Research Papers

Rapid Consolidation and Curing of Vacuum-Infused Thermoset Composite Parts

[+] Author and Article Information
James Garofalo

Center for Automation
Technologies and Systems,
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,
110 8th Street,
Troy, NY 12180
e-mail: garofj@rpi.edu

Daniel Walczyk

Center for Automation
Technologies and Systems,
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,
110 8th Street,
Troy, NY 12180
e-mail: walczd@rpi.edu

Jaron Kuppers

Vistex Composites, LLC,
PO Box 1023,
Schenectady, NY 12301
e-mail: jaron@vistexcomposites.com

1Corresponding author.

Manuscript received October 25, 2015; final manuscript received June 29, 2016; published online September 21, 2016. Assoc. Editor: Donggang Yao.

J. Manuf. Sci. Eng 139(2), 021010 (Sep 21, 2016) (10 pages) Paper No: MANU-15-1534; doi: 10.1115/1.4034276 History: Received October 25, 2015; Revised June 29, 2016

The capabilities of specialized elastomeric tooling (SET), a low-cost and low-energy autoclave alternative for consolidating and curing thermoset and thermoplastic composite parts made of “prepreg” material, are expanded to allow vacuum infusion of dry fiber preforms through a simple demonstration project. In this case, SET was designed to allow vacuum infusion of a flat five-ply, woven carbon fiber preform with epoxy resin, consolidate under uniform pressure in a press, and thermally cure while still under load. As expected, parts made using this process were thinner, showed slight increases in stiffness and strength, and had less surface voids as consolidation pressure was increased. Curing temperature/time has no significant effect on part quality. This expanded SET process was further characterized through a full-factorial set of experiments with replicates and quality metrics measured, such as stiffness, strength, surface roughness, and composite volume fractions. Future work will include the design and fabrication of tooling for a realistic part shape.

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Fig. 1

(a) General SET process schematic and (b) SETRI variant

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Fig. 2

SETRI mold assembly in (a) isometric exploded view and (b) cross section

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Fig. 3

Pressure plots of first SET mask design iteration, i.e., uniform thickness mask (left) and the variable-thickness fourth and final iteration. Pressure scale (MPa) applies to both plots.

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Fig. 4

SET Elastomer mask casting mold assembly

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Fig. 5

(a) From left to right, aluminum curing mold, SET elastomer mask, and aluminum compression mold; and (b) example of a five-ply composite part

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Fig. 7

(a) Pressure distribution of SET mask and (b) pressure distribution of flat silicone plate

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Fig. 8

Surface roughness of composite parts at different consolidation pressures

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Fig. 9

Typical load versus deflection curve for the three-point bending (part #8, sample #6 of 8)

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Fig. 10

(a) Flexural secant modulus/areal density and (b) flexural strength/areal density

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Fig. 11

Flexural properties of parts 9–12 compared to duplicate parts (13–16) at 149 °C including (a) flexural secant modulus/areal density and (b) flexural strength/areal density

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Fig. 12

(a) Fiber volume and (b) void volume fractions for parts 9–12 (left) and 13–16 (right)

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Fig. 13

Microscopy images of cross sections of samples from (a) 104 kPa, (b) 345 kPa, (c) 690 kPa, and (d) 1030 kPa




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