Processing of thick section epoxy powder composite structures
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date03/07/2020
Maguire, James M.
The use of epoxy powder as the primary matrix in thick fibre-reinforced composite parts is investigated. The characteristics of three epoxy powders are assessed using several experimental techniques, focusing on their curing behaviour. At least one epoxy powder is shown to have advantageous characteristics for manufacturing thick-section composites. Material models are developed which can describe the processing behaviour (cure kinetics, viscosity change, etc.) of an epoxy powder. The cure kinetics model makes use of an additional rate constant to better describe the rate of cure at both high and low temperatures. The chemorheological model is based on an existing model for toughened epoxies. A one-dimensional simulation tool for manufacturing thick-section composite laminates is developed in MATLAB. The simulation tool employs a resin flow model for vacuum-bag-only prepregs to describe the infusion process and subsequent thickness change. This thickness change is coupled to a model for through-thickness heat transfer which can be solved numerically for various thermal boundary conditions. The model is used to explore the suitability of epoxy powders for the manufacturing thick-section composite structures. The aforementioned simulation tool is validated against experimental results for thick-section composite laminates. The experiments are carried out using a modified heated tool and test apparatus which apply known thermal boundary conditions. A linear variable differential transformer is used to measure the thickness change of each laminate during testing, while thermocouples are used to measure the temperatures at various positions within each laminate. The results of the tests show good agreement with the one-dimensional simulation tool. Additional simulations are performed to investigate the influence of material format, thickness change, and heating methods. Methods for reducing thermal and cure gradients are explored also. A method is outlined for implementing the process models within commercial finite element software, Abaqus FEA. User subroutines for heat transfer and thermal expansion are used to define the various process models. One-dimensional simulations are validated, and a convergence study is performed on time step size and element size. Simulations show the effect of in-plane heating for glass-fibre and carbon-fibre laminates, and the processing of a wind turbine blade root section is investigated. Overall, it is shown that thick-section composite structures can be manufactured using a low-cost commodity epoxy powder from the coating industry, and that these structures do not suffer from the risk of uncontrolable thermal events.