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Composite Materials
M. Knight
D. Curliss
Air Force Research Laboratory

I. Characteristics
II. Constituent Materials
III. Properties of Composites
IV. Analysis of Composites
V. Fabrication of Composites
VI. Uses of Composites

GLOSSARY Isotropic Having uniform properties in all directions. The

measured properties are independent of the axis of
Advanced composites Composite materials applicable testing.
to aerospace construction and consisting of a high- Lamina Single ply or layer in a laminate made of a series
strength, high-modulus fiber system embedded in an of layers.
essentially homogeneous matrix. Laminate Unit made by bonding together two or more
Anisotropic Not isotropic; having mechanical and/or layers or laminae of materials.
physical properties that vary with direction relative to Matrix Essentially homogeneous material in which the
a natural reference axis inherent in the materials. reinforcement system of a composite is embedded.
Balanced laminate Composite laminate in which all Orthotropic Having three mutually perpendicular planes
laminae at angles other than 0◦ and 90◦ occur only of elastic symmetry.
in ±pairs. Transversely isotropic Material having identical proper-
Constituent In general, an element of a larger grouping. ties along any direction in a transverse plane.
In advanced composites, the principal constituents are Woven fabric composite Form of composite in which
the fibers and the matrix. the reinforcement consists of woven fabric.
Cure To change the properties of a thermosetting resin 1, or x, axis Axis in the plane of the laminate that is used
irreversibly by chemical reaction. as the 0◦ reference for designating the angle of a lamina.
Fiber Single homogeneous strand of material, essentially 2, or y, axis Axis in the plane of the laminate that is
one-dimensional in the macrobehavior sense. perpendicular to the x axis.
Interface Boundary between the individual, physically 3, or z, axis Reference axis normal to the plane of the
distinguishable constituents of a composite. laminate x, y axes.

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456 Composite Materials

Composites occur very commonly in nature. Some of

the best examples are wood, bone, various minerals, mol-
lusk shells, and insect exoskeletons. In wood, the cellulose
fibers of the cell wall are “glued” together by the lignin
matrix. Bone is composed of calcium hydroxyapatite crys-
tals in a protein matrix. Mollusk shells are composites of
calcium carbonate layers in various geometries bound to-
gether by a multilayer matrix. Insect exoskeletons bear a
striking resemblance to man-made fiber-reinforced com-
posites. Some insects even exhibit apparent “layers” of
fibrous chitin embedded in a protein matrix, where the
orientation of the fibers varies from layer to layer, much
as we might design a man-made fiber-reinforced compos-
ite. This example of a natural composite can be clearly
seen in Fig. 2. Modern materials engineers have used the
FIGURE 1 Cross section of a graphite fiber–reinforced epoxy composite concept—reinforcement in a matrix—to create
polymer. a class of modern materials that offers opportunities sig-
nificantly greater than those of more common engineering
A COMPOSITE MATERIAL is described in this chap- Composites can be made of a such a wide variety of
ter as a material composed of two or more distinct phases materials that it is impractical to discuss each one indi-
and the interfaces between them. At a macroscopic scale, vidually. One of the principal characteristics of all com-
the phases are indistinguishable, but at some microscopic posites is that they have a reinforcement phase distinct
scales, the phases are clearly separate, and each phase ex- from the matrix phase. The individual characteristics of
hibits the characteristics of the pure material. In this chap- the two phases combine to give the composite its unique
ter, we are only describing the characteristics, analysis, properties.
and processing of high-performance structural composite Classes of materials commonly used for reinforcements
materials. This special class of composites always consists are glasses, metals, polymers, ceramics, and graphite. The
of a reinforcing phase and a matrix phase. The reinforcing reinforcement can be in many forms, such as continuous
phase is typically a graphite, glass, ceramic, or polymer fibers or filaments, chopped fibers, woven fibers or yarns,
fiber, and the matrix is typically a polymer, but may also particles, or ribbons. The criteria for selecting the type and
be ceramic or metal. The fibers provide strength and stiff- form of reinforcement vary in accordance with the design
ness to the composite component, while the matrix serves requirement for the composite. However, certain general
to bind the reinforcements together, distribute mechani- qualities are desirable, including high strength, high mod-
cal loads through the part, provide a means to process the ulus, light weight, environmental resistance, good elonga-
material into a net shape part, and provide the primary tion, low cost, good handleability, and ease of manufac-
environmental resistance of the composite component. In ture. By far, the most widely used reinforcement is E-glass.
Fig. 1, we can see the distinct cross section of graphite
fibers in an epoxy matrix.


Many materials can be classified as composites. They are

composed of several distinctly different and microscopi-
cally identifiable substances. Composites are widely used
in many industries and applications today, driven by the
need for strong, lightweight materials. The composites
reduce weight and allow for designs that tailor the me-
chanical properties of the material to meet the loading
requirements of the structure. In addition, composites are
replacing traditional engineering materials in many indus-
trial, recreational, architectural, transportation, and infras- FIGURE 2 Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of a
tructure applications. bessbeetle (Odontotaenius disjunctus) elytra fracture surface.
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Composite Materials 457

E-glass offers excellent strength, compatibility with com- The matrix influences the service temperature, ser-
mon matrix polymers, and is very low in cost. Various vice environment, and fabrication process for composites.
types of graphite fibers are commonly used in aerospace Compatibility with the reinforcement is a consideration in
and the recreational products industry, where light weight selecting the matrix. The matrix must adhere to the rein-
and maximum material performance are very important to forcement and be capable of distributing the loads applied
the designer. to the composite.
The matrix binds the reinforcement together and en- The properties of a composite can be tailored by the
hances the distribution of the applied load within the engineer to provide a wide range of responses, which
composite. Polymeric materials are widely used as ma- increases their usefulness. Composites can be made to
trix materials. Two general classes of polymers are used: exhibit some interesting responses when loaded: They
thermosets and thermoplastics. Thermosets are initially can be designed to twist and bend when loaded in
low molecular weight molecules that are often viscous liq- plane and to extend or contract when loaded in bend-
uids at room temperature—what we commonly think of ing. Analysis approaches are available for predicting these
as “resins.” Their low viscosity and fluid behavior make responses.
them very suitable to low-cost processing. The thermoset There are many processes for the fabrication of com-
resins undergo chemical reactions when heated (or ini- posites. These often result in reduction in number of parts,
tiated by some other energy source such as UV light, reduction in production time, and savings in overall manu-
electron beam, or microwave) and form a high molecu- facturing cost. The number of industries using composites
lar weight cross-linked polymer. In contrast, thermoplas- and the various uses of composites continues to grow. It is
tics are high molecular weight linear polymers that are difficult to foresee what the future of this class of materials
fully formed prior to processing as a composite matrix. will be.
When heated to temperatures well above their glass tran-
sition temperature, Tg , they soften and exhibit a viscos-
ity low enough to flow and consolidate the composite. II. CONSTITUENT MATERIALS
In general, they must be heated to much higher tempera-
tures than thermosets, exhibit much higher melt viscosity, A composite can contain several chemical substances.
and require higher pressures to form well-consolidated There are additives, for example, to improve processability
composite laminates. Thermoplastics offer some advan- and serviceability. However, the two principal constituents
tages such as reprocessability, recyclability, and, in gen- that are always present in advanced composites are the ma-
eral, higher toughness. However, thermoplastics also have trix and the reinforcement. Generally, they are combined
several limitations that have restricted their wider ac- without chemical reaction and form separate and distinct
ceptance as matrix materials for fiber-reinforced com- phases. Ideally, the reinforcement is uniformly distributed
posites. Thermoplastics have lower solvent resistance throughout the matrix phase. The combination of the prop-
than thermosets and require more expensive process- erties of the reinforcement, the form of the reinforcement,
ing equipment, there are fewer commercially available the amount of reinforcement, and matrix properties gives
thermoplastic matrix preforms available than for ther- the composite its characteristic properties.
mosets, and modern toughened thermosets offer simi- The matrix phase contributes to several characteristics
lar performance to thermoplastic matrix composites. For of the composite. The matrix provides some protection
such economic and performance reasons, thermoplastics for the reinforcement from deleterious environmental con-
are not widely used as thermosets for advanced compos- ditions such as harmful chemicals. The matrix plays an
ite matrix polymers. Other matrix materials are metals, important role in determining the physical and thermo-
ceramics, glasses, and carbon. They perform the same physical properties of the composite. In continuous fila-
function in composites as the polymer matrix. These ma- ment, unidirectionally reinforced composites, the proper-
terials (with the exception of carbon) are still experimen- ties transverse to the filaments are strongly influenced by
tal, and their combined fraction of the composite matrix the properties of the matrix. The distribution of the ap-
materials market is insignificant. Carbon has been used plied load throughout the composite is influenced by the
since the 1970s for exotic high-temperature ablative ap- properties of the matrix.
plications such as rocket motor nozzles. The Properties of Table I shows typical values of selected properties
Composites and Analysis of Composites sections of this of common matrix materials. The properties are tensile
article are general and apply to these developmental com- strength, F tu , Young’s modulus, E t , total strain (or strain-
posite materials. The Processing and Applications sec- to-failure), εt , coefficient of thermal expansion, α, and
tions, however, are concerned only with polymer matrix specific gravity. It can be seen that there is a wide varia-
composites. tion in these values between types of matrix materials.
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458 Composite Materials

TABLE I Matrix Materials

Property Epoxy Polyimide Polyester Polysulfone ether ketone Al 2024 Ti 6-4

E tu (MPa) 6.2–103 90 21–69 69 69 414 924

E t (GPa) 2.8–3.4 2.8 3.4–5.6 2.8 3.6 72 110
εt (%) 4.5 7–9 0.5–5.0 50–100 2.0 10 8
α (10−6 m m−1 K−1 ) 0.56 0.51 0.4–0.7 0.56 0.5 24 9.6
Specific gravity 1.20 1.43 1.1–1.4 1.24 1.2 2.77 4.43

There is great variety in polymers typically used for fabric, chopped fibers, and random fiber mats. These rein-
composite matrix materials. As discussed earlier, ther- forcement forms typically reduce the mechanical perfor-
mosets and thermoplastics make up the two general fam- mance compared to unidirectional fibers, but offer ben-
ilies of engineering polymers; but there are many differ- efits in fabrication. Glass, graphite, and polymeric fibers
ent polymers within each family that exhibit very diverse are generally produced as bundles of many filaments of
properties, depending on their chemical composition. very small diameter. Metal, boron, and ceramic reinforce-
Thermosets are generally named for the characteristic re- ments are usually single fibers. After fabrication, fibers
active group of the resin (e.g., epoxy, maleimide), whereas are processed with surface treatments for protection during
thermoplastics are generally named for either their build- handling and weaving and also for chemical compatibility
ing block (“mer” unit; e.g., polystyrene, polyethylene, with the matrix systems. After forming and treating, the fil-
polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride) or for a characteristic aments are typically wound on spools for use by manufac-
repeating chemical group within the thermoplastic poly- turers in fabricating composites, producing unidirectional
mer (e.g., polysulfone, polyimide). It is more appropriate preforms, or weaving into various geometries of textile
to refer to the matrix polymer as a resin system, the system preforms.
being a mixture of the base polymer (or thermoset resin Table II lists the properties of some of the fibers, mea-
and curing agents). Diluents, fillers, tougheners, and other sured in the longitudinal direction (along the axis of the
modifiers are sometimes added to the resin system to al- fiber), used in composite materials: tensile strength F tu ,
ter viscosity, increase toughness, modify reactivity of the Young’s modulus E t , coefficient of expansion α, strain-to-
thermosets, or change other properties of the base poly- failure εt , diameter, and density ρ. Mechanical properties
mer system. Because there are so many starting combina- transverse to the longitudinal axis are not shown. Because
tions, it is easy to see how there can be a wide variation of the small diameter of the fibers, transverse properties
in the properties of materials in the same general class are not measured directly. Variations in the fiber proper-
(e.g., based on the same basic polymer, but with different ties can be caused by several factors. There can be vari-
additives). The other principal constituent of a composite ations in the composition of the starting material such as
is the reinforcement. There are several types of materi- in E-, S-, and C-glass fibers. There can be variations in
als, and their various forms are used as reinforcements. processing such as in the way the processing temperature
The continuous fiber has been used most extensively for is changed to vary the strength and modulus of graphite
the development of advanced composites. This form of fibers. Also, the difficulty of performing mechanical test-
reinforcement provides the highest strength and modu- ing on fibers contributes to uncertainty and scatter in the
lus. It can be used to make other forms such as woven measured properties of fibers.

TABLE II Fiber Materials

Property Boron Carbon Graphite Aramid Alumina carbide E-glass S-glass

E tu (MPa) 2.8–3.4 0.4–2.1 0.81–3.6 2.8 1.4 3.3 3.4 4.6

E t (GPa) 379–414 241–517 34–552 124 345–379 427 69 83
α (10−6 m m−1 K−1 ) 4.9 −0.09 −0.09 −4.0 3.4 .40 5.1 3.4
ρ (g cm−3 ) 2.5–3.3 1.55 1.55 1.60 3.90 3.07 2.55 2.5
Diameter (10−3 m) 0.05–0.2 0.008 0.008 0.013 0.38–0.64 0.14 0.005–0.013 0.009–0.010
ε t (%) 0.67 1.0–2.0 0.4–2.0 2.5 0.4 0.6 4.8 5.4
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Composite Materials 459

The reinforcement is the main load-bearing phase of the properties of the lamina and some factors that influence
composite. It provides strength and stiffness. There is a them. Next, the properties of laminates will be discussed.
direct relationship between an increase in volume fraction The lamina is made of one thickness of reinforcement
of reinforcement and an increase in strength and stiffness embedded in the matrix. The elastic and strength proper-
of the composite material. This relationship depends on ties of the reinforcement and the elastic and strength prop-
the assumption of compatibility with the matrix and on erties of the matrix combine to give the lamina its prop-
the existence of good bonding to the fibers. erties. In addition to the properties of the constituents, the
The reinforcement and matrix are combined either be- amount of reinforcement, the form of the reinforcement,
fore or at the time of fabrication of the composite. This and the orientation and distribution of the reinforcement
depends on the fabrication process. A common practice in all influence the properties of the lamina.
making continuous-fiber-reinforced laminates is to com- The reinforcement provides the strength and stiffness
bine the constituents before fabrication into a continuous of the composite. Increasing the amount of reinforcement
“tapelike” preform that is used much like broadgoods in increases the strength and stiffness of the composite in the
that shapes are cut out of the preform and fabricated into direction parallel to the reinforcement. The effect of the
parts. To produce this preform product, fibers are com- form of the reinforcement is not as simple. However, some
bined with resin, typically by drawing the fiber bundle general observations can be made. Laminae reinforced
through a resin or resin solution bath. Several bundles of by long, continuous, parallel fibers have greater strength
resin-impregnated fibers are then aligned and spread into and stiffness than laminae reinforced by short, randomly
very thin layers (0.127 mm thick) on a release ply back- oriented fibers. Woven fiber–reinforced laminae usually
ing. The resin is usually partially cured during produc- have greater strength perpendicular to the principal fiber
tion of the preform to reduce its “tackiness” and improve direction than do unwoven fiber–reinforced laminae. The
the handleability of the preform. This tapelike preform is strength and stiffness of laminae reinforced by unwoven
known as prepreg, or unidirectional tape. It is an expen- continuous fibers decrease as the angle of loading changes
sive method for producing a preform, but the preform is from parallel to the fibers to perpendicular to the fibers.
a continuous, well-characterized, well-controlled method Table III shows typical values for some properties of
to combine the matrix resin and the reinforcing fiber. Af- composite materials made of unwoven continuous fiber
ter prepregging, the material is usually stored in a freezer reinforcements. The table shows the strength and elastic
to retard the chemical reaction until the material is used. properties of a laminate made of several laminae stacked
If the matrix system is a thermoplastic polymer, then no on top of one another with all the fibers aligned in the same
reaction can occur, and the material may be stored indefi- direction. The properties in the direction parallel to the
nitely at room temperature. These layers of unidirectional fibers are much greater than the properties in the direction
fibers and resin are used to make laminates by stacking perpendicular to the fibers. This variation of properties
many layers in directions specified by the engineer. The with the orientation of the lamina axis is called anisotropy.
number of “plies” in a laminate and the direction of fibers The single lamina serves as a building block. The en-
in each layer is dependent on the mechanical properties gineer can select the orientation and number of each of
required for the part. the laminae in a laminate and design the laminate such
The next two sections, Properties of Composites and that it has the required response. This designing of a lam-
Analysis of Composites, describe how an engineer would inate has some interesting implications that the engineer
design a composite laminate to have the properties needed should understand. Two important factors are balance and
for an application. It is exactly this tailorability that makes symmetry.
composites attractive for engineering applications. Balance and symmetry simplify the analysis of the lam-
inate and give it more conventional response characteris-
tics. Balance in a laminate means that for each lamina with
III. PROPERTIES OF COMPOSITES a positive angle of orientation there must be a lamina with
an equal negative angle of orientation. Both laminae must
In many of the applications in which composite materi- have the same mechanical and physical characteristics.
als are used, they can be considered to be constructed of This is important in controlling the laminate’s overall re-
several layers stacked on top of one another. These layers, sponse to loading both in service and in fabrication. Sym-
or laminae, typically exhibit properties similar to those metry means that for every lamina above the midplane of
of orthotropic materials. Orthotropic materials have three the laminate there is a lamina an equal distance below the
mutually perpendicular planes of material property sym- midplane that is of the same type with the same orienta-
metry. Figure 3 shows a lamina with its coordinate system tion. Symmetry also influences the laminate response to
and two of the planes of symmetry. We will first discuss the loads.
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460 Composite Materials

TABLE III Typical Properties of Composite Materials: Laminates Reinforced With Unidirectional
Continuous Fibers

E-glass Aramid Graphite Boron

Property Unit epoxy epoxy epoxy epoxy

Parallel to the fibers

Tensile strength σxT MPa 1100 1380 1240 1296
Tensile modulus E xT GPa 39.3 75.8 131 207
Poisson’s ratio νxy — 0.25 0.34 0.25 0.21
Total strain ε T % 2.2 1.8 1.21 0.66
Compressive strength σxc MPa 586 276 1100 2426
Compressive modulus E xc GPa 39.3 75.8 131 221
Shear strength τx y MPa 62.0 44.1 62.0 132
Shear modulus G x y GPa 3.45 2.07 4.83 6.2
Transverse to the fibers
Tensile strength σyT MPa 34.5 27.6 41.4 62.7
Tensile modulus E yT GPa 8.96 5.5 6.2 18.6
Compressive strength σ yc MPa 138 138 138 310
Compressive modulus E yc GPa 8.96 5.5 6.2 24.1
Specific gravity — 2.08 1.38 1.52 2.01
Fiber volume V f % ∼50 ∼60 ∼62 ∼50

FIGURE 3 Lamina coordinate axis and planes of symmetry.

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Composite Materials 461

FIGURE 4 Orientation and location of laminae in a laminate.

If a laminate is not balanced and symmetrical, it will approach to performing stress analysis of composites is
twist or bend when in-plane loads are applied. Laminates presented.
may also extend or contract when bending loads are ap- The emphasis has been focused on unidirectional fiber-
plied. Whether the results are good or bad depends on reinforced composites. The lamina or ply form of ad-
whether they were planned or unplanned during the de- vanced composites has been developed into the basic unit
sign of the laminate. Figure 4 shows how the laminae are for analysis. Most of the structural applications of ad-
oriented and stacked in a laminate. vanced composites involve material in a laminated form.
The laminates are constructed of plies or laminae laid up
to a designed configuration (see Fig. 4).
IV. ANALYSIS OF COMPOSITES The approach to the analysis of composites starts with
the lamina and its elastic properties. Then these are related
Composite materials are complex. The properties of the to the geometry of the lay-up for the laminate. The elas-
constituents are different, and the fiber properties are tic properties and orientation of the laminae are used to
anisotropic. The composite may also be constructed by calculate the modulus and stiffness of the laminate. The
layers, with the fiber directions varying layer to layer. constitutive relationship and a selected failure criterion are
Analysis of the mechanical properties of such laminates used to estimate failure.
is a sophisticated process; research into better methods In developing the analysis of the lamina, several as-
to predict composite performance is being pursued. How- sumptions were made. It was assumed that (1) the fibers
ever, acceptable engineering analysis methods have been and matrix were bonded together, (2) the lamina was void
developed that allow structural parts to be designed with free, (3) the lamina’s thickness was small in comparison
composite materials. Further research is required to de- with its width and length, (4) the lamina was a homoge-
velop sound engineering methods to predict failure in neous orthotropic material, and (5) the fibers were uni-
composite materials, especially when subjected to se- formly distributed within the matrix.
vere environments that may degrade the matrix, the re- The lamina is analyzed as a macroscopic, homoge-
inforcement, or the interfaces of the composite material. neous, orthotropic material in a plane stress condition. If
In this section, a brief summary of the currently accepted the coordinate axes for the laminate are oriented parallel
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462 Composite Materials

and transverse to the fiber axis (see Fig. 3), the constitutive lamina in the laminate coordinate systems. This is done
equation relating stress α and strain ε is through a transformation. By a combination of mathemat-
     ical transformation and substitution, the following rela-
σ1 Q 11 Q 12 0 ε1
     tionship between stress and strain for an arbitrary lamina
σ =
 2   12 Q Q 22 0   ε2  (1) k is developed:
τ12 0 0 Q 66 γ12      
 σx   Q̄ 11 Q̄ 12 Q̄ 16   εx 
where Q is called the reduced stiffness and is defined as      
 σ y  =  Q̄ 12 Q̄ 22 Q̄ 26   ε y  (6)
E1 E2      
Q 11 = ; Q 22 = τ x y   Q̄ 16 Q̄ 26 Q̄ 66  γx y 
1 − ν12 ν21 1 − ν12 ν21 k k k
ν12 E 2 The Q̄ terms are the components of the stiffness matrix for
Q 12 = ; Q 66 = G 12
1 − ν12 ν21 the lamina referred to an arbitrary axis. They are defined
where E 1 is Young’s modulus in the direction parallel to as
the fibers; E 2 is Young’s modulus in the direction perpen- Q̄ 11 = Q 11 cos4 θ + 2(Q 12 + 2Q 66 ) sin2 θ cos2 θ
dicular to the fibers; ν12 and ν21 are the major Poisson’s
ratio and minor Poisson’s ratio, respectively; and G 12 is + Q 22 sin4 θ
the in-plane shear modulus. Q̄ 22 = Q 11 sin4 θ + 2(Q 12 + 2Q 66 ) sin2 θ cos2 θ
Equation (1) can be inverted to give the form
     + Q 22 cos4 θ
ε1 S11 S11 0 σ1
     Q̄ 12 = (Q 11 + Q 22 − 4Q 66 ) sin2 θ cos2 θ
 ε2  =  S12 S22 0   σ2  (3)
γ12 0 0 S66 τ12 + Q 22 (sin4 θ + cos4 θ ) (7)
where the S terms are the compliance coefficients and are Q̄ 66 = (Q 11 + Q 22 − 2Q 12 − 2Q 66 ) sin2 θ cos2 θ
defined as
+ Q 66 (sin4 θ + cos4 θ )
S11 = 1/E t ; S22 = 1/E 2
S12 = −ν12 /E 1 ; S66 = 1/G 12
(4) Q̄ 16 = (Q 11 − Q 12 − 2Q 66 ) sin2 θ cos3 θ

Equation (4) relates the compliance coefficients to the en- + (Q 12 − Q 22 + 2Q 66 ) sin3 θ cos θ
gineering constants. These can be determined by mechan- Q̄ 26 = (Q 11 − Q 12 − 2Q 66 ) sin2 θ cos θ
ical testing. Also, estimates of the engineering constants
can be made by using equations developed by microme- + (Q 12 − Q 22 + 2Q 66 ) sin θ cos3 θ
chanics. In this approach, the properties of the constituents where θ is the ply angle according to the Tsai convention
are used in equations for the engineering constants. These (see Fig. 4). Counterclockwise rotations are positive and
are clockwise rotations are negative.
E 1 = E f V f + E m Vm The constitutive relationships for the lamina and linear
small deformation theory were used to develop the analy-
ν12 = ν f V f + νm Vm
sis for composite structures. Some assumptions that were
P/Pm = (1 + ξ ηV f )/(1 − ηV f ) (5) made are as follows: (1) The laminae are bonded together,
and they do not slip relative to one another when load is
(P f /Pm ) − 1
η= applied; (2) the normals to the undeformed midplane of
(P f /Pm ) + ξ the laminate are straight, and they remain so with no
where V f , Vm are the volume fraction of the fiber and ma- change in length after deformation; (3) the thickness of
trix, respectively; ν f , νm are Poisson’s ratio of the fiber and the plate is small compared with the length and width; and
matrix, respectively; P is the composite modulus E 2 , G 12 , (4) the strain in the thickness direction is negligible. The
or G 23 ; P f is the corresponding fiber modulus E f , G f , or in-plane strain is assumed constant for all the laminae. The
ν f , respectively; Pm is the corresponding matrix modulus stress varies from lamina to lamina. As a simplification,
E m , G m , or νm , respectively; and ξ is a factor related to the force and moment resultants were defined. The force
the arrangement and geometry of the reinforcement; for resultants N x , N y , and N x y were defined as the sum of the
square packing ξ = 2, and for hexagonal packing ξ = 1. laminae stresses per unit width. The moment resultants
Because not all laminae in a laminate are oriented with Mx , M y , and Mx y were defined as the sum of the respec-
the fibers parallel or transverse to the laminate coordinate tive stresses, times the area over which they act, multiplied
axis x–y, there must be a way to find the properties of the by the appropriate moment arm. The in-plane strains at the
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Composite Materials 463

midplane, εx0 , ε 0y , and γx0y , and the curvatures, κx , κ y , and strains, curvatures, forces, or moments are known in a
κx y , are related to the resultants as shown in Eq. (8). given situation.
    The definitions for the elements of the [ A], [B], and [D]
Nx    ε0
x matrices are
N  A 11 A 12 A 16  B 11 B 12 B 16  ε0 
 y  A 

B12 B22 B26   0y   

   12 A22 A26 

 Nx y  

 γ  Ai j = ( Q̄ i j )k (h k − h k−1 ) (9)
   A16 A26 A66 B16 B26 B66   x y 

 - - -  - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - -- - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - -

   

 M   B11 B12 B16 D11 D12 D16    1

 x 

  κx 

   B12 B22 B26

D12 D22 D26    Bi j = ( Q̄ i j )k h 2k − h 2k−1 (10)
 My  

 κy  2 k=1
B16 B26 B66 D16 D26 D66
Mx y 
κx y 1

Di j = ( Q̄ i j )k h 3k − h 3k−1 (11)
(8) 3 k=1
where N x , N y , and N x y are force resultants; Mx , M y , and Figure 5 shows how k and h are defined for the laminae.
Mx y are moment resultants; [A] is the in-plane stiffness The force resultants and moment resultants are defined
matrix for a laminate; [B] is the coupling stiffness matrix as
for a laminate; [D] is the bending stiffness matrix for a    
laminate; εx0 , ε 0y , and γx0y are the strains at the laminate ge- Nx h/2 σx
   
ometric mid-plane; and κx , κ y , and κx y are the curvatures  Ny  =  σ y  dz (12)
of the laminate. Nx y τx y
Examination of Eq. (8) shows that the [A] matrix is the
coefficients for the in-plane strains. The [B] matrix re- and
   
lates the curvatures to the force resultants and the in-plane Mx h/2 σx
strains to the moment resultants. The [D] matrix relates    
 My  =  σ y  z dz (13)
the curvatures to the moment resultants. Equation (8) can −h/2
be partially or fully inverted, depending on whether the Mx y τx y

FIGURE 5 Relationship of laminae to the laminate coordinates.

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464 Composite Materials

FIGURE 6 Force resultants on an element.

where σx , σ y , and τx y are the stresses in the laminate co- pled” means that in-plane loads generate only in-plane
ordinate system and z is the distance from the midplane in responses, and bending loads generate only bending re-
the direction normal to the midplane. Figures 6 and 7 show sponses. The [B] can be made zero if for each lamina
how the force and monment resultants act on an element above the midplane there is a lamina with the same proper-
in the laminate. ties, orientation, and thickness located at the same distance
Equation (8) is the constitutive equation for a general below the midplane. This is significant not only in sim-
laminated plate. Significant simplifications of Eq. (8) are plifying the calculations but also in the physical response
possible. If the [B] is made zero, the set of equations for to load and in fabrication. If the [B] is zero, the laminate
the stress and moment resultants is uncoupled. “Uncou- will not warp when cured, and no bending will be induced

FIGURE 7 Moment resultants on an element (following the right-hand rule).

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Composite Materials 465

when the laminate is under in-plane loads. Equation (8) sophisticated techniques with complex molds, woven 3D
becomes reinforcement preforms, and artificial intelligence–guided
     computer-controlled resin infusion and curing. The con-
Nx A11 A12 A16 εx0
    0  figuration of the part, along with the basic manufactur-
 N y  =  A12 A22 A26   ε y  (14) ing considerations such as volume, production speed, and
Nx y A16 A26 A66 γx0y market conditions, determine whether a part will be built
and in open or closed molds, by compression molding, or by
     an automated system. Composite fabrication technologies
Mx D11 D12 D16 k x0 can be classified as either open or closed molding, the
    0 
M =
 y   D12 D22 D26   k y  (15) choice of appropriate technique being governed by fac-
Mx y D16 D26 D66 k x0y tors mentioned earlier.
We can group most of the processes into two classes:
In the preceding discussion, only the elastic properties open molding and closed molding. The main distinction
of the laminate were considered. The elastic behavior of is that open molds are one piece and use low pressure or
a laminate can be used to analyze the strength behavior no pressure, and closed molds are two pieces and can be
of a laminate. To determine the strength of a laminate, we used with higher pressure.
need a failure criterion for the lamina. It is assumed that
the response of the lamina will be the same when it is in the
laminate under the same stresses or strains. The strength A. Open-Mold Processes
of the laminate will be related to the strength of the indi- Open-mold processes such as spray-up, wet hand lay-up,
vidual lamina. The general approach is to determine the autoclave, filament winding, vacuum infusion, pultrusion,
force and moment resultants or the mid-plane strains and or combinations of these techniques are the most com-
curvatures for the laminate by using the laminate plate mon open-mold methods to produce composite products.
equation or an inverted form. The stress or strain is cal- Many products are suited to these manufacturing methods,
culated for each lamina in the laminate axis system, and including aerospace structures, tanks, piping, boat hulls
then it is transformed into the lamina axis system for each and structures, recreational vehicle components, commer-
lamina and the failure criteria applied to determine if fail- cial truck cabs and components, structural members, and
ure occurred in the lamina. If the first-ply failure concept plumbing applications (e.g., tubs, showers, pools, and
for the laminates is applied, the laminate is considered to spas).
have failed when the first lamina fails. No single approach In spray-up and wet hand lay-up open molding, the
has been universally accepted for strength analysis of lam- mold surface typically has a high-quality finish and is the
inates after first-ply failure. visual surface of the finished part. Common to all open
molding techniques is mold preparation. To prepare the
mold surface prior to spray-up, hand lay-up, or vacuum
V. FABRICATION OF COMPOSITES infusion, the mold is treated with a release agent to aid
in composite part removal and then may be coated with a
Fabrication of components from composite materials is “gel coat” (a color-tinted layer of resin that becomes the
somewhat different from that using traditional engineer- visual surface of the finished part).
ing materials in that the properties of a composite are In spray-up fabrication, the thermoset resin is sprayed
highly dependent on the geometry of the reinforcement. into the prepared mold simultaneously with chopped re-
The structural designer must consider the issues associ- inforcing fiber. The random sprayed-up mat of fiber and
ated with processing the composite part to ensure that resin may then be compacted with hand rollers prior to
reinforcement volume fraction, reinforcement geometry, cure to produce a more dense part. A hand lay-up com-
and other material properties can be produced economi- ponent, the resin, and reinforcement (usually a fabric or
cally. The diversity of composite applications has stimu- random fiber mat) are laid into the mold, compacted with
lated the development of a wide range of techniques for rollers, and allowed to cure. Often hand lay-up is combined
fabricating structural composites. In fact, one of the prin- with spray-up techniques depending on the structural re-
cipal reasons for the success of composites is the ease of quirements of the part. Fiber volumes of 15 to 25% are
fabrication and the many different processes with widely typically achieved with these techniques. There are sev-
varying levels of sophistication and cost that are avail- eral variations of the basic process. A vacuum bag made
able for their production. Structural and decorative com- of a nonporous, nonadhering material can be placed over
posites can be fabricated with techniques ranging from the lay-up. Then a vacuum is drawn inside the bag. The
very crude hand lay-up processes without molds to very atmospheric pressure outside the bag eliminates the voids
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466 Composite Materials

and forces out entrapped air and excess resin. Another ap- Another process that is used extensively is filament
proach is to use a pressure bag. The bag is placed against winding. The concept of wrapping filaments around arti-
the lay-up and the mold covered with a pressure plate. Air cles to improve their performance is very old. The modern
or steam pressure is applied between the bag and the plate. practice of filament winding was developed in response
Vacuum infusion is an open molding process that is very to the requirements for lightweight pressure vessels. Fila-
suitable for large components for many important reasons. ment winding uses continuous reinforcement to maximize
Vacuum infusion uses an airtight membrane over the en- the use of fiber strength. Preimpregnated tape, or a single
tire part to provide vacuum pressure on the reinforcement strand that has passed through a resin bath, is wound onto a
and to prevent any volatile resin products from escaping mandrel in a prescribed pattern. Design and winding tech-
into the atmosphere. The resin is introduced after the en- nique allow the maximum fiber strength to be developed
tire reinforcement is laid into the mold and the vacuum in the direction desired. When the winding is completed,
membrane is in place; this reduces some issues associated the assembly is cured either at room temperature or in an
with the working time of the resin prior to cure. Finally, oven. After cure, the mandrel is removed. This process
higher volume fractions of reinforcement are achievable provides for a high level of fiber content.
since the reinforcement is compacted by vacuum pres- The process of pultrusion is the opposite of extrusion.
sure and only the minimum amount of resin necessary is The reinforcement is passed through a resin bath and then
added. Reinforcement volume fractions up to 70% have pulled through a die that controls the resin content and
been reported. final shape. The die can be heated to cure the resin, or the
An open-mold technique that is widely used in the material can be passed through an oven for curing.
aerospace industry and is slightly different from the pre-
ceding processes is autoclaving. One difference in this
B. Closed-Mold Processes
process is that the entire assembly (the lay-up and sup-
porting unit) is placed inside an autoclave. An autoclave The closed-mold processes use a two-part mold or die.
is a large pressure vessel that is used to provide heat and When the two parts are put together, they form a cavity
pressure to the lay-up during cure. Autoclaves are usually in the shape of the article to be molded. The molds are
cylindrical, with an end that opens for full access to the usually made of metal with smooth cavity surfaces. Higher
interior. They have provision to pull vacuum on the lay- pressures and temperatures than those in open molding
up assembly, and they often have multiple temperature are usually used. The processes produce very accurate
sensors that are used to monitor the temperature of the moldings. Most of the processes are attractive for mass
part during cure. The curing takes place under pressure, production.
1–10 bar (15–150 psi), and at elevated temperature. The Matched die molding is a closed-mold process. There
lay-up assembly is slightly different (Fig. 8). The top sur- are variations to this process. The main variations con-
face of the lay-up is covered with a perforated or porous cern the form of the starting material and the manner in
release film, and if necessary bleeder plies of dry cloth which it is introduced into the mold. In some cases, the
are added to absorb excess resin. Then the assembly is reinforcement is first made into a preform and placed into
sealed within a nonporous sheet material and placed into the mold and then a metered amount of resin is added—
the autoclave. The application of pressure and control of this is known as resin transfer molding, or RTM. RTM is a
temperature is critical. This process offers better quality widely used technique for production of components that
control than other low- or no-pressure molding processes. require accurate dimensional tolerances, since the outer

FIGURE 8 Cross section of the composite laminate lay-up and vacuum bagging processing method.
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Composite Materials 467

surface of the part is determined by the tool surface. In Fabrication processes for other matrix materials are im-
other cases, a resin–reinforcement mixture is made and a portant for the use and continued development of these
premeasured amount placed into the mold. The molding composites. However, not as much work has been done in
compound can be introduced automatically or manually. these areas. The use of these materials represents a small
The molding temperatures range from 100◦ C (212◦ F) to part of the overall uses of composite materials.
140◦ C (284◦ F). Pressures range from 7 to 20 bar. Cure
cycles can be as short as minutes.
The selection of a fabrication process depends on sev- VI. USES OF COMPOSITES
eral factors, including the materials to be processed, the
size and design of the article, the number of articles, and Composite materials have been introduced into almost ev-
the rate of production. Processes differ in their capacity ery industry in some form or fashion. We shall look at some
to use different forms of reinforcement and to achieve of the advantages of using composites and discuss some
the proper distribution and amount of reinforcement. The of the industries that have made used of these materials.
chemistry and rheology of the resin are important factors The wide range of property values attained with com-
in process selection. Closed molds require higher temper- posites and the ability to tailor the properties is an ad-
atures and pressures. vantage. Composite materials also generally have higher
The size and shape of the article to be produced affect strength- and modulus-to-weight ratios than traditional en-
the selection. Very large articles such as boat hulls and gineering materials. These features can reduce the weight
vehicle bodies and components are more easily and eco- of a system by as much as 20 to 30%. The weight savings
nomically produced in open-mold processes. Small gears translates into energy savings or increased performance.
and precision electrical parts are more suitably produced Advanced composites exhibit desirable dynamic proper-
in closed molds. Shapes that are surfaces of revolution are ties and have high creep resistance and good dampening
ideal for filament winding. Very large cylindrical contain- characteristics. In fact, the superior fatigue performance
ers have been fabricated by this process. In most open- of composite materials enables them to be used to repair
mold processes, the molds are made of low-cost materials metallic airframes with fatigue damage.
and are easily fabricated but have shorter lives. Autoclave Since composite materials can be manufactured into
processing of composites, while considered an open-mold almost any shape, they allow great design flexibility and
technique, requires accurate, robust tools because of the offer reduced parts count for articles. The opportunity to
relatively high temperatures and pressures used in the select the constituents, tailor them to obtain the required
autoclave. Autoclave techniques are well suited to large properties, and then through design make the optimum use
structural components for aerospace applications; hence, of the properties is a situation that makes composites very
dimensional accuracy of the tools is critical. Open-mold, attractive to many industries.
hand lay-up processes have higher labor cost. If one is The matrix polymer can impart great chemical and cor-
making a large number of parts and requires high pro- rosion resistance to composites. The transportation indus-
duction rates, mold life and labor cost are important fac- try has made extensive use of composite materials. The
tors. Open-mold processes are usually more costly in these light weight and high strength and the ability to easily
two areas than closed-mold processes. Also, some closed- manufacture aerodynamic shapes have resulted in lower
mold processes can be automated. fuel costs. The lack of corrosion of the materials and the
Automating the fabrication of advanced composites and low maintenance cost have reduced the cost of ownership
improving processing science for composites are two cur- and extended the service life of many parts and products.
rent goals. The advantages of advanced composites are Examples of products in this industry include auto and
lighter weight, higher strength- and modulus-to-weight truck bodies and parts, trailers, tanks, special-purpose ve-
ratios, flexibility in design and fabrication, and usually hicles, and manufacturing equipment.
fewer parts per component. Automating the fabrication Composites have added new dimensions to the design
process could result in a reduction in labor cost and an and construction of buildings. Their ease of manufacture,
improvement in quality. The computer-aided manufactur- light weight, high strength, low maintenance, decorative-
ing technology could be utilized to reduce the total labor ness, and functionality have had a significant impact on
hours. The application of higher precision control tech- the industry. New-construction time has been reduced and
nology could improve quality and lower rejection rates. more flexibility has been added to the design of structures.
Work in processing science should result in increased un- Composite materials affected the marine industry very
derstanding of the cure process, which will aid the de- early in their development, and their influence contin-
velopment of resin systems and automating production ues to grow. Lack of corrosion, low maintenance, and
cycles. design flexibility have contributed to the acceptance of
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468 Composite Materials

composites. The ease of fabricating very large and strong The use of composite materials will continue to grow.
articles in one piece has been another. In addition to plea- As more engineers come to understand composites, more
sure boats, large military and commercial boats and ship opportunities will be recognized for their use. As the use of
hulls have been fabricated. Large tanks for fuel, water, composites increases, more developments will take place
and cargo have been used aboard ships. Composites have in the areas of constituent materials, analysis, design, and
made the greatest impact in the sporting goods industry, fabrication. Composite materials offer tremendous for tai-
replacing traditional materials at a revolutionary pace. Ap- lorability, design flexibility, and low-cost processing with
plications such as golf club shafts, fishing poles, tennis low environment impact. These attributes create a very
rackets, skiing equipment, boating applications, and many bright future composite materials.
other sports equipment products are now produced almost
exclusively using advanced composites. In most cases, the SEE ALSO THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES
change in material has translated into an improvement in
performance or safety for participants. ADHESION AND ADHESIVES • BIOPOLYMERS • CAR-
The aerospace and military markets are the two areas BON FIBERS • FRACTURE AND FATIGUE • METAL MA-
that have accounted for the largest effort in the develop- TRIX COMPOSITES • POLYMERS, MECHANICAL BEHAV-
ment and advancement in composite technology. The need IOR • POLYMERS, THERMALLY STABLE • SANDWICH
for stronger, stiffer, and lighter structures was an opportu- COMPOSITES
nity for composite materials to demonstrate their superi-
ority over more commonly used materials. Durability and
low maintenance are additional assets. These increase the BIBLIOGRAPHY
service life and reduce the cost of maintaining systems.
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in manufacturing cost. There have been reductions in the Hull, D. (1981). “An Introduction to Compositive Materials,” Cambridge
number of parts required to construct some components University Press, London.
by using molding and composite materials. The unique Jones, R. M. (1975). “Mechanics of Composite Materials,” Scripta Book
features of composites have enabled designers to formu- Company, Washington, D.C.
late advanced systems that could be made only of com- Sih, G. C., and Hsu, S. E. (1987). “Advanced Composite Materials and
Structures,” VNU Science Press, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
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utilize advanced composites for structure. Rocket motor Dayton, OH.
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ondary structure components such as fairings, doors, and Whitney, J. M., Daniel, I. M., and Pipes, R. B. (1982). “Experimental
Mechanics of Fiber Reinforced Composite Materials,” Society for
access panels are also fabricated from advanced compos- Experimental Stress Analysis, Brookfield Center, CT.
ites. Numerous pressure vessels, armaments, and items of Industry Overview: FRP Materials, Manufacturing Methods and Mar-
space hardware are made of selected composite materials. kets, (1999). Composites Technol. 5, 6–20.