therefore, most multilayer weaving is currently used to produce relatively narrow width products, or high value products where the cost of the preform production is acceptable. Another one of the main problems facing the use of multilayer woven fabrics is the difficulty in producing a fabric that contains fibres oriented with angles other than 0" and 90" to each other respectively.
The second major way of manufacturing fibre preforms is Braiding. Braiding is suited to the manufacture of narrow width flat or tubular fabric and is not as capable as weaving in the production of large volumes of wide fabrics. Braiding is done over top of mandrels that vary in cross-sectional shape or dimension along their length. Braiding is limited to objects about a brick in size. Unlike standard weaving, braiding can produce fabric that contains fibres at 45-degree angles to one another. Braiding three-dimensional fibres can be done using four step, two-step or Multilayer Interlock Braiding.Four step or row and column braiding utilizes a flat bed containing rows and columns of yarn carriers that form the shape of the desired preform. Additional carriers are added to the outside of the array, the precise location and quantity of which depends upon the exact preform shape and structure required. There are four separate sequences of row and column motion, which act to interlock the yarns and produce the braided preform. The yarns are mechanically forced into the structure between each step to consolidate the structure in a similar process to the use of a reed in weaving. Two-step braiding is unlike the four-step process because the two-step includes a large number of yarns fixed in the axial direction and a fewer number of braiding yarns. The process consists of two steps in which the braiding carriers move completely through the structure between the axial carriers. This relatively simple sequence of motions is capable of forming preforms of essentially any shape, including circular and hollow shapes. Unlike the four-step process, the two-step process does not require mechanical compaction the motions involved in the process allows the braid to be pulled tight by yarn tension alone. The last type of braiding is multi-layer interlocking braiding that consists of a number of standard circular braiders being joined together to form a cylindrical braiding frame. This frame has a number of parallel braiding tracks around the circumference of the cylinder but the mechanism allows the transfer of yarn carriers between adjacent tracks forming a multilayer braided fabric with yarns interlocking to adjacent layers. The multilayer interlock braid differs from both the four step and two-step braids in that the interlocking yarns are primarily in the plane of the structure and thus do not significantly reduce the in-plane properties of the preform. The four-step and two-step processes produce a greater degree of interlinking as the braiding yarns travel through the thickness of the preform, but therefore contribute less to the in-plane performance of the preform. A disadvantage of the multilayer interlock equipment is that due to the conventional sinusoidal movement of the yarn carriers to form the preform, the equipment is not able to have the density of yarn carriers that is possible with the two step and four step machines.
Knitting fibre preforms can be done with the traditional methods of Warp and [Weft] Knitting, and the fabric produced is often regarded by many as two-dimensional fabric, but machines with two or more needle beds are capable of producing multilayer fabrics with yams that traverse between the layers. Developments in electronic controls for needle selection and knit loop transfer, and in the sophisticated mechanisms that allow specific areas of the fabric to be held and their movement controlled. This has allowed the fabric to form itself into the required three-dimensional preform shape with a minimum of material wastage.
Stitching is arguably the simplest of the four main textile manufacturing techniques and one that can be performed with the smallest investment in specialized machinery. Basically stitching consists of inserting a needle, carrying the stitch thread, through a stack of fabric layers to form a 3D structure. The advantages of stitching are that it is possible to stitch both dry and prepreg fabric, although the tackiness of the prepreg makes the process difficult and generally creates more damage within the prepreg material than in the dry fabric. Stitching also utilizes the standard two-dimensional fabrics that are commonly in use within the composite industry therefore there is a sense of familiarity concerning the material systems. The use of standard fabric also allows a greater degree of flexibility in the fabric lay-up of the component than is possible with the other textile processes, which have restrictions on the fibre orientations that can be produced.
A rigid structure is usually used to establish the shape of FRP components. Parts can be laid up on a flat surface referred to as a "caul plate" or on a cylindrical structure referred to as a "mandrel". However most fibre-reinforced plastic parts are created with a mold or "tool." Molds can be concave female molds, male molds, or the mold can completely enclose the part with a top and bottom mold.
The moulding processes of FRP plastics begins by placing the fibre preform on or in the mold. The fibre preform can be dry fibre, or fibre that already contains a measured amount of resin called "prepreg". Dry fibres are "wetted" with resin either by hand or the resin is injected into a closed mold. The part is then cured, leaving the matrix and fibres in the shape created by the mold. Heat and/or pressure are sometimes used to cure the resin and improve the quality of the final part. The different methods of forming are listed below.
Individual sheets of prepre material are laid up and placed in a female-style mould along with a balloon-like bladder. The mould is closed and placed in a heated press. Finally, the bladder is pressurized forcing the layers of material against the mould walls.
When the raw material (plastic block,rubber block, plastic sheet, or granules) contains reinforcing fibres, a compression molded part qualifies as a fibre-reinforced plastic. More typically the plastic preform used in compression molding does not contain reinforcing fibres. In compression molding, a "preform" or "charge", of SMC, BMC is placed into mould cavity. The mould is closed and the material is formed & cured inside by pressure and heat. Compression moulding offers excellent detailing for geometric shapes ranging from pattern and relief detailing to complex curves and creative forms, to precision engineering all within a maximum curing time of 20 minutes.
Individual sheets of prepreg material are laid-up and placed in an open mold. The material is covered with release film, bleeder/breather material and a vacuum bag. A vacuum is pulled on part and the entire mould is placed into an autoclave (heated pressure vessel). The part is cured with a continuous vacuum to extract entrapped gasses from laminate. This is a very common process in the aerospace industry because it affords precise control over moulding due to a long, slow cure cycle that is anywhere from one to several hours. This precise control creates the exact laminate geometric forms needed to ensure strength and safety in the aerospace industry, but it is also slow and labour-intensive, meaning costs often confine it to the aerospace industry.
Sheets of prepreg material are wrapped around a steel or aluminium mandrel. The prepreg material is compacted by nylon or polypropylene cello tape. Parts are typically batch cured by vacuum bagging and hanging in an oven. After cure the cello and mandrel are removed leaving a hollow carbon tube. This process creates strong and robust hollow carbon tubes.
Wet layup forming combines fibre reinforcement and the matrix as they are placed on the forming tool. Reinforcing Fibre layers are placed in an open mould and then saturated with a wet resin by pouring it over the fabric and working it into the fabric. The mould is then left so that the resin will cure, usually at room temperature, though heat is sometimes used to ensure a proper cure. Sometimes a vacuum bag is used to compress a wet layup. Glass fibres are most commonly used for this process, the results are widely known as fibreglass, and is used to make common products like skis, canoes, kayaks and surf boards.
Continuous strands of fibreglass are pushed through a hand-held gun that both chops the strands and combines them with a catalysed resin such as polyester. The impregnated chopped glass is shot onto the mould surface in whatever thickness and design the human operator thinks is appropriate. This process is good for large production runs at economical cost, but produces geometric shapes with less strength than other moulding processes and has poor dimensional tolerance.
Machines pull fibre bundles through a wet bath of resin and wound over a rotating steel mandrel in specific orientations Parts are cured either room temperature or elevated temperatures. Mandrel is extracted, leaving a final geometric shape but can be left in some cases.
Fibre bundles and slit fabrics are pulled through a wet bath of resin and formed into the rough part shape. Saturated material is extruded from a heated closed die curing while being continuously pulled through die. Some of the end products of pultrusion are structural shapes, i.e. I beam, angle, channel and flat sheet. These materials can be used to create all sorts of fibreglass structures such as ladders, platforms, handrail systems tank, pipe and pump supports.
Also called resin infusion. Fabrics are placed into a mould into which wet resin is then injected. Resin is typically pressurized and forced into a cavity which is under vacuum in resin transfer molding. Resin is entirely pulled into cavity under vacuum in vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding. This moulding process allows precise tolerances and detailed shaping but can sometimes fail to fully saturate the fabric leading to weak spots in the final shape.
FRP allows the alignment of the glass fibres of thermoplastics to suit specific design programs. Specifying the orientation of reinforcing fibres can increase the strength and resistance to deformation of the polymer. Glass reinforced polymers are strongest and most resistive to deforming forces when the polymers fibres are parallel to the force being exerted, and are weakest when the fibres are perpendicular. Thus this ability is at once both an advantage or a limitation depending on the context of use. Weak spots of perpendicular fibres can be used for natural hinges and connections, but can also lead to material failure when production processes fail to properly orient the fibres parallel to expected forces. When forces are exerted perpendicular to the orientation of fibres the strength and elasticity of the polymer is less than the matrix alone. In cast resin components made of glass reinforced polymers such as UP and EP, the orientation of fibres can be oriented in two-dimensional and three-dimensional weaves. This means that when forces are possibly perpendicular to one orientation, they are parallel to another orientation; this eliminates the potential for weak spots in the polymer.
Structural failure can occur in FRP materials when:
Tensile forces stretch the matrix more than the fibres, causing the material to shear at the interface between matrix and fibres.
Tensile forces near the end of the fibres exceed the tolerances of the matrix, separating the fibres from the matrix.
Tensile forces can also exceed the tolerances of the fibres causing the fibres themselves to fracture leading to material failure.
See also: Basalt fibre
A thermoset polymer matrix material, or engineering grade thermoplastic polymer matrix material, must meet certain requirements in order to first be suitable for FRPs and ensure a successful reinforcement of itself. The matrix must be able to properly saturate, and preferably bond chemically with the fibre reinforcement for maximum adhesion within a suitable curing period. The matrix must also completely envelop the fibres to protect them from cuts and notches that would reduce their strength, and to transfer forces to the fibres. The fibres must also be kept separate from each other so that if failure occurs it is localized as much as possible, and if failure occurs the matrix must also debond from the fibre for similar reasons. Finally the matrix should be of a plastic that remains chemically and physically stable during and after the reinforcement and moulding processes. To be suitable as reinforcement material, fibre additives must increase the tensile strength and modulus of elasticity of the matrix and meet the following conditions; fibres must exceed critical fibre content; the strength and rigidity of fibres itself must exceed the strength and rigidity of the matrix alone; and there must be optimum bonding between fibres and matrix
Further information: Fibreglass
"Fibreglass reinforced plastics" or FRPs (commonly referred to simply as fibreglass) use textile grade glass fibres. These textile fibres are different from other forms of glass fibres used to deliberately trap air, for insulating applications (see glass wool). Textile glass fibres begin as varying combinations of SiO2, Al2O3, B2O3, CaO, or MgO in powder form. These mixtures are then heated through direct melting to temperatures around 1300 degrees Celsius, after which dies are used to extrude filaments of glass fibre in diameter ranging from 9 to 17 µm. These filaments are then wound into larger threads and spun onto bobbins for transportation and further processing. Glass fibre is by far the most popular means to reinforce plastic and thus enjoys a wealth of production processes, some of which are applicable to aramid and carbon fibres as well owing to their shared fibrous qualities.
Roving is a process where filaments are spun into larger diameter threads. These threads are then commonly used for woven reinforcing glass fabrics and mats, and in spray applications.
Fibre fabrics are web-form fabric reinforcing material that has both warp and weft directions. Fibre mats are web-form non-woven mats of glass fibres. Mats are manufactured in cut dimensions with chopped fibres, or in continuous mats using continuous fibres. Chopped fibre glass is used in processes where lengths of glass threads are cut between 3 and 26 mm, threads are then used in plastics most commonly intended for moulding processes. Glass fibre short strands are short 0.2–0.3 mm strands of glass fibres that are used to reinforce thermoplastics most commonly for injection moulding.