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Structural Composite Materials

Copyright 2010, ASM International

F.C. Campbell All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Introduction to Composite Materials

A composite material can be defined sheets of continuous fibers in different orienta-

as a combination of two or more materials that tions to obtain the desired strength and stiffness
results in better properties than those of the indi- properties with fiber volumes as high as 60 to
vidual components used alone. In contrast to 70 percent. Fibers produce high-strength com-
metallic alloys, each material retains its separate posites because of their small diameter; they con-
chemical, physical, and mechanical properties. tain far fewer defects (normally surface defects)
The two constituents are a reinforcement and a compared to the material produced in bulk. As a
matrix. The main advantages of composite ma- general rule, the smaller the diameter of the fiber,
terials are their high strength and stiffness, com- the higher its strength, but often the cost increases
bined with low density, when compared with as the diameter becomes smaller. In addition,
bulk materials, allowing for a weight reduction smaller-diameter high-strength fibers have greater
in the finished part. flexibility and are more amenable to fabrication
The reinforcing phase provides the strength processes such as weaving or forming over radii.
and stiffness. In most cases, the reinforcement is Typical fibers include glass, aramid, and carbon,
harder, stronger, and stiffer than the matrix. The which may be continuous or discontinuous.
reinforcement is usually a fiber or a particulate. The continuous phase is the matrix, which is a
Particulate composites have dimensions that are polymer, metal, or ceramic. Polymers have low
approximately equal in all directions. They may strength and stiffness, metals have intermediate
be spherical, platelets, or any other regular or ir- strength and stiffness but high ductility, and ce-
regular geometry. Particulate composites tend to ramics have high strength and stiffness but are
be much weaker and less stiff than continuous- brittle. The matrix (continuous phase) performs
fiber composites, but they are usually much less several critical functions, including maintaining
expensive. Particulate reinforced composites usu- the fibers in the proper orientation and spacing
ally contain less reinforcement (up to 40 to 50 and protecting them from abrasion and the envi-
volume percent) due to processing difficulties ronment. In polymer and metal matrix compos-
and brittleness. ites that form a strong bond between the fiber
A fiber has a length that is much greater than and the matrix, the matrix transmits loads from
its diameter. The length-to-diameter (l/d) ratio is the matrix to the fibers through shear loading at
known as the aspect ratio and can vary greatly. the interface. In ceramic matrix composites, the
Continuous fibers have long aspect ratios, while objective is often to increase the toughness rather
discontinuous fibers have short aspect ratios. than the strength and stiffness; therefore, a low
Continuous-fiber composites normally have a interfacial strength bond is desirable.
preferred orientation, while discontinuous fibers The type and quantity of the reinforcement
generally have a random orientation. Examples determine the final properties. Figure 1.2 shows
of continuous reinforcements include unidirec- that the highest strength and modulus are ob-
tional, woven cloth, and helical winding (Fig. tained with continuous-fiber composites. There is
1.1a), while examples of discontinuous rein- a practical limit of about 70 volume percent rein-
forcements are chopped fibers and random mat forcement that can be added to form a composite.
(Fig. 1.1b). Continuous-fiber composites are At higher percentages, there is too little matrix to
often made into laminates by stacking single support the fibers effectively. The theoretical
2 / Structural Composite Materials

Fig. 1.1 Typical reinforcement types

strength of discontinuous-fiber composites can a low-viscosity resin that reacts and cures during
approach that of continuous-fiber composites processing, forming an intractable solid. A ther-
if their aspect ratios are great enough and they moplastic is a high-viscosity resin that is pro-
are aligned, but it is difficult in practice to main- cessed by heating it above its melting tempera-
tain good alignment with discontinuous fibers. ture. Because a thermoset resin sets up and cures
Discontinuous-fiber composites are normally during processing, it cannot be reprocessed by
somewhat random in alignment, which dramati- reheating. By comparison, a thermoplastic can
cally reduces their strength and modulus. How- be reheated above its melting temperature for ad-
ever, discontinuous-fiber composites are gen ditional processing. There are processes for both
erally much less costly than continuous-fiber classes of resins that are more amenable to dis-
composites. Therefore, continuous-fiber com- continuous fibers and others that are more ame-
posites are used where higher strength and stiff- nable to continuous fibers. In general, because
ness are required (but at a higher cost), and metal and ceramic matrix composites require
discontinuous-fiber composites are used where very high temperatures and sometimes high pres-
cost is the main driver and strength and stiffness sures for processing, they are normally much
are less important. more expensive than polymer matrix composites.
Both the reinforcement type and the matrix af- However, they have much better thermal stabil-
fect processing. The major processing routes for ity, a requirement in applications where the com-
polymer matrix composites are shown in Fig. 1.3. posite is exposed to high temperatures.
Two types of polymer matrices are shown: ther- This book will deal with both continuous and
mosets and thermoplastics. A thermoset starts as discontinuous polymer, metal, and ceramic matrix
Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 3

Fig. 1.2 Influence of reinforcement type and quantity on composite performance

Fig. 1.3 Major polymer matrix composite fabrication processes

4 / Structural Composite Materials

composites, with an emphasis on continuous- material is anisotropic (for example, the compos-
fiber, high-performance polymer composites. ite ply shown in Fig. 1.5), it has properties that
vary with direction within the material. In this
example, the moduli are different in each direc-
tion (E0 E45 E90). While the modulus of
1.1 Isotropic, Anisotropic, and elasticity is used in the example, the same depen-
Orthotropic Materials dence on direction can occur for other material
properties, such as ultimate strength, Poissons
Materials can be classified as either isotropic ratio, and thermal expansion coefficient.
or anisotropic. Isotropic materials have the same Bulk materials, such as metals and polymers,
material properties in all directions, and normal are normally treated as isotropic materials, while
loads create only normal strains. By compari- composites are treated as anisotropic. However,
son, anisotropic materials have different mate- even bulk materials such as metals can become
rial properties in all directions at a point in the anisotropicfor example, if they are highly cold
body. There are no material planes of symmetry, worked to produce grain alignment in a certain
and normal loads create both normal strains and direction.
shear strains. A material is isotropic if the prop- Consider the unidirectional fiber-reinforced
erties are independent of direction within the composite ply (also known as a lamina) shown
material. in Fig. 1.6. The coordinate system used to de-
For example, consider the element of an iso- scribe the ply is labeled the 1-2-3 axes. In this
tropic material shown in Fig. 1.4. If the material case, the 1-axis is defined to be parallel to the
is loaded along its 0, 45, and 90 directions, fibers (0), the 2-axis is defined to lie within the
the modulus of elasticity (E) is the same in each plane of the plate and is perpendicular to the fi-
direction (E0 = E45 = E90). However, if the bers (90), and the 3-axis is defined to be normal

Fig. 1.4 Element of isotropic material under stress

Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 5

Fig. 1.5 Element of composite ply material under stress

Fig. 1.6 Ply angle definition

6 / Structural Composite Materials

to the plane of the plate. The 1-2-3 coordinate Consider the unidirectional composite shown
system is referred to as the principal material in the upper portion of Fig. 1.7, where the unidi-
coordinate system. If the plate is loaded parallel rectional fibers are oriented at an angle of 45 de-
to the fibers (one- or zero-degree direction), the grees with respect to the x-axis. In the small,
modulus of elasticity E11 approaches that of the isolated square element from the gage region, be-
fibers. If the plate is loaded perpendicular to cause the element is initially square (in this ex-
the fibers in the two- or 90-degree direction, the ample), the fibers are parallel to diagonal AD of
modulus E22 is much lower, approaching that of the element. In contrast, fibers are perpendicular
the relatively less stiff matrix. Since E11 >> E22 to diagonal BC. This implies that the element is
and the modulus varies with direction within the stiffer along diagonal AD than along diagonal
material, the material is anisotropic. BC. When a tensile stress is applied, the square
Composites are a subclass of anisotropic mate- element deforms. Because the stiffness is higher
rials that are classified as orthotropic. Ortho- along diagonal AD than along diagonal BC, the
tropic materials have properties that are different length of diagonal AD is not increased as much
in three mutually perpendicular directions. They as that of diagonal BC. Therefore, the initially
have three mutually perpendicular axes of sym- square element deforms into the shape of a par-
metry, and a load applied parallel to these axes allelogram. Because the element has been dis-
produces only normal strains. However, loads torted into a parallelogram, a shear strain gxy is
that are not applied parallel to these axes produce induced as a result of coupling between the axial
both normal and shear strains. Therefore, ortho- strains exx and eyy.
tropic mechanical properties are a function of If the fibers are aligned parallel to the direc-
orientation. tion of applied stress, as in the lower portion of

Fig. 1.7 Shear coupling in a 45 ply. Source: Ref 1

Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 7

Fig. 1.7, the coupling between exx and eyy does ites are normally laminated materials (Fig. 1.8)
not occur. In this case, the application of a ten- in which the individual layers, plies, or laminae
sile stress produces elongation in the x-direction are oriented in directions that will enhance the
and contraction in the y-direction, and the dis- strength in the primary load direction. Unidirec-
torted element remains rectangular. Therefore, tional (0) laminae are extremely strong and stiff
the coupling effects exhibited by composites occur in the 0 direction. However, they are very weak
only if stress and strain are referenced to a non in the 90 direction because the load must be car-
principal material coordinate system. Thus, when ried by the much weaker polymeric matrix.
the fibers are aligned parallel (0) or perpendic- While a high-strength fiber can have a tensile
ular (90) to the direction of applied stress, the strength of 500 ksi (3500 MPa) or more, a typical
lamina is known as a specially orthotropic lam- polymeric matrix normally has a tensile strength
ina ( = 0 or 90). A lamina that is not aligned of only 5 to 10 ksi (35 to 70 MPa) (Fig. 1.9). The
parallel or perpendicular to the direction of ap- longitudinal tension and compression loads are
plied stress is called a general orthotropic lam- carried by the fibers, while the matrix distributes
ina ( 0 or 90). the loads between the fibers in tension and stabi-
lizes the fibers and prevents them from buckling
in compression. The matrix is also the primary
1.2 Laminates load carrier for interlaminar shear (i.e., shear be-
tween the layers) and transverse (90) tension.
When there is a single ply or a lay-up in which The relative roles of the fiber and the matrix in
all of the layers or plies are stacked in the same detemining mechanical properties are summa-
orientation, the lay-up is called a lamina. When rized in Table 1.1.
the plies are stacked at various angles, the lay-up Because the fiber orientation directly impacts
is called a laminate. Continuous-fiber compos- mechanical properties, it seems logical to orient

Fig. 1.8 Lamina and laminate lay-ups

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Fig. 1.9 Comparison of tensile properties of fiber, matrix, and composite

Table 1.1Effect of fiber and matrix on 1.3 Fundamental Property Relationships

mechanical properties
Dominating composite constituent When a unidirectional continuous-fiber lam-
Mechanical property Fiber Matrix ina or laminate (Fig. 1.11) is loaded in a di
Unidirectional rection parallel to its fibers (0 or 11-direction),
0 tension
0 compression the longitudinal modulus E11 can be estimated
Shear from its constituent properties by using what is
90 tension known as the rule of mixtures:

E11 = EfVf + EmVm (Eq 1.1)
In-plane shear
Interlaminar shear where Ef is the fiber modulus, Vf is the fiber vol-
ume percentage, Em is the matrix modulus, and
Vm is the matrix volume percentage.
The longitudinal tensile strength s11 also can
as many of the layers as possible in the main be estimated by the rule of mixtures:
load-carrying direction. While this approach
may work for some structures, it is usually nec- s11 = sVf + smVm (Eq 1.2)
essary to balance the load-carrying capability
in a number of different directions, such as the where sf and sm are the ultimate fiber and ma-
0, +45, -45, and 90 directions. Figure 1.10 trix strengths, respectively. Because the proper-
shows a photomicrograph of a cross-plied con- ties of the fiber dominate for all practical vol-
tinuous carbon fiber/epoxy laminate. A balanced ume percentages, the values of the matrix can
laminate having equal numbers of plies in the often be ignored; therefore:
0, +45, 45, and 90 degrees directions is
called a quasi-isotropic laminate, because it car- E11 EfVf (Eq 1.3)
ries equal loads in all four directions. s11 sVf (Eq 1.4)
Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 9

Fig. 1.10 Cross section of a cross-plied carbon/epoxy laminate

Fig. 1.11 Unidirectional continuous-fiber lamina or laminate

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Figure 1.12 shows the dominant role of the fi- n12 = nfVf + nmVm (Eq 1.6)
bers in determining strength and stiffness. When 1/G12 = Vf /Gf + Vm/Gm (Eq 1.7)
loads are parallel to the fibers (0), the ply is
much stronger and stiffer than when loads are These expressions are somewhat less useful
transverse (90) to the fiber direction. There is a than the previous ones, because the values for
dramatic decrease in strength and stiffness re- Poissons ratio (nf) and the shear modulus (Gf)
sulting from only a few degrees of misalignment of the fibers are usually not readily available.
off of 0. Physical properties, such as density (r), can
When the lamina shown in Fig. 1.11 is loaded also be expressed using rule of mixture relations:
in the transverse (90 or 22-direction), the fibers
and the matrix function in series, with both car- r12 = rfVf + rmVm (Eq 1.8)
rying the same load. The transverse modulus of
elasticity E22 is given as: While these micromechanics equations are
useful for a first estimation of lamina properties
1/E22 = Vf /Ef + Vm/Em (Eq 1.5) when no data are available, they generally do not
yield sufficiently accurate values for design pur-
Figure 1.13 shows the variation of modulus as poses. For design purposes, basic lamina and
a function of fiber volume percentage. When the laminate properties should be determined using
fiber percentage is zero, the modulus is essen- actual mechanical property testing.
tially the modulus of the polymer, which in-
creases up to 100 percent (where it is the modu-
lus of the fiber). At all other fiber volumes, the 1.4 Composites versus Metallics
E22 or 90 modulus is lower than the E11 or zero
degrees modulus, because it is dependent on the As previously discussed, the physical character-
much weaker matrix. istics of composites and metals are significantly
Other rule of mixture expressions for lamina different. Table 1.2 compares some properties of
properties include those for the Poissons ratio composites and metals. Because composites are
n12 and for the shear modulus G12: highly anisotropic, their in-plane strength and

Fig. 1.12 Influence of ply angle on strength and modulus

Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 11

Fig. 1.13 Variation of composite modulus of a unidirectional 0 lamina as a function of fiber volume fraction

Table 1.2 Composites versus metals Metals typically have reasonable ductility, con-
comparison tinuing to elongate or compress considerably
Condition Comparative behavior relative to metals when they reach a certain load (through yielding)
Load-strain relationship More linear strain to failure without picking up more load and without fail-
Notch sensitivity ure. Two important benefits of this ductile yield-
Static Greater sensitivity
Fatigue Less sensitivity ing are that (1) it provides for local load relief by
Transverse properties Weaker distributing excess load to an adjacent material
Mechanical property Higher
or structure; therefore, ductile metals have a great
Fatigue strength Higher capacity to provide relief from stress concentra-
Sensitivity to hydrothermal Greater tions when statically loaded; and (2) it provides
Sensitivity to corrosion Much less great energy-absorbing capability (indicated by
Damage growth mechanism In-plane delamination instead of the area under a stress-strain curve). As a result,
through thickness cracks
when impacted, a metal structure typically de-
Source: Ref 2 forms but does not actually fracture. In contrast,
composites are relatively brittle. Figure 1.15
shows a comparison of typical tensile stress-strain
curves for two materials. The brittleness of the
stiffness are usually high and directionally vari- composite is reflected in its poor ability to toler-
able, depending on the orientation of the rein- ate stress concentrations, as shown in Fig. 1.16.
forcing fibers. Properties that do not benefit from The characteristically brittle composite material
this reinforcement (at least for polymer matrix has poor ability to resist impact damage without
composites) are comparatively low in strength extensive internal matrix fracturing.
and stiffnessfor example, the through-the- The response of damaged composites to cyclic
thickness tensile strength where the relatively loading is also significantly different from that of
weak matrix is loaded rather than the high- metals. The ability of composites to withstand
strength fibers. Figure 1.14 shows the low cyclic loading is far superior to that of metals, in
through-the-thickness strength of a typical com- contrast to the poor composite static strength
posite laminate compared with aluminum. when it has damage or defects. Figure 1.17
12 / Structural Composite Materials

Fig. 1.14 Comparison of through-the-thickness tensile strength of a composite laminate with aluminum alloy sheet. Source: Ref 3

Fig. 1.15 Comparison of typical stress-strain curves for a composite laminate and aluminum alloy sheet. Source: Ref 3
Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 13

Fig. 1.16  ompared with aluminum alloy sheet, a composite laminate has poor tolerance of stress concentration because of its
brittle nature. Source: Ref 3

Fig. 1.17 Comparative notched fatigue strength of composite laminate and aluminum alloy sheet. Source: Ref 3
14 / Structural Composite Materials

shows a comparison of the normalized notched The specific strength (strength/density) and
specimen fatigue response of a common 7075- specific modulus (modulus/density) of high-
T6 aluminum aircraft metal and a carbon/epoxy strength fibers (especially carbon) are higher
laminate. The fatigue strength of the composite than those of other comparable aerospace metal-
is much higher relative to its static or residual lic alloys (Fig. 1.18). This translates into greater
strength. The static or residual strength require- weight savings resulting in improved perfor-
ment for structures is typically much higher than mance, greater payloads, longer range, and fuel
the fatigue requirement. Therefore, because the savings. Figure 1.19 compares the overall struc-
fatigue threshold of composites is a high percent- tural efficiency of carbon/epoxy, Ti-6Al-4V, and
age of their static or damaged residual strength, 7075-T6 aluminum.
they are usually not fatigue critical. In metal The chief engineer of aircraft structures for
structures, fatigue is typically a critical design the U.S. Navy once told the author that he liked
consideration. composites because they dont rot [corrode]
and they dont get tired [fatigue]. Corrosion
of aluminum alloys is a major cost and a con-
1.5 Advantages and Disadvantages of stant maintenance problem for both commer-
Composite Materials cial and military aircraft. The corrosion resis-
tance of composites can result in major savings
The advantages of composites are many, in- in supportability costs. Carbon fiber composites
cluding lighter weight, the ability to tailor the lay- cause galvanic corrosion of aluminum if the fi-
up for optimum strength and stiffness, improved bers are placed in direct contact with the metal
fatigue life, corrosion resistance, and, with good surface, but bonding a glass fabric electrical
design practice, reduced assembly costs due to insulation layer on all interfaces that contact
fewer detail parts and fasteners. aluminum eliminates this problem. The fatigue

Fig. 1.18 Comparison of specific strength and modulus of high-strength composites and some aerospace alloys
Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 15

Fig. 1.19 Relative structural efficiency of aerospace materials

resistance of composites compared to high- bly cost is another major cost driver, accounting
strength metals is shown in Fig. 1.20. As long for about 50 percent of the total part cost. As pre-
as reasonable strain levels are used during de- viously stated, one of the potential advantages of
sign, fatigue of carbon fiber composites should composites is the ability to cure or bond a number
not be a problem. of detail parts together to reduce assembly costs
Assembly costs can account for as much as and the number of required fasteners.
50 percent of the cost of an airframe. Compos- Temperature has an effect on composite me-
ites offer the opportunity to significantly reduce chanical properties. Typically, matrix-dominated
the amount of assembly labor and the number of mechanical properties decrease with increas
required fasteners. Detail parts can be combined ing temperature. Fiber-dominated properties are
into a single cured assembly either during initial somewhat affected by cold temperatures, but the
cure or by secondary adhesive bonding. effects are not as severe as those of elevated
Disadvantages of composites include high raw temperature on the matrix-dominated properties.
material costs and usually high fabrication and Design parameters for carbon/epoxy are cold-
assembly costs; adverse effects of both tempera- dry tension and hot-wet compression (Fig. 1.22).
ture and moisture; poor strength in the out-of- An important design factor in the selection of a
plane direction where the matrix carries the pri- matrix resin for elevated-temperature applica-
mary load (they should not be used where load tions is the cured glass transition temperature.
paths are complex, such as with lugs and fittings); The cured glass transition temperature (Tg) of a
susceptibility to impact damage and delamina- polymeric material is the temperature at which it
tions or ply separations; and greater difficulty in changes from a rigid, glassy solid into a softer,
repairing them compared to metallic structures. semiflexible material. At this point, the polymer
The major cost driver in fabrication for a com- structure is still intact but the crosslinks are no
posite part using conventional hand lay-up is the longer locked in position. Therefore, the Tg de-
cost of laying up or collating the plies. This cost is termines the upper use temperature for a com-
generally 40 to 60 percent of the fabrication cost, posite or an adhesive and is the temperature
depending on part complexity (Fig. 1.21). Assem- above which the material will exhibit significantly
16 / Structural Composite Materials

Fig. 1.20 Fatigue properties of aerospace materials

reduced mechanical properties. Since most ther- rate of moisture absorption. Absorbed mois-
moset polymers will absorb moisture that se- ture reduces the matrix-dominated mechani-
verely depresses the Tg, the actual use tempera- cal properties and causes the matrix to swell,
ture should be about 50 F (30 C) lower than the which relieves locked-in thermal strains from
wet or saturated Tg. elevated-temperature curing. These strains can
be large, and large panels fixed at their edges
Upper Use Temperature = Wet Tg 50 F (Eq 1.9) can buckle due to strains caused by swelling.
During freeze-thaw cycles, absorbed moisture
In general, thermoset resins absorb more mois- expands during freezing, which can crack the
ture than comparable thermoplastic resins. matrix, and it can turn into steam during thermal
The cured glass transition temperature (Tg) spikes. When the internal steam pressure ex-
can be determined by several methods that are ceeds the flatwise tensile (through-the-thickness)
outlined in Chapter 3, Matrix Resin Systems. strength of the composite, the laminate will
The amount of absorbed moisture (Fig. 1.23) delaminate.
depends on the matrix material and the relative Composites are susceptible to delaminations (ply
humidity. Elevated temperatures increase the separations) during fabrication, during assembly,
Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 17

Fig. 1.21 Cost drivers for composite hand lay-up. NDI, nondestructive inspection

and in service. During fabrication, foreign mate- through the laminates, forming a complex net-
rials such as prepreg backing paper can be inad- work of delaminations and matrix cracks, as
vertently left in the lay-up. During assembly, shown in Fig. 1.24. Depending on the size of the
improper part handling or incorrectly installed delamination, it can reduce the static and fatigue
fasteners can cause delaminations. In service, strength and the compression buckling strength.
low-velocity impact damage from dropped tools If it is large enough, it can grow under fatigue
or forklifts running into aircraft can cause dam- loading.
age. The damage may appear as only a small Typically, damage tolerance is a resin-domi-
indentation on the surface but it can propagate nated property. The selection of a toughened
18 / Structural Composite Materials

Fig. 1.22 Effects of temperature and moisture on strength of carbon/epoxy. R.T., room temperature

resin can significantly improve the resistance 1.6 Applications

to impact damage. In addition, S-2 glass and
aramid fibers are extremely tough and damage Applications include aerospace, transpor
tolerant. During the design phase, it is impor- tation, construction, marine goods, sporting
tant to recognize the potential for delamina- goods, and more recently infrastructure, with
tions and use sufficiently conservative design construction and transportation being the largest.
strains so that a damaged structure can be In general, high-performance but more costly
repaired. continuous-carbon-fiber composites are used
Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 19

Fig. 1.23 Absorption of moisture for polymer matrix composites. RH, relative humidity

where high strength and stiffness along with drove the development of much of the technology
light weight are required, and much lower-cost now being used by other industries. Both small
fiberglass composites are used in less demand- and large commercial aircraft rely on composites
ing applications where weight is not as critical. to decrease weight and increase fuel performance,
In military aircraft, low weight is king for the most striking example being the 50 percent
performance and payload reasons, and compos- composite airframe for the new Boeing 787
ites often approach 20 to 40 percent of the air- (Fig. 1.26). All future Airbus and Boeing aircraft
frame weight (Fig. 1.25). For decades, helicop- will use large amounts of high-performance
ters have incorporated glass fiberreinforced composites. Composites are also used exten-
rotor blades for improved fatigue resistance, and sively in both weight-critical reusable and ex-
in recent years helicopter airframes have been pendable launch vehicles and satellite structures
built largely of carbon-fiber composites. Mili- (Fig. 1.27). Weight savings due to the use of
tary aircraft applications, the first to use high- composite materials in aerospace applications
performance continuous-carbon-fiber composites, generally range from 15 to 25 percent.
20 / Structural Composite Materials

Fig. 1.24 Delaminations and matrix cracking in polymer matrix composite due to impact damage

The major automakers (Fig. 1.28) are in- For high-performance Formula 1 racing cars,
creasingly turning to composites to help them where cost is not an impediment, most of the
meet performance and weight requirements, chassis, including the monocoque, suspension,
thus improving fuel efficiency. Cost is a major wings, and engine cover, is made from carbon
driver for commercial transportation, and com- fiber composites.
posites offer lower weight and lower mainte- Corrosion is a major headache and expense for
nance costs. Typical materials are fiberglass/ the marine industry. Composites help minimize
polyurethane made by liquid or compression these problems, primarily because they do not
molding and fiberglass/ polyester made by corrode like metals or rot like wood. Hulls of
compression molding. Recreational vehicles boats ranging from small fishing boats to large
have long used glass fibers, mostly for their du- racing yachts (Fig. 1.29) are routinely made of
rability and weight savings over metal. The glass fibers and polyester or vinyl ester resins.
product form is typically fiberglass sheet mold- Masts are frequently fabricated from carbon fiber
ing compound made by compression molding. composites. Fiberglass filament-wound SCUBA
Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 21

Fig. 1.25 Typical fighter aircraft applications. Source: The Boeing Company

tanks are another example of composites im- In the United States alone, it is estimated that
proving the marine industry. Lighter tanks can more than 250,000 structures, such as bridges
hold more air yet require less maintenance than and parking garages, need repair, retrofit, or re-
their metallic counterparts. Jet skis and boat trail- placement. Composites offer much longer life
ers often contain glass composites to help mini- with less maintenance due to their corrosion re-
mize weight and reduce corrosion. More re- sistance. Typical processes/materials include wet
cently, the topside structures of many naval ships lay-up repairs and corrosion-resistant fiberglass
have been fabricated from composites. pultruded products.
Using composites to improve the infrastruc- In construction (Fig. 1.31), pultruded fiber-
ture (Fig. 1.30) of our roads and bridges is a rela- glass rebar is used to strengthen concrete, and
tively new, exciting application. Many of the glass fibers are used in some shingling materials.
worlds roads and bridges are badly corroded and With the number of mature tall trees dwindling,
in need of continual maintenance or replacement. the use of composites for electrical towers and
22 / Structural Composite Materials

Fig. 1.26 Boeing 787 Dreamliner commercial airplane. Source: The Boeing Company

Fig. 1.27 Launch and spacecraft structures

Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 23

Fig. 1.28 Transportation applications

light poles is greatly increasing. Typically, these improve electrical energy generation efficiency.
are pultruded or filament-wound glass. These blades can be as long as 120 ft (37 m) and
Wind power is the worlds fastest-growing en- weigh up to 11,500 lb (5200 kg). In 2007, nearly
ergy source. The blades for large wind turbines 50,000 blades for 17,000 turbines were deliv-
(Fig. 1.32) are normally made of composites to ered, representing roughly 400 million pounds
24 / Structural Composite Materials

Fig. 1.29 Marine applications

(approximately 180 million kg) of composites. Tennis racquets (Fig. 1.33) have been made of
The predominant material is continuous glass glass for years, and many golf club shafts are
fibers manufactured by either lay-up or resin made of carbon. Processes include compression
infusion. molding for tennis racquets and tape wrapping or
Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 25

Fig. 1.30 Infrastructure applications

filament winding for golf shafts. Lighter, stron- forming is a snowboard, which typically involves
ger skis and surfboards also are possible using the use of a sandwich construction (composite
composites. Another example of a composite ap- skins with a honeycomb core) for maximum spe-
plication that takes a beating yet keeps on per- cific stiffness.
26 / Structural Composite Materials

With the number of mature tall trees dwindling, the use of composites
for electrical towers and light poles is greatly increasing.

Fig. 1.31 Construction applications

Although metal and ceramic matrix com are used where high temperatures are involved.
posites are normally very expensive, they have However, the much higher temperatures and
found uses in specialized applications such pressures required for the fabrication of
as those shown in Fig. 1.34. Frequently, they metal and ceramic matrix composites lead
Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 27

Fig. 1.32 Composite clean energy generation

to very high costs, which severely limits their tance. They are used in aerospace, automotive,
application. marine, sporting goods, and, more recently, infra-
Composites are not always the best solution. structure applications. The major disadvantage
An example is the avionics rack for an ad- of composites is their high cost. However, the
vanced fighter aircraft shown in Fig. 1.35. This proper selection of materials (fiber and matrix),
part was machined from a single block of alu- product forms, and processes can have a major
minum in about 8.5 hours and assembled into impact on the cost of the finished part.
the final component in five hours. Such a part
made of composites would probably not be cost
competitive. References
Advanced composites are a diversified and
growing industry due to their distinct advantages 1. M.E. Tuttle, Structural Analysis of Poly-
over competing metallics, including lighter meric Composite Materials, Marcel Dekker,
weight, higher performance, and corrosion resis- Inc., 2004
28 / Structural Composite Materials

Fig. 1.33 Sporting goods applications

Fig. 1.34 Metal and ceramic matrix composite applications

Chapter 1: Introduction to Composite Materials / 29

Fig. 1.35  omposites are not always the best choice. This avionics rack machined from an aluminum alloy block would not be
cost-competitive if made of composites. Source: The Boeing Company

2. M.C.Y. Niu, Composite Airframe Struc- Selected References

tures, 2nd ed., Hong Kong Conmilit Press
Limited, 2000 High-Performance Composites Sourcebook
3. R.E. Horton and J.E. McCarty, Damage 2009, Gardner Publications Inc

Tolerance of Composites, Engineered Ma- S.K. Mazumdar, Composites Manufacturing:
terials Handbook, Vol 1, Composites, ASM Materials, Product, and Process Engineer-
International, 1987 ing, CRC Press, 2002