Fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) (also fibre-reinforced polymer) are composite materials made of a polymer matrix reinforced with fibres. The fibres are usually fibreglass, carbon, or aramid, while the polymer is usually an epoxy, vinylester or polyester thermosetting plastic. FRPs are commonly used in the aerospace, automotive, marine, and construction industries.
A polymer is generally manufactured by polycondensation, Polymerization or polyaddition, when combined with various agents to enhance or in any way alter the material properties of polymers the result is referred to as a plastic. Composite plastics refer to those types of plastics that result from bonding two or more homogeneous materials with different material properties to derive a final product with certain desired material and mechanical properties. Fibre reinforced plastics are a category of composite plastics that specifically use fibrous materials to mechanically enhance the strength and elasticity of plastics. The original plastic material without fibre reinforcement is known as the matrix. The matrix is a tough but relatively weak plastic that is reinforced by stronger stiffer reinforcing filaments or fibres. The extent that strength and elasticity are enhanced in a fibre reinforced plastic depends on the mechanical properties of both the fibre and matrix, their volume relative to one another, and the fibre length and orientation within the matrix. Reinforcement of the matrix occurs by definition when the FRP material exhibits increased strength or elasticity relative to the strength and elasticity of the matrix alone. 
Global polymer production on the scale present today began in the mid 20th century, when low material and productions costs, new production technologies and new product categories combined to make polymer production economical. The industry finally matured in the late 1970’s when world polymer production surpassed that of Steel, making polymers the ubiquitous material that it is today. Fibre reinforced plastics have been a significant aspect of this industry from the beginning. There are three important categories of fibre used in FRP, glass, carbon, and aramid. Glass fibre reinforcement was tested in military applications at the end of World War Two, Carbon fibre production began in the late 1950’s and was used, though not widely, in British industry beginning in the early 1960’s, aramid fibres were being produced around this time also, appearing first under the trade name Nomex by Dupont. Today each of these fibres is used widely in industry for any applications that require plastics with specific strength or elastic qualities. Glass fibres are the most common across all industries, although carbon fibre and carbon fibre aramid composites are widely found in aerospace, automotive and sporting good applications.
FRP involves two distinct processes, the first is the process whereby the fibrous material is manufactured and formed, the second is the process whereby fibrous materials are bonded with the matrix during the moulding process.
The manufacture of fibre fabricEdit
Reinforcing Fibre is manufactured in both two dimensional and three dimensional orientations
- Two Dimensional Fibre Reinforced Polymer are characterized by a laminated structure in which the fibres are only aligned along the plane in x-direction and y-direction of the material. This means that no fibres are aligned in the through thickness or the z-direction, this lack of alignment in the through thickness can create a disadvantage in cost and processing. Costs and labour increase because conventional processing techniques used to fabricate composites, such as wet hand lay-up, autoclave and resin transfer moulding, require a high amount of skilled labour to cut, stack and consolidate into a preformed component.
- Three-dimensional Fibre Reinforced Polymer composites are materials with three dimensional fibre structures that incorporate fibres in the x-direction, y-direction and z-direction. The development of three-dimensional orientations arose from industry's need to reduce fabrication costs, to increase through-thickness mechanical properties, and to improve impact damage tolerance; all were problems associated with two dimensional fibre reinforced polymers.
The manufacture of fibre preforms Edit
Fiber preforms are how the fibres are manufactured before being bonded to the matrix. Fibre preforms are often manufactured in sheets, continuous mats, or as continuous filaments for spray applications. The four major ways to manufacture the fibre preform is though the textile processing techniques of Weaving, knitting, braiding and stitching.
- Weaving can be done in a conventional manner to produce two-dimensional fibres as well in a multilayer weaving that can create three-dimensional fibres. However multilayer weaving is required to have multiple layers of warp yarns to create fibres in the z- direction creating a few disadvantages in manufacturing,namely the time to set up all the warp yarns on the loom. Therefore most multilayer weaving is currently used to produce relatively narrow width products, or high value products where the cost of the preform production is acceptable. Another one of the main problems facing the use of multilayer woven fabrics is the difficulty in producing a fabric that contains fibres oriented with angles other than 0" and 90" to each other respectively.
- The second major way of manufacturing fibre preforms is Braiding. Braiding is suited to the manufacture of narrow width flat or tubular fabric and is not as capable as weaving in the production of large volumes of wide fabrics. Braiding is done over top of mandrels that vary in cross-sectional shape or dimension along their length. Braiding is limited to objects about a brick in size. Unlike the standard weaving process, braiding can produce fabric that contains fibres at 45 degrees angles to one another. Braiding three-dimensional fibres can be done using four step, two-step or Multilayer Interlock Braiding.Four step or row and column braiding utilizes a flat bed containing rows and columns of yarn carriers that form the shape of the desired preform. Additional carriers are added to the outside of the array, the precise location and quantity of which depends upon the exact preform shape and structure required. There are four separate sequences of row and column motion, which act to interlock the yarns and produce the braided preform. The yarns are mechanically forced into the structure between each step to consolidate the structure in a similar process to the use of a reed in weaving.Two-step braiding is unlike the four step process because the two-step includes a large number of yarns fixed in the axial direction and a fewer number of braiding yarns. The process consists of two steps in which the braiding carriers move completely through the structure between the axial carriers. This relatively simple sequence of motions is capable of forming preforms of essentially any shape, including circular and hollow shapes. Unlike the four step process the two step process does not require mechanical compaction the motions involved in the process allows the braid to be pulled tight by yarn tension alone. The last type of braiding is multi-layer interlocking braiding that consists of a number of standard circular braiders being joined together to form a cylindrical braiding frame. This frame has a number of parallel braiding tracks around the circumference of the cylinder but the mechanism allows the transfer of yarn carriers between adjacent tracks forming a multilayer braided fabric with yarns interlocking to adjacent layers. The multilayer interlock braid differs from both the four step and two-step braids in that the interlocking yarns are primarily in the plane of the structure and thus do not significantly reduce the in-plane properties of the preform. The four step and two step processes produce a greater degree of interlinking as the braiding yarns travel through the thickness of the preform, but therefore contribute less to the in-plane performance of the preform. A disadvantage of the multilayer interlock equipment is that due to the conventional sinusoidal movement of the yarn carriers to form the preform, the equipment is not able to have the density of yarn carriers that is possible with the two step and four step machines.
- Knitting fibre preforms can be done with the traditional methods of Warp and [Weft] Knitting, and the fabric produced is often regarded by many as two-dimensional fabric, but machines with two or more needle beds are capable of producing multilayer fabrics with yams that traverse between the layers. Developments in electronic controls for needle selection and knit loop transfer, and in the sophisticated mechanisms that allow specific areas of the fabric to be held and their movement controlled. This has allowed the fabric to form itself into the required three-dimensional preform shape with a minimum of material wastage.
- Stitching is arguably the simplest of the four main textile manufacturing techniques and one that can be performed with the smallest investment in specialized machinery. Basically the stitching process consists of inserting a needle, carrying the stitch thread, through a stack of fabric layers to form a 3D structure. The advantages of stitching are that it is possible to stitch both dry and prepreg fabric, although the tackiness of the prepreg makes the process difficult and generally creates more damage within the prepreg material than in the dry fabric. Stitching also utilizes the standard two-dimensional fabrics that are commonly in use within the composite industry therefore there is a sense of familiarity concerning the material systems. The use of standard fabric also allows a greater degree of flexibility in the fabric lay-up of the component than is possible with the other textile processes, which have restrictions on the fiber orientations that can be produced.
There are two distinct categories of moulding processes using FRP plastics; this includes composite moulding and wet moulding. Composite moulding uses Prepreg FRP, meaning the plastics are fibre reinforced before being put through further the moulding process. Sheets of Prepreg FRP are heated or compressed in different ways to create geometric shapes. Wet moulding combines fibre reinforcement and the matrix or resist during the moulding process. The different forms of composite and wet moulding, are listed below.
Individual sheets of prepreg material are laid -up and placed in a female-style mould along with a balloon-like bladder. The mould is closed and placed in a heated press. Finally, the bladder is pressurized forcing the layers of material against the mould walls. The part is cured and removed from the hot mould. Bladder moulding is a closed moulding process with a relatively short cure cycle between 15 and 60 minutes making it ideal for making complex hollow geometric shapes at competitive costs.
A "preform" or "charge", of SMC, BMC or sometimes prepreg fabric, is placed into mould cavity. The mould is closed and the material is compacted & cured inside by pressure and heat. Compression moulding offers excellent detailing for geometric shapes ranging from pattern and relief detailing to complex curves and creative forms, to precision engineering all within a maximum curing time of 20 minutes.
Autoclave / vacuum bagEdit
Individual sheets of prepreg material are laid-up and placed in an open mold. The material is covered with release film, bleeder/breather material and a vacuum bag. A vacuum is pulled on part and the entire mould is placed into an autoclave (heated pressure vessel). The part is cured with a continuous vacuum to extract entrapped gasses from laminate. This is a very common process in the aerospace industry because it affords precise control over the moulding process due to a long slow cure cycle that is anywhere from one to two hours. This precise control creates the exact laminate geometric forms needed to ensure strength and safety in the aerospace industry, but it is also slow and labour intensive, meaning costs often confine it to the aerospace industry.
Sheets of prepreg material are wrapped around a steel or aluminium mandrel. The prepreg material is compacted by nylon or polypropylene cello tape. Parts are typically batch cured by hanging in an oven. After cure the cello and mandrel are removed leaving a hollow carbon tube. This process creates strong and robust hollow carbon tubes.
Fibre reinforcing fabric is placed in an open mould and then saturated with a wet [resin] by pouring it over the fabric and working it into the fabric and mould. The mould is then left so that the resin will cure, usually at room temperature, though heat is sometimes used to ensure a proper curing process. Glass fibres are most commonly used for this process, the results are widely known as fibreglass, and is used to make common products like skis, canoes, kayaks and surf boards.
Continuous strand of fibreglass are pushed through a hand-held gun that both chops the strands and combines them with a catalyzed resin such as polyester. The impregnated chopped glass is shot onto the mould surface in whatever thickness the design and human operator think is appropriate. This process is good for large production runs at economical cost, but produces geometric shapes with less strength then other moulding processes and has poor dimensional tolerance.
Machines pull fibre bundles through a wet bath of resin and wound over a rotating steel mandrel in specific orientations Parts are cured either room temperature or elevated temperatures. Mandrel is extracted, leaving a final geometric shape but can be left in some cases.
Fibre bundles and slit fabrics are pulled through a wet bath of resin and formed into the rough part shape. Saturated material is extruded from a heated closed die curing while being continuously pulled through die. Process is could for any extruded material and geometric shape such as roadside reflector poles and ladder rails.
RTM & VARTMEdit
Fabrics are placed into a mould which wet resin is then injected into. Resin is typically pressurized and forced into a cavity which is under vacuum in the RTM process. Resin is entirely pulled into cavity under vacuum in the VARTM process. This moulding process allows precise tolerances and detailed shaping but can sometimes fail to fully saturate the fabric leading to weak spots in the final shape.
Advantages and limitationsEdit
FRP allows the alignment of the glass fibres of thermoplastics to suit specific design programs. Specifying the orientation of reinforcing fibres can increase the strength and resistance to deformation of the polymer. Glass reinforced polymers are strongest and most resistive to deforming forces when the polymers fibres are parallel to the force being exerted, and are weakest when the fibres are perpendicular. Thus this ability is at once both an advantage or a limitation depending on the context of use. Weak spots of perpendicular fibres can be used for natural hinges and connections, but can also lead to material failure when production processes fail to properly orient the fibres parallel to expected forces. When forces are exerted perpendicular to the orientation of fibres the strength and elasticity of the polymer is less than the matrix alone. In cast resin components made of glass reinforced polymers such as UP and EP, the orientation of fibres can be oriented in two-dimensional and three-dimensional weaves. This means that when forces are possibly perpendicular to one orientation, they are parallel to another orientation; this eliminates the potential for weak spots in the polymer.
Structural failure can occur in FRP materials when:
- Tensile forces stretch the matrix more than the fibres, causing the material to shear at the interface between matrix and fibres.
- Tensile forces near the end of the fibres exceed the tolerances of the matrix, separating the fibres from the matrix.
- Tensile forces can also exceed the tolerances of the fibres causing the fibres themselves to fracture leading to material failure.
The matrix must also meet certain requirements in order to first be suitable for the FRP process and ensure a successful reinforcement of itself. The matrix must be able to properly saturate, and bond with the fibres within a suitable curing period. The matrix should preferably bond chemically with the fibre reinforcement for maximum adhesion. The matrix must also completely envelope the fibres to protect them from cuts and notches that would reduce their strength, and to transfer forces to the fibres. The fibres must also be kept separate from each other so that if failure occurs it is localized as much as possible, and if failure occurs the matrix must also debond from the fibre for similar reasons. Finally the matrix should be of a plastic that remains chemically and physically stable during and after reinforcement and moulding processes. To be suitable for reinforcement material fibre additives must increase the tensile strength and modulus of elasticity of the matrix and meet the following conditions; fibres must exceed critical fibre content; the strength and rigidity of fibres itself must exceed the strength and rigidity of the matrix alone; and there must be optimum bonding between fibres and matrix
Glass fibre materialEdit
FRP plastics use textile glass fibres; textile fibres are different from other forms of glass fibres used for insulating applications. Textile glass fibres begin as varying combinations of SiO2, Al2O3, B2O3, CaO, or MgO in powder form. These mixtures are then heated through a direct melt process to temperatures around 1300 degrees Celsius, after which dies are used to extrude filaments of glass fibre in diameter ranging from 9 to 17 µm. These filaments are then wound into larger threads and spun onto bobbins for transportation and further processing. Glass fibre is by far the most popular means to reinforce plastic and thus enjoys a wealth of production processes, some of which are applicable to aramid and carbon fibres as well owing to their shared fibrous qualities.
Glass fibre material processesEdit
Process where filaments are spun into larger diameter threads. These threads are then commonly used for woven reinforcing glass fabrics and mats, and in spray applications.
Web-form fabric reinforcing material that has both warp and weft directions
Web-form non-woven mats of glass fibres. Mats are manufactured in cut dimensions with chopped fibres, or in continuous mats using continuous fibres.
Chopped fibre glassEdit
Processes where lengths of glass threads are cut between 3 and 26 mm, threads are then used in plastics most commonly intended for moulding processes.
Glass fibre short strandsEdit
Short 0.2–0.3 mm strands of glass fibres that are used to reinforce thermoplastics most commonly for injection moulding.
Carbon fibres are created when polyacrylonitrile fibres (PAN), Pitch resins, or Rayon are carbonized (through oxidation and thermal pyrolysis) at high temperatures. Through further processes of graphitizing or stretching the fibres strength or elasticity can be enhance respectively. Carbon fibres are manufactured in diameters analogous to glass fibres with diameters ranging from 9 to 17 µm. These fibres wound into larger threads for transportation and further production processes. Further production processes include weaving or braiding into carbon fabrics, cloths and mats analogous to those described for glass that can then be used in actual reinforcement processes. 
Aramid fibre material processEdit
Aramid fibers are most commonly known Kevlar, Nomex and Technora. Aramids are generally prepared by the reaction between an amine group and a carboxylic acid halide group (aramid) ; commonly this occurs when an aromatic polyamide is spun from a liquid concentration of sulfuric acid into a crystallized fibre. Fibres are then spun into larger threads in order to weave into large ropes or woven fabrics (Aramid). Aramid fibres are manufactured with varying grades to based on varying qualities for strength and rigidity, so that the material can be somewhat tailored to specific design needs concerns, such as cutting the tough material during manufacture.
Examples of polymers best suited for the processEdit
|Reinforcing Material||Most Common Matrix Materials||Properties Improved|
|Glass Fibres||UP, EP, PA, PC, POM, PP, PBT, VE||Strength, Elastic, heat resistance|
|Carbon and Aramid Fibres||EP, UP, VE, PA||Elasticity, Tensile Strength|
|Inorganic Particulates||Semicrystalline Thermoplastics, UP||Isotropic shrinkage, abrasion, compression strength|
Fibre-reinforced plastics are best suited for any design program that demands weight savings, precision engineering, finite tolerances, and the simplification of parts in both production and operation. A moulded polymer artefact is cheaper, faster, and easier to manufacture than cast aluminium or steel artefact, and maintains similar and sometimes better tolerances and material strengths. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV also used FRP for its spoiler material.
Carbon fibre reinforced polymersEdit
Rudder of A310 Airbus
- Advantages over a traditional rudder made from sheet aluminium are:
- 25% reduction in weight
- 95% reduction in components by combining parts and forms into simpler moulded parts.
- Overall reduction in production and operational costs, economy of parts results in lower production costs and the weight savings create fuel savings that lower the operational costs of flying the aeroplane.
Structural Applications of FRP Edit
FRP can be applied to strengthen the beams, columns and slabs in buildings. It is possible to increase strength of these structural members even after these have been severely damaged due to loading conditions.
For strengthening beams, two techniques are adopted. First one is to paste FRP plates to the bottom (generally the tension face)of a beam. This increases the strength of beam, deflection capacity of beam and stiffness (load required to make unit deflection). Alternately, FRP strips can be pasted in 'U' shape around the sides and bottom of a beam, resulting in higher shear resistance.
Columns in building can be wrapped with FRP for achieving higher strength. This is called wrapping of columns. The technique works by restraining the lateral expansion of the column.
Slabs may be strengthened by pasting FRP strips at their bottom (tension face). This will result in better performance, since the tensile resistance of slabs is supplemented by the tensile strength of FRP.
In the case of beams and slabs, the effectiveness of FRP strengthening depends on the performance of the resin chosen for bonding.
Glass fibre reinforced polymersEdit
Engine intake manifolds are made from glass fibre reinforced PA 66.
- Advantages this has over caste aluminium manifolds are:
- Up to a 60% reduction in weight
- Improved surface quality and aerodynamics
- Reduction in components by combining parts and forms into simpler molded shapes.
Automotive gas and clutch pedals made from glass fibre reinforced PA 66 (DWP 12-13)
- Advantages over stamped aluminium are:
- Pedals can be moulded as single units combining both pedals and mechanical linkages simplifying the production and operation of the design.
- Fibres can be oriented to reinforce against specific stresses, increasing the durability and safety.
FRP is used in designs that require a measure of strength or modulus of elasticity that non-reinforced plastics and other material choices are either ill suited for mechanically or economically. This means that the primary design consideration for using FRP is to ensure that the material is used economically and in a manner that takes advantage of its structural enhancements specifically. This is however not always the case, the orientation of fibres also creates a material weakness perpendicular to the fibres. Thus the use of fibre reinforcement and their orientation affects the strength, rigidity, and elasticity of a final form and hence the operation of the final product itself. Orienting the direction of fibres either, unidirectional, 2-dimensionally, or 3-dimensionally during production affects the degree of strength, flexibility, and elasticity of the final product. Fibres oriented in the direction of forces display greater resistance to distortion from these forces and vice versa, thus areas of a product that must withstand forces will be reinforced with fibres in the same direction, and areas that require flexibility, such as natural hinges, will use fibres in a perpendicular direction to forces. Using more dimensions avoids this either or scenario and creates objects that seek to avoid any specific weak points due to the unidirectional orientation of fibres. The properties of strength, flexibility and elasticity can also be magnified or diminished through the geometric shape and design of the final product. These include such design consideration such as ensuring proper wall thickness and creating multifunctional geometric shapes that can be moulding as single pieces, creating shapes that have more material and structural integrity by reducing joints, connections, and hardware.
Disposal and recycling concernsEdit
As a subset of plastic FRP plastics are liable to a number of the issues and concerns surrounding plastic waste disposal and recycling. Plastics pose a particular challenge in recycling processes because they are derived from polymers and monomers that often cannot be separated and returned to their virgin states, for this reason not all plastics can be recycled for re-use, in fact some estimates claim only 20% to 30% of plastics can be material recycled at all. Fibre reinforced plastics and their matrices share these disposal and environmental concerns. In addition to these concerns, the fact that the fibres themselves are difficult to remove from the matrix and preserve for re-use means FRP amplify these challenges. FRP are inherently difficult to separate into base a material, that is into fibre and matrix, and the matrix into separate usable plastic, polymers, and monomers. These are all concerns for environmentally informed design today, but it must be noted that plastics often offer savings in energy and economic savings in comparison to other materials, also with the advent of new more environmentally friendly matrices such as bioplastics and uv-degradable plastics, FRP will similarly gain environmental sensitivity.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Smallman, R. E., and R.J. Bishop. Modern Physical Metallurgy and Materials Engineering. 6th ed. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999.
- ↑ 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Erhard, Gunter. Designing with Plastics. Trans. Martin Thompson. Munich: Hanser Publishers, 2006.
- ↑ Tong, L, A.P. Mouritz, and M.k. Bannister. 3D Fibre Reinforced Polymer Composites. Oxford: Elsevier, 2002.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Composite moulding
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