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Module 1: Introduction to Composites

Lecture 1: Definition and



There is an unabated quest for new materials which will satisfy the specific
requirements for various applications like structural, medical, house-hold, industrial,
construction, transportation, electrical; electronics, etc. Metals are the most
commonly used materials in these applications. In the yore of time, there have been
specific requirements on the properties of these materials. It is impossible of any
material to fulfill all these properties. Hence, newer materials are developed. In the
course, we are going to learn more about composite materials. First, we will deal
with primary understanding of these materials and then we will learn the mechanics
of these materials.

In the following lectures, we will introduce the composite materials, their evolution;
constituents; fabrication; application; properties; forms, advantages-disadvantages
etc. In the present lecture we will introduce the composite materials with a formal
definition, need for these materials, their constituents and forms of constituents.

Definition of a Composite Material

A composite material is defined as a material which is composed of two or more

materials at a microscopic scale and has chemically distinct phases.

Thus, a composite material is heterogeneous at a microscopic scale but statistically

homogeneous at macroscopic scale. The materials which form the composite are
also called as constituents or constituent materials. The constituent materials of a
composite have significantly different properties. Further, it should be noted that the
properties of the composite formed may not be obtained from these
constituents. However, a combination of two or more materials with significant
properties will not suffice to be called as a composite material. In general, the
following conditions must be satisfied to be called a composite material:

1. The combination of materials should result in significant property changes.

One can see significant changes when one of the constituent material is in
platelet or fibrous from.
2. The content of the constituents is generally more than 10% (by volume).
3. In general, property of one constituent is much greater than the
corresponding property of the other constituent.

The composite materials can be natural or artificially made materials. In the following
section we will see the examples of these materials.
Why we need these materials?

There is unabated thirst for new materials with improved desired properties. All the
desired properties are difficult to find in a single material. For example, a material
which needs high fatigue life may not be cost effective. The list of the desired
properties, depending upon the requirement of the application, is given below.

1. Strength
2. Stiffness
3. Toughness
4. High corrosion resistance
5. High wear resistance
6. High chemical resistance
7. High environmental degradation resistance
8. Reduced weight
9. High fatigue life
10. Thermal insulation or conductivity
11. Electrical insulation or conductivity
12. Acoustic insulation
13. Radar transparency
14. Energy dissipation
15. Reduced cost
16. Attractiveness

The list of desired properties is in-exhaustive. It should be noted that the most
important characteristics of composite materials is that their properties
are tailorable, that is, one can design the required properties.

Figure 1.1 Types of reinforcement in a composite

History of Composites

The existence of composite is not new. The word “composite” has become very
popular in recent four-five decades due to the use of modern composite materials in
various applications. The composites have existed from 10000 BC. For example, one
can see the article by Ashby [1]. The evolution of materials and their relative
importance over the years have been depicted in Figure 1 of this article. The common
composite was straw bricks, used as construction material.

Then the next composite material can be seen from Egypt around 4000 BC where
fibrous composite materials were used for preparing the writing material. These were
the laminated writing materials fabricated from the papyrus plant. Further, Egyptians
made containers from coarse fibres that were drawn from heat softened glass.

One more important application of composites can be seen around 1200 BC from
Mongols. Mongols invented the so called “modern” composite bow. The history shows
that the earliest proof of existence of composite bows dates back to 3000 BC - as
predicted by Angara Dating. The bow used various materials like wood, horn, sinew
(tendon), leather, bamboo and antler. The horn and antler were used to make the
main body of the bow as it is very flexible and resilient. Sinews were used to join and
cover the horn and antler together. Glue was prepared from the bladder of fish which
is used to glue all the things in place. The string of the bow was made from sinew,
horse hair and silk. The composite bow so prepared used to take almost a year for
fabrication. The bows were so powerful that one could shoot the arrows almost 1.5
km away. Until the discovery of gun-powder the composite bow used to be a very
lethal weapon as it was a short and handy weapon.

As said, “Need is the mother of all inventions”, the modern composites, that is,
polymer composites came into existence during the Second World War. During the
Second World War due to constraint impositions on various nations for crossing
boundaries as well as importing and exporting the materials, there was scarcity of
materials, especially in the military applications. During this period the fighter planes
were the most advanced instruments of war. The light weight yet strong materials
were in high demand. Further, applications like housing of electronic radar
equipments require non-metallic materials. Hence, the Glass Fibre Reinforced
Plastics (GFRP) were first used in these applications. Phenolic resins were used as
the matrix material. The first use of composite laminates can be seen in the Havilland
Mosquito Bomber of the British Royal Air Force.

The composites exist in day to day life applications as well. The most common
existence is in the form of concrete. Concrete is a composite made from gravel, sand
and cement. Further, when it is used along with steel to form structural components in
construction, it forms one further form of composite. The other material is wood which
is a composite made from cellulose and lignin. The advanced forms of wood
composites can be ply-woods. These can be particle bonded composites or mixture
of wooden planks/blocks with some binding agent. Now days, these are widely used
to make furniture and as construction materials.

An excellent example of natural composite is muscles of human body. The muscles

are present in a layered system consisting of fibers at different orientations and in
different concentrations. These result in a very strong, efficient, versatile and
adaptable structure. The muscles impart strength to bones and vice a versa. These
two together form a structure that is unique. The bone itself is a composite structure.
The bone contains mineral matrix material which binds the collagen fibres together.

The other examples include: wings of a bird, fins of a fish, trees and grass. A leaf of a
tree is also an excellent example of composite structure. The veins in the leaf not only
transport food and water, but also impart the strength to the leaf so that the leaf
remains stretched with maximum surface area. This helps the plant to extract more
energy from sun during photo-synthesis.

What are the constituents in a typical composite?

In a composite, typically, there are two constituents. One of the constituent acts as a
reinforcement and other acts as a matrix. Sometimes, the constituents are also
referred as phases.

What are the types of reinforcements?

The reinforcements in a composite material come in various forms. These are

depicted through Figure 1.1.

Fibre: Fibre is an individual filament of the material. A filament with length to diameter
ratio above 1000 is called a fibre. The fibrous form of the reinforcement is widely
used. The fibres can be in the following two forms:

a. Continuous fibres: If the fibres used in a composite are very

long and unbroken or cut then it forms a continuous fibre
composite. A composite, thus formed using continuous fibres is
called as fibrous composite. The fibrous composite is the most
widely used form of composite.

b. Short/chopped fibres: The fibres are chopped into small pieces

when used in fabricating a composite. A composite with short
fibres as reinforcements is called as short fibre composite.

In the fibre reinforced composites, the fibre is the major load carrying

2. Particulate: The reinforcement is in the form of particles which are of the order
of a few microns in diameter. The particles are generally added to increase the
modulus and decrease the ductility of the matrix materials. In this case, the
load is shared by both particles and matrix materials. However, the load
shared by the particles is much larger than the matrix material. For example, in
an automobile application carbon black (as a particulate reinforcement) is
added in rubber (as matrix material). The composite with reinforcement in
particle form is called a particulate composite.

3. Flake: Flake is a small, flat, thin piece or layer (or a chip) that is broken from a
larger piece. Since these are two dimensional in geometry, they impart almost
equal strength in all directions of their planes. Thus, these are very effective
reinforcement components. The flakes can be packed more densely when they
are laid parallel, even denser than unidirectional fibres and spheres. For
example, aluminum flakes are used in paints. They align themselves parallel to
the surface of the coating which imparts the good properties.

4. Whiskers: These are nearly perfect single crystal fibres. These are short,
discontinuous and polygonal in cross-section.

The classification of composites based on the form of reinforcement is shown in

Figure 1.2. The detailed classification further is given in Figure 1.3. The classification
of particulate composites is depicted further in Figure 1.4. Some of the terms used in
these classifications will be explained in the following paragraphs/lectures.

Figure 1.2: Classification of composites based on reinforcement

Figure 1.3: Classification of fibre composite

Figure 1.4: Classification of particulate


Why are reinforcement made in thin fibre form?

There are various reasons because of which the reinforcement is made in thin fibre
form. These reasons are given below.

a) An important experimental study by Leonardo da Vinci on the tensile strength of iron

wires of various lengths (see references in [2, 3]) is well known to us. In this study it was
revealed that the wires of same diameter with shorter length showed higher tensile
strength than those with longer lengths. The reason for this is the fact that the number
of flaws in a shorter length of wire is small as compared longer length. Further, it is well
known that the strength of a bulk material is very less than the strength of the same
material in wire form.

The same fact has been explored in the composites with reinforcement in fibre form. As
the fibres are made of thin diameter, the inherent flaws in the material decrease. Hence,
the strength of the fibre increases as the fibre diameter decreases. This kind of
experimental study has revealed the similar results [2, 3]. This has been shown in
Figure 1.5 qualitatively.

Figure 1.5: Qualitative variation of fibre tensile strength with fibre


b) The quality of load transfer between fibre and matrix depends upon the surface area
between fibre and matrix. If the surface area between fibre and matrix is more, better is
the load transfer. It can be shown that for given volume of fibres in a composite, the
surface area between fibre and matrix increases if the fibre diameter decreases.

Let be the average diameter of the fibres, be the length of the fibres and be the
number of fibres for a given volume of fibres in a composite. Then the surface area
available for load transfer is


The volume of these fibres in a composite is


Now, let us replace the fibres with a smaller average diameter of such that the volume
of the fibres is unchanged. Then the number of fibres required to maintain the same
fibre volume is


The new surface area between fibre and matrix is


Thus, for a given volume of fibres in a composite, the area between fibre and matrix is
inversely proportional to the average diameter of the fibres.

c) The fibres should be flexible so that they can be bent easily without breaking. This
property of the fibres is very important for woven composites. In woven composites the
flexibility of fibres plays an important role. Ultra thin composites are used in deployable

The flexibility is simply the inverse of the bending stiffness. From mechanics of solids
study the bending stiffness is EI, where is Young’s modulus of the material and is
the second moment of area of the cross section of the fibre. For a cylindrical fibre, the
second moment of area is



Flexibility (1.6)

Thus, from the above equation it is clear that if a fibre is thin, i.e. small in diameter, it is
more flexible.
Lecture 2: Reinforcement: Materials and Forms

What are the types of fibres?

The fibres that are used in the fabrication of a composite can be divided into two
broad categories as follows:

A. Natural fibres and

B. Advanced fibres

A. Natural fibres

The natural fibres are divided into following three sub categories.

o Animal fibers: silk, wool, spider silk, sinew, camel hair, etc.
o Plant/vegetable fibers: cotton (seed), jute (stem), hemp (stem), sisal
(leaf), ramie, bamboo, maize, sugarcane, banana, kapok, coir, abaca,
kenaf, flax, raffia palm, etc.
o Mineral fibers: asbestos, basalt, mineral wool, glass wool.

B. Natural fibres Advanced fibers:

An advanced fibre is defined as a fibre which has a high specific stiffness (that is,
ratio of Young’s modulus to the density of the material, ) and a high specific
strength (that is the ratio of ultimate strength to the density of the material, ).

What are the advanced fibres?

The fibres made from following materials are the advanced fibres.

1. Carbon and/or Graphite

2. Glass fibers
3. Alumina
4. Aramid
5. Silicon carbide
6. Sapphire
Lecture 2: Reinforcement: Materials and Forms

Figure 1.6: Periodic Table showing the materials used in

advanced composites (blue blocks) and conventinal metals
(yellow blocks)

Figure 1.6 shows the periodic table. The conventional metals are shown in yellow
colour whereas the materials of the advanced fibres are shown in blue colour. It can
be seen that the materials of the advanced fibres are lighter than the conventional
metals. These materials occupy higher position as compared to metals in the
periodic table. Thus, one can easily deduce that, in general, these materials have
higher specific properties (property per unit weight) than that of metals.

Boron Fiber

This fibre was first introduced by Talley in 1959 [15]. In commercial production of
boron fibres, the method of Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) is used. The CVD is a
process in which one material is deposited onto a substrate to produce near
theoretical density and small grain size for the deposited material. In CVD the
material is deposited on a thin filament. The material grows on this substrate and
produces a thicker filament. The size of the final filament is such that it could not be
produced by drawing or other conventional methods of producing fibres. It is the fine
and dense structure of the deposited material which determines the strength and
modulus of the fibre.
In the fabrication of boron fibre by CVD, the boron trichloride is mixed with hydrogen
and boron is deposited according to the reaction

In the process, the passage takes place for couple of minutes. During this process,
the atoms diffuse into tungsten core to produce the complete boridization and the
production of and . In the beginning the tungsten fibre of 12 diameter
is used, which increases to 12 . This step induces significant residual stresses in
the fibre. The core is subjected to compression and the neighbouring boron mantle is
subjected to tension.

The CVD method for boron fibres is shown in Figure 1.7.

Figure 1.7: Schematic of reactors for silicon carbide fibres by Chemical

Vapour Deposition

The key features of this fibre are listed below:

 These are ceramic monofilament fiber.

 Fiber itself is a composite.
 Circular cross section.
 Fiber diameter ranges between 33-400 and typical diameter is 140 .
 Boron is brittle hence large diameter results in lower flexibility.
 Thermal coefficient mismatch between boron and tungsten results in thermal
residual stresses during fabrication cool down to room temperature.
 Boron fibres are usually coated with SiC or so that it protects the surface
during contact with molten metal when it is used to reinforce light alloys.
Further, it avoids the chemical reaction between the molten metal and fibre.
 Strong in both tension and compression.
 Exhibits linear axial stress-strain relationship up to 650 .
 Since this fibre requires a specialized procedure for fabrication, the cost of
production is relatively high.
The boron fibre structure and its composite is elucidated in Figure 1.8.

Figure 1.8: Boron fibre structure and its


Carbon Fiber:

The first carbon fibre for commercial use was fabricated by Thomas Edison.

 Sixth lightest element and carbon - carbon covalent bond is the strongest in
 Edison made carbon fiber from bamboo fibers.
 Bamboo fiber is made up of cellulose.
 Precursor fiber is carbonized rather than melting.
 Filaments are made by controlled pyrolysis (chemical deposition by heat) of a
precursor material in fiber form by heat treatment at temperature of 1000-
 The carbon content in carbon fibers is about 80-90 % and in Graphite fibers the
carbon content is in excess of 99%. Carbon fibre is produced at about 1300
while the graphite fibre is produced in excess of 1900 .
 The carbon fibers become graphitized by heat treatment at temperature above
1800 .
 “Carbon fibers” term is used for both carbon fibers and graphite fibers.
 Different fibers have different morphology, origin, size and shape.
 The size of individual filament ranges from 3 to 147 .
 Maximum use of temperature of the fibers ranges from 250 to 2000 .
 The use temperature of a composite is controlled by the use temperature of the
 Precursor materials: There are two types of precursor materials (i)
Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and (ii) rayon pitch, that is, the residue of petroleum
 Fiber properties vary with varying temperature.
 Fiber diameter ranges from 4 to10 .
 A tow consists of about 3000 to 30000 filaments.
 Small diameter results in very flexible fiber and can actually be tied in to a knot
without breaking the fiber.
 Modulus and strength is controlled by the process. The procedure involves the
thermal decomposition of the organic precursor under well controlled conditions
of temperature and stress.
 Cross section of fiber is non-circular, in general, it is kidney bean shape.
 Heterogeneous microstructure consisting of numerous lamellar ribbons.
 Morphology is very dependent on the manufacturing process.
 PAN based carbon fibers typically have an onion skin appearance with the basal
planes in more or less circular arcs, whereas the morphology of pitch-based fiber
is such that the basal planes lie along radial planes. Thus, carbon fibers are

Glass Fibre

 Fibers of glass are produced by extruding molten glass, at a temperature around

1200 through holes in a spinneret with diameter of 1 or 2 mm and then
drawing the filaments to produce fibers having diameters usually between 5 to15
 The fibres have low modulus but significantly higher stiffness.
 Individual filaments are small in diameters, isotropic and very flexible as the
diameter is small.
 The glass fibres come in variety of forms based on silica which is
combined with other elements to create speciality glass.

What are the different types of glass fibres? What are their key features?

The types of glass fibres and their key features are as follows:

 E glass - high strength and high resistivity.

 S2 glass - high strength, modulus and stability under extreme temperature and
corrosive environment.
 R glass – enhanced mechanical properties.
 C glass - resists corrosion in an acid environment.
 D glass – good dielectric properties.

In this lecture we are going see some more advanced fibres. Further, we will see their
key features, applications and fabrication processes.

Alumina Fibre

 These are ceramics fabricated by spinning a slurry mix of alumina particles and
additives to form a yarn which is then subjected to controlled heating.
 Fibers retain strength at high temperature.
 It also shows good electrical insulation at high temperatures.
 It has good wear resistance and high hardness.
 The upper continuous use temperature is about 1700 .
 Fibers of glass, carbon and alumina are supplied in the form of tows (also called
rovings or strands) consisting of many individual continuous fiber filaments.
 Du Pont has developed a commercial grade alumina fibre, known as Alumina FP
(polycrystalline alumina) fibre. Alumina FP fibres are compatible with both metal
and resin matrices. These fibres have a very high melting point of 2100 . They
can withstand temperatures up to 1000 without any loss of strength and
stiffness properties at this elevated temperature. They exhibit high compressive
strengths, when they are set in a matrix.
 The Alumina whiskers are available and they exhibit excellent properties.
Alumina whiskers can have the tensile strength of 20700 MPa and the tensile
modulus of 427 GPa.

What are the applications of Alumina fibres?

 The Alumina has a unique combination of low thermal expansion, high thermal
conductivity and high compressive strength. The combination of these properties
gives good thermal shock resistance. These properties make Alumina suitable
for applications in furnace use as crucibles, tubes and thermocouple sheaths.
 The good wear resistance and high hardness properties are harnessed in making
the components such as ball valves, piston pumps and deep drawing tools.

Aramid Fibre

 These fibres are from Aromatic polyamide, that is, nylons family.
 Aramid is derived from “Ar” of Aromatric and “amid” of polyamide.
 Examples of fibres from nylon family: Polyamide 6, that is, nylon 6 and
Polyamide 6.6, that is, nylon 6.6
 These are organic fibers.
 Melt-spun from a liquid solution.
 Du Pont developed these fibers under the trade name Kevlar. From poly (p-
phenylene terephthalamide (PPTA) polymer.
 Morphology – radially arranged crystalline sheets resulting into anisotropic
 Filament diameter about 12 and partially flexible.
 High tensile strength.
 Intermediate modulus.
 Significantly lower strength in compression.
 5 grades of Kevlar with varying engineering properties are available. Kevlar-29,
Kevlar-49, Kevlar-100, Kevlar-119 and Kevlar-129.

Silicon Carbide Fibre (SiC)

Silicon carbide fibres are ceramic fibers. These fibres are produced in similar fashion as
boron fibres are produced. The fibres are produced by two methods as follows:

 CVD on Tungsten or Carbon Core

 NICALON™ by NIPPON Carbon Japan

CVD on Tungsten or Carbon Core:

 This fiber is similar in size and microstructure to boron.

 The fibres are produced on both tungsten and carbon cores.
 These fibres are relativity stiff due to thicker diameter of the fibres. The diameter
of the fibres is about 140 .
 The fibres have strength in the range of 3.4 – 4.0 GPa.
 Failure strain is in the range of 0.8 - 1%.
 The Young’s modulus is about 430 GPa.
 The fibres show high structural stability and strength retention even at
temperatures above 1000 .

The CVD with as the reactant, SiC is deposited on the core as follows:

 The SiC fibres produced on a tungsten core with a diameter about 12 . It

shows a thin interfacial layer between the SiC mantle and the tungsten core. In
case, when carbon fibre is used the fibre diameter of the carbon fibres is about
33 .
 Both type of SiC fibre have smoother surfaces than a boron fibre. This is
because there is a deposition of small columnar grains as compared to conical
nodules in boron fibres.
 The SiC fibres produced with carbon core are used in light reinforced alloys.
These fibres are produced with a surface coating. The composition of this coating
varies from carbon rich from inner surface to silicon carbide at the outer surface.
 The fibres that are used to reinforce the titanium have a protective layer which
varies from a carbon rich to silicon rich and again to a composition which is rich
in carbon at the surface. The outer surface acts as a protective surface and when
it comes in contact with molten and highly reactive titanium. The fibres are made
by Specialty Materials Inc. under the trade name SCS-6. The coating increases
the fibres diameter by 6 .
 The fibre has low failure stresses due to surface flaws.
 The higher strength of fibre is due to the controlled defects at the core-mantle
 The strength of SiC fibres produced using CVD is seen to be anisotropic. The
radial strength is significantly lower than longitudinal tensile strength.
 When the fibres are heated to above 800 ºC in air for a long period, they lose
their strength due to oxidation of the carbon rich outer layers.

The CVD for SiC fibres is shown in Figure 1.9.

Figure 1.9: Schematic of reactors for silicon carbide fibres by Chemical

Vapour Deposition

NICALON™ by NIPPON Carbon Japan

 The fibres are manufactured by the process of controlled pyrolysis (chemical

deposition by heat) of a polymeric precursor.
 The fiber is homogeneously composed of ultrafine beta-SiC crystallites and
 The filament is similar to carbon fiber in size.
 The diameter of the fibre is about 14
 The fibres more flexible due to small diameter.
 The fibres are arranged in tows of 250 to 500 filaments per tow.
 These fibres come in two grades:
a. Ceramic Grade: provides good high temperature performance and
mechanical properties
b. High Volume Resistivity Grade: It is a low dielectric fibre. It has good
electrical and mechanical properties. These are used in dielectric
Uses of the NICALON™ Fibres

These fibres are used to form fibrous products such as high temperature insulation,
filters, etc. These fibres have high resistance to chemical attack. Hence, these can be
used in harsh environments.

These are also used as a reinforcement in plastic, ceramic and metal matrix

Cross Sectional Shapes of Fibres

The cross sectional shapes of fibre of various types we have studied

above are different. The cross sectional shape of the fibres, although
is assumed to be circular, is not circular in general. The various cross
sectional shapes of the fibre are shown in 1.10Figure.

Figure 1.10: Cross sectional shapes of fibers

Fiber Properties

The following are the important points regarding the fibre properties.

 Density, axial modulus, axial Poisson’s ratio, axial tensile strength and coefficient
of thermal expansion are some of the important properties.
 Advanced fibers exhibit a broad range of properties.
 Properties of carbon fiber can vary significantly depending upon fabrication
 For the advanced fibres studied above one can attain either high modulus (>
700 GPa) or high strength (> 5 GPa) but not both attainable simultaneously.
 SCS-6, IM8, boron and sapphire fibers offer the best combination of stiffness
and strength but have large diameters and thus limited flexibility. However, IM8
fibers are exception for flexibility.
 The specific stiffness of some of these fibres is almost 13 times of structural
 Similarly, the specific strength of some of these fibres is almost 16 times of
structural metals.
 Weight saving, when the composites of these fibres are used, is tremendous due
to high specific stiffness and strength.
 Actual properties of composite (fiber + matrix) are reduced.
 Specific properties are reduced even further when the loading is in a direction
other than the length direction of fibers.
 Tailorable properties.
 One can get the desired heat transfer or electrical conductivity with proper
 The increased fatigue resistance is attainable with the use of these fibre
 Aging effect can be significantly lowered.

Note: The fibres are classified based on their values of modulus as follows:

1. Ultra-high-modulus, type UHM (modulus > 450 GPa)

2. High-modulus, type HM (modulus between 350-450 GPa)
3. Intermediate-modulus, type IM (modulus between 200-350 GPa)
4. Low modulus and high-tensile, type HT (modulus < 100 GPa, tensile strength >
3.0 GPa)

In the previous lecture we have introduced various advanced fibres along with their
fabrication processes, precursor materials and key features. In the present lecture we
will introduce some matrix materials, their key features and applications.

What are the matrix materials used in composites?

The matrix materials used in composites can be broadly categorized as: Polymers,
Metals, Ceramics and Carbon and Graphite.

The polymeric matrix materials are further divided into:

1. Thermoplastic – which soften upon heating and can be reshaped with heat and
2. Thermoset – which become cross linked during fabrication and does not soften
upon reheating.

The metal matrix materials are: Aluminum, Copper and Titanium.

The ceramic materials are: Carbon, Silicon carbide, Silicon nitride.

The classification of matrix materials is shown in Figure 1.11.

Figure 1.11: Matrix materials

What are the thermoplastic matrix materials? What are their key features?

The following are the thermoplastic materials:

1. polypropylene,
2. polyvinyl chloride,
3. nylon,
4. polyurethane,
5. poly-ether-ether ketone (PEEK),
6. polyphenylene sulfide (PPS),
7. polysulpone.

The key features of the thermoplastic matrix materials are:

1. higher toughness
2. high volume
3. low cost processing
4. The use temperature range is upto 225 .

What are the thermoset matrix materials? What are their key features?

The thermoset matrix materials are:

1. polyesters,
2. epoxies,
3. polyimides

The key features of these materials are given for individual material in the following.


1. Used extensively with glass fibers

2. Inexpensive
3. Light weight
4. Temperature range upto 100 .
5. Resistant to environmental exposures


1. Expensive
2. Better moisture resistance
3. Lower shrinkage on curing
4. Use temperature is about 175

1. Higher use temperature about 300

2. Difficult to fabricate

What are the problems with the use of polymer matrix materials?

1. Limited temperature range.

2. Susceptibility to environmental degradation due to moisture, radiation, atomic
oxygen (in space)
3. Low transverse strength.
4. High residual stress due to large mismatch in coefficients of thermal expansion
between fiber and matrix.
5. Polymer matrix cannot be used near or above the glass transition temperature.

Comparison between Thermoplastics and Thermosets:

The comparison between the thermoplastic and thermoset matrix materials is given
in Table 1 below:

Table 1.1: Comparison between thermoplastics and thermosets.

Thermoplastics Thermosets
Soften upon heat and pressure Decompose upon heating
Hence, can be repaired Difficult to repair
Low strains are required
High strains are required for failure
for failure
Can be re-processed Can not be re-processed
Indefinite shelf life Limited shelf life
Short curing cycles Long curing cycles
Tacky and therefore,
Non tacky and easy to handle
difficult to handle
Excellent resistance to solvents Fair resistance to solvents
Higher processing temperature is
Lower processing
required. Hence, viscosities make the
temperature is required.
processing difficult.
What are the common metals used as matrix materials? What are their
advantages and disadvantages?

The common metals used as matrix materials are aluminum, titanium and copper.


1. Higher transfer strength,

2. High toughness (in contrast with brittle behavior of polymers and ceramics)
3. The absence of moisture and
4. High thermal conductivity (copper and aluminum).


1. Heavier
2. More susceptible to interface degradation at the fiber/matrix interface and
3. Corrosion is a major problem for the metals

The attractive feature of the metal matrix composites is the higher

temperature use. The aluminum matrix composite can be used in the temperature
range upward of 300ºC while the titanium matrix composites can be used above 800

What are the ceramic matrix materials? What are their advantages and

The carbon, silicon carbide and silicon nitride are ceramics and used as matrix


The advantages of the ceramic matrix materials are:

1. The ceramic composites have very high temperature range of above 2000 .
2. High elastic modulus
3. Low density

The disadvantages of the ceramic matrix materials are:

1. The ceramics are very brittle in nature.

2. Hence, they are susceptible to flows.

The advantages of the carbon matrix materials are:

1. High temperature at 2200 .

2. Carbon/carbon bond is stronger at elevated temperature than room

The disadvantages of the carbon matrix materials are:

1. The fabrication is expensive.

2. The multistage processing results in complexity and higher additional cost.

It should be noted that a composite with carbon fibres as reinforcement as well as

matrix material is known as carbon-carbon composite. The application of carbon-
carbon composite is seen in leading edge of the space shuttle where the high
temperature resistance is required. The carbon-carbon composites can resist the
temperatures upto 3000 .

The advantages of these composites are:

1. Very strong and light as compared to graphite fibre alone.

2. Low density.
3. Excellent tensile and compressive strength.
4. Low thermal conductivity.
5. High fatigue resistance.
6. High coefficient of friction.

The disadvantages include:

1. Susceptible to oxidation at elevated temperatures.

2. High material and production cost.
3. Low shear strength.

Figure 1.12 depicts the range of use temperature for matrix material in composites. It
should be noted that for the structural applications the maximum use temperature is a
critical parameter. This maximum temperature depends upon the maximum use
temperature of the matrix materials.
Figure 1.12: Range of use temperature for matrix materials in

What are the different forms of composites?

1. Unidirectional lamina:
o It is basic form of continuous fiber composites.
o A lamina is also called by ply or layer.
o Fibers are in same direction.
o Orthotropic in nature with different properties in principal material
o For sufficient number of filaments (or layers) in the thickness direction, the
effective properties in the transverse plane (perpendicular to the fibers)
may be isotropic. Such a composite is called as transversely isotropic.
2. Woven fabrics:
o Examples of woven fabric are clothes, baskets, hats, etc.
o Flexible fibers such as glass, carbon, aramid can be woven in to cloth
fabric, can be impregnated with a matrix material.
o Different patterns of weaving are shown in Figure 1.13.

Typical weaving patterns are shown in Figure 1.13.

Figure 1.13: Types of weave

3. Laminate:
1. Stacking of unidirectional or woven fabric layers at different fiber
2. Effective properties vary with:
1. orientation
2. thickness
3. stacking sequence

A symmetric laminate is shown in Figure 1.14.

Figure 1.14: A symmetric laminate

Hybrid composites:

The hybrid composite are composites in which two or more types of fibres are used.
Collectively, these are called as hybrids. The use of two or more fibres allows the
combination of desired properties from the fibres. For example, combination of aramid
and carbon fibres gives excellent tensile properties of aramid and compressive
properties of carbon fibers. Further, the aramid fibres are less expensive as compared
to carbon fibres.

What are the factors that affect the composite properties?

There are various factors upon which the properties of the composite depend. Following
are the various factors:

1. Properties of the constituent materials. Apart from this, the properties of other
phases present, like additives, fillers and other reaction phases also affect the
properties of the composite.
2. Length of the fibre.
3. Orientation of the fibres (with respect to the loading direction).
4. Cross sectional shape of the fibre.
5. Distribution and arrangement of the fibres in the matrix material.
6. Proportions of the fibre and matrix material, that is, volume fractions of the
constituent materials.
Notation for Composite Designation:

The composites are designated by the combination of the fibre and matrix system. The
fibre and matrix materials are separated by a slash , that is, fibre material/matrix
material. Further, one needs to specify the volume fractions of the constituents. In
general, the fibre volume fraction is specified. For example: AS4/PEEK, , that
is, a carbon composite with AS4 fibres and PEEK as the matrix material with fibre
volume fraction of 45%. Other examples are: T300/5208, T700/M21, Kevlar/Epoxy,
Boron/Al, SCS-6/Ti-15-3, S2 Glass/Epoxy.


In this lecture we are going to discuss some of the terms and their definitions that are
used in the composites. These terms will be frequently used in our course. We will
conclude this lecture with advantages and disadvantages of the composite materials.

Terminologies Used in Fibrous Composites

The following are the useful terminologies used in the composite related studies.

1. Filament: individual element

2. Strand: Bundles of 204 filaments or multiple of these.
3. Roving: Combination of strands to form thicker parallel bundles.
4. Yarns: strands are twisted to form yarns.
5. Aspect ratio: The ratio of length to diameter of a fiber.
6. Bi-component fibers: A fiber made by spinning two compositions concurrently
in each capillary of the spinneret.
7. Blend: A mix of natural staple fiber such as cotton or wool and synthetic staple
fibers such as nylon, polyester. Blends are made to take advantages of the
natural and synthetic fibers.
8. Braiding: Two or more yarns are intertwined to form an elongated structure. The
long direction is called the bias direction or machine direction.
9. Carding: Process of making fibers parallel by using rollers covered with
10. Chopped strands: Fibers are chopped to various lengths, 3 to 50 mm, for
mixing with resins.
11. Continuous fibers: Continuous strands of fibers, generally, available as wound
fiber spools.
12. Cord: A relatively thick fibrous product made by twisting together two or more
plies of yarn.
13. Covering power: The ability of fiber to occupy space. Noncircular fibers have
greater covering power then circular fibers.
14. Crimp: Waviness along the fiber length. Some natural fibers e.g. wool, have a
natural crimp. In synthetic polymeric fibers crimp can be introduced by passing
the filament between rollers having teeth. Crimp can also be introduced by
chemical means. This is done by controlling the coagulation of the filament to
produce an asymmetrical cross-section.
15. Denier: A unit of linear density. It is the weight in grams of 9000m long yarn.
This unit is commonly used in the US textile industry.
16. Fabric: A kind of planar fibrous assembly. It allows the high degree of
anisotropy characteristic of yarn to be minimized, although not completely
17. Felt: Homogeneous fibrous structure made by interlocking fibers via application
of heat, moisture and pressure.
18. Filament: Continuous fiber, i.e. fiber with aspect ratio approaching infinity.
19. Fill: see Weft.
20. Handle: Also known as softness of handle. It is a function of denier (or tex),
compliance, cross-section, crimp, moisture absorption, and surface roughness of
the fiber.
21. Knitted fabric: One set of yarn is looped and interlocking to form a planar
22. Knitting: This involves drawing loops of yarns over previous loops, also called
23. Mat: Randomly dispersed chopped fibers or continuous fiber strands, held
together with a binder. The binder can be resin compatible, if the mat is to be
used to make a polymeric composite.
24. Microfibers: Also known as microdenier fibers. These are fibers having less
than 1denier per filament (or less than 0.11 tex per filament). Fabrics made of
such microfibers have superior silk-like handle and dense construction. They find
applications in stretch fabrics, lingerie, rain wear, etc.
25. Monofilament: A large diameter continuous fiber, generally, with a diameter
greater than 100 m.
26. Nonwovens: Randomly arranged fibers without making fiber yarns. Nonwovens
can be formed by spunbonding, resinbonding, or needle punching. A planar
sheet-like fabric is produced from fibers without going through the yarns spinning
step. Chemical bonding and/or mechanical interlocking is achieved. Fibers
(continuous or staple) are dispersed in a fluid (i.e. a liquid or air) and laid in a
sheet-like planar form on a support and then chemically bonded or mechanically
interlocked. Paper is perhaps the best example of a wet laid nonwoven fabric
where we generally use wood or cellulosic fibers. In spunbonded nonwovens,
continuous fibers are extruded and collected in random planar network and
27. Particle: Extreme case of a fibrous form: it has a more or less equiaxial form,
i.e. the aspect ratio is about 1.
28. Plaiting: see Braiding.
29. Rayon: Term use to designate any of the regenerated fibers made by the
viscose, cuprammonium, or acetate processes. They are considered to be
natural fibers because they are made from regenerated, natural cellulose.
30. Retting: A biological process of degrading pectin and lignin associated with
vegetable fibers, loosening the stem and fibers, followed by their separation.
31. Ribbon: Fiber of rectangular cross-section with width to thickness ratio greater
than 4.
32. Rope: Linear flexible structure with a minimum diameter of 4mm. it generally
has three strands twisted together in a helix. The rope characteristics are defined
by two parameters, unit mass and break length. Unit mass is simply g/m or ktex,
while breaking length is the length of rope that will break under the force of its
own weight when freely suspended. Thus, break length equals mass at
break/unit mass.
33. Roving: A bundle of yarns or tows of continuous filaments (twisted or
34. Spinneret: A vessel with numerous shaped holes at the bottom through which a
material in molten state is forced out in the form of fine filaments or threads.
35. Spunbonding: Process of producing a bond between nonwoven fibers by
heating the fibers to near their melting point.
36. Staple fiber: Fibers having short, discrete lengths (10-400 mm long) that can be
spun into a yarn are called staple fibers. This spinning quality can be improved if
the fiber is imparted a waviness or crimp. Staple fibers are excellent for providing
bulkiness for filling, filtration, etc. Frequently, staple natural fibers, e.g. cotton or
wool, are blended with staple synthetic fibers, e.g. nylon or polyester, to obtain
the best of both types.
37. Tenacity: A measure of fiber strength that is commonly used in the textile
industry. Commonly, the units are gram-force per denier, gram-force per tex, or
Newton per tex. It is a specific strength unit, i.e. there is a factor of density
involved. Thus, although the tensile strength of glass fiber is more than double
that of nylon fiber, both glass and nylon fiber have a tenacity of about 6g/den.
This is because the density of glass is about twice that of nylon.
38. Tex: A unit of linear density. It is the weight in grams of 1000m of yarn. Tex is
commonly used in Europe.
39. Tow: Bundle of twisted or untwisted continuous fibers. A tow may contain tens
or hundreds of thousands of individual filaments.
40. Twist: the angle of twist that individual filaments may have about the yarn axis.
Most yarns have filaments twisted because it is easier to handle a twisted yarn
then an untwisted one.
41. Wire: Metallic filament.
42. Warp: Lengthwise yarn in a woven fabric.
43. Weft: Transverse yarn in a woven fabric. Also called fill.
44. Whisker: Tiny, whisker-like fiber (a few mm long, a few m in diameter) that is a
single crystal and almost free of dislocations. Note that this term involves a
material requirement. The small size and crystalline perfection make whiskers
extremely strong, approaching the theoretical strength.
45. Woven fabric: Flat, drapeable sheet made by interlacing yarns or tows.
46. Woven roving: Heavy, drapeable fabric woven from continuous rovings.
47. Yarn: A generic term for a bundle of untwisted or twisted fibers (short or
continuous). A yarn can be produced from staple fibers by yarn spinning. The
yarn spinning process consists of some fiber alignment, followed by locking
together by twisting. Continuous synthetic fibers are also used to make yarns.
Continuous fibers are easy to align parallel to the yarn axis. Generally, the
degree of twist is low, just enough to give some interfilament cohesion.

What are the advantages of the composite materials?

The following are the advantages of composites:

1. Specific stiffness and specific strength:

The composite materials have high specific stiffness and strengths. Thus, these
material offer better properties at lesser weight as compared to conventional
materials. Due to this, one gets improved performance at reduced energy

2. Tailorable design:

A large set of design parameters are available to choose from. Thus, making the
design procedure more versatile. The available design parameters are:

1. Choice of materials (fiber/matrix), volume fraction of fiber and matrix,

fabrication method, layer orientation, no. of layer/laminae in a given
direction, thickness of individual layers, type of layers
(fabric/unidirectional) stacking sequence.
2. A component can be designed to have desired properties in specific

3. Fatigue Life:

The composites can with stand more number of fatigue cycles than that of
aluminum. The critical structural components in aircraft require high fatigue life.
The use of composites in fabrication of such structural components is thus

4. Dimensional Stability:

Strain due to temperature can change shape, size, increase friction, wear and
thermal stresses. The dimensional stability is very important in application like
space antenna. For composites, with proper design it is possible to achieve
almost zero coefficient of thermal expansion.
5. Corrosion Resistance:

Polymer and ceramic matrix material used to make composites have high
resistance to corrosion from moisture, chemicals.

6. Cost Effective Fabrication:

The components fabricated from composite are cost effective with automated
methods like filament winding, pultrusion and tape laying. There is a lesser
wastage of the raw materials as the product is fabricated to the final product size
unlike in metals.

7. Conductivity:

The conductivity of the composites can be achieved to make it a insulator or a

highly conducting material. For example, Glass/polyesters are non conducting
materials. These materials can be used in space ladders, booms etc. where one
needs higher dimensional stability, whereas copper matrix material gives a high
thermal conductivity.

The list of advantages of composite is quite long. One can find more on advantages of
composite in reference books and open literature.

What are the disadvantages of Composites?

1. Some fabrics are very hard on tooling.

2. Hidden defects are difficult to locate.
3. Inspection may require special tools and processes.
4. Filament-wound parts may not be repairable. Repairing may introduce new
5. High cost of raw materials.
6. High initial cost of tooling, production set-up, etc.
7. Labour intensive.
8. Health and safety concerns.
9. Training of the labour is essential.
10. Environmental issues like disposal and waste management.
11. Reuse of the materials is difficult.
12. Storage of frozen pre-pregs demands for additional equipments and adds to the
cost of production.
13. Extreme cleanliness required.
14. The composites, in general, are brittle in nature and hence easily damageable.
15. The matrix material is weak and hence the composite has low toughness.
16. The transverse properties of lamina or laminate are, in general, weak.
17. The analysis of the composites is difficult due to heterogeneity and orthotropy.

This lecture is dedicated to the use of composites. The use of composites is almost
ubiquitous! The use of composites is an inexhaustive list. In the following we cite
some important applications.

What are the applications of the composite materials?

The applications of the composites are given in the following as per the area of


 Aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, space telescopes, space shuttle, space station,

missiles, boosters rockets, helicopters (due to high specific strength and
stiffness) fatigue life, dimensional stability.
 All composite voyager aircraft flew nonstop around the world with refueling.
 Carbon/carbon composite is used on the leading edges nose cone of the
 B2 bomber - both fiber glass and graphite fibers are used with epoxy matrix
and polyimide matrix.
 The indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA - Tejas) has Kevlar composite in
nose cone, Glass composites in tail fin and carbon composites form almost all
part of the fuselage and wings, except the control surfaces of the wing.
 Further, the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH – Dhruvh) has carbon
composites for its main rotor blades. The other composites are used in tail
rotor, vertical fin, stabilizer, cowling, radome, doors, cockpit, side shells, etc.


 Rocket motor cases

 Nozzles
 Igniter
 Inter stage structure
 Equipment section
 Aerodynamic fairings

Launch Vehicle:

 Rocket motor case

 Interstage structure
 Payload fairings and dispensers
 High temperature Nozzle
 Nose cone
 Control surfaces

Composite Railway Carrier:

 Composite railway auto carrier

 Bodies of Railway Bogeys
 Seats
 Driver’s Cabin
 Stabilization of Ballasted Rail Tracks
 Doors
 Sleepers for Railway Girder Bridges
 Gear Case
 Pantographs

Sports Equipments

 Tennis rockets, golf clubs, base-ball bats, helmets, skis, hockey sticks, fishing
rods, boat hulls, wind surfing boards, water skis, sails, canoes and racing
shells, paddles, yachting rope, speed boat, scuba diving tanks, race cars
reduced weight, maintenance, corrosion resistance.


 Lower weight and greater durability, corrosion resistance, fatigue life, wear and
impact resistance.
 Drive shafts, fan blades and shrouds, springs, bumpers, interior panels, tires,
brake shoes, clutch plates, gaskets, hoses, belts and engine parts.
 Carbon and glass fiber composites pultruted over on aluminum cylinder to
create drive shaft.
 Fuel saving –braking energy can be stored in to a carbon fiber super flywheels.
 Other applications include: mirror housings, radiator end caps, air filter housing,
accelerating pedals, rear view mirrors, head-lamp housings, and intake
manifolds, fuel tanks.

Infrastructure Structures:

 Corrosion is a major design consideration such as in the chemical and on off-

shore oil plate forms
 Skeletal Structures
 Walls and Panels
 Doors, Windows, Ladders, Staircases
 Chemical and Water Tanks
 Cooling Towers
 Bridge Decks
 Antenna Dishes
 Bridge enclosures
 Aerodynamic fairings


 Drive,
 conveyer belts,
 hoses,
 tear and puncture resistant fabrics,
 rotor vanes,
 mandrels,
 ropes,
 cables.


 Wheelchairs,
 Crutches,
 Hip joints,
 Heat valves,
 Dentistry,
 Surgical equipments


 Chips in electronic computing devices are laminated hybrid systems composed

of a number of layers (materials) which serve different functions.
 Chip must have good heat transfer properties and must be able to withstand
induced thermal stresses without delaminating.
 The composite finds a vast usage in electronic packaging materials. The
Styrofoam, particle bonded materials formed from paper pulp, air-bubble
cushioned plastic sheets, etc. are some of the popular materials used in the


 Helmets,
 bullet proof vests,
 impact resistant vehicles,
 lighter and less detectable ships,
 portable bridges.


The Glass reinforced fibre plastics are used in:

 Ship and Boat Hulls

 Masts
 Instrument Panels
 Hydrofoils
 Hovercrafts
 Propellers
 Propulsion shafts
 Rudders
 Heat exchangers
 Flywheel
 Piping
 Ventilation ducts
 Engine and equipment foundations

Wind Power Engineering:

 Rotor blades including blade shell, integral webs, spars or box structure.
 Mast
 Generator housing