Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 58


By combining specific resins and reinforcements and there are a lot of them
you can customize the formulation to meet specific strength requirements of any
application. For example, you can alter the ratio of the resin and reinforcement
or orient the fibers in one direction or various directions.

Composites are anisotropic, meaning the material properties change depending

on the placement and number of layers of reinforcement materials the fibers.
This provides engineering flexibility so designers can tailor properties of the final
product. When it comes to strength, there are four primary kinds that affect
structural design: specific, tensile, shear and compressive strength.

Specific Strength

A materials strength-to-weight ratio also called its specific strength is a

comparison of its strength in relation to how much it weighs. The strength of a
material divided by its density will give you the specific strength.

Engineers, designers and specifiers are increasingly seeking materials with a

high specific strength. Some materials are very strong and heavy, such as steel.
Other materials can be strong and light, such as bamboo poles. Composites can
be designed to be both strong and light. Because they have very high strength-
to-weight ratios, composites are a sought after material for applications where
weight is paramount, such as airplanes and cars. Lighter vehicles use less fuel.

Tensile Strength

Tensile strength refers to the amount of stress a material can handle before it
breaks, cracks, becomes deformed or otherwise fails. One measure of tensile
strength is flexural strength a material or structures ability to withstand
bending. Tensile and flexural strength are important measurements for engineers
and designers. Imagine building a bridge deck or a ceiling without knowing how
much stress it could take before collapsing?

Tensile strength varies by material and is measured in megapascals (MPa). For

example, the ultimate tensile strength of steel ranges from 400 to 690 MPa,
while the ultimate strength of carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites ranges
from 1,200 to 2,410 MPa, depending on fiber orientation and other design

Shear Strength

Shear strength describes how well a material can resist strain when layers shift
or slide. Its important to know the maximum amount of shear stress (or force
per unit area) a material can handle prior to failure. This lets engineers and
designers know the amount of weight or load a structure can support and
what may happen to the structure when forces are applied in different directions.
Shear strength in composites varies based on the formulation and design.
Composites can be designed so shear stresses are oriented within a plane,
transverse to the plane or throughout the layers (interlaminar). There are several
ways to control shear properties, including fiber orientation, the sequencing of
layers, the type and volume of fibers used, the type and density of core materials
and more.

Compressive Strength

Compressive strength indicates how a material performs when its compressed

or flattened by pressure. Some materials fracture or break when they hit their
compressive strength limit, while others deform permanently.

Materials such as concrete and ceramics usually have a higher compressive

strength, but lower tensile strength. Conversely, composites typically have
higher tensile strengths than compressive strengths. Composites loaded in
compression may buckle, kink or crush. Thats why its important to evaluate
compressive loading for the specific fiber and resin combination chosen for an
application and adjust the formulation accordingly.

Light weight

Fiber-reinforced composites offer excellent strength-to-weight ratios, exceeding

those of other materials. For example, carbon fiber-reinforced composites are 70
percent lighter than steel and 40 percent lighter than aluminum. Producing parts
that are light weight is critical to industries such as transportation, infrastructure
and aerospace for a variety of reasons. Lightweight composites are easy to
handle and install, can reduce costs on projects and help ensure adherence to
regulations and standards.

Easy Installations

One of the top advantages of using lightweight composites is that they are
simple to handle, transport and install. This saves time on projects. Wolf Trap
National Park in Virginia installed a pedestrian bridge with FRP decks in 2012.
The bridge was 80 percent lighter than a concrete one, making it faster to lift,
move and place by crane. The deck was installed in three days, while a concrete
one wouldve taken at least four weeks. Lightweight composites also simplify
installations in remote locations, such as utility poles in marshlands or pipelines
on mountains.

Reduced Costs

Lighter parts and products often save money. And saving on weight and cost is
music to the ears of many end users. NASA and Boeing recently tested an all-
composite cryogenic tank used to carry fuel on deep space missions. The tank,
one of the largest and lightest ever manufactured, is the latest step toward the
planned 8.4-meter tank that could reduce the weight of rocket tanks by 30
percent and cut launch costs by at least 25 percent.

Adherence to Standards

Composites are often the answer when applications need to meet specific
standards and regulations. The most notable example relates to fuel efficiency.
Within the automotive industry, meeting Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency
(CAFE) standards of 36.6 mpg by 2017 and 54.5 mpg by 2025 provides impetus
for using lightweight materials. Major OEMs have optimistic plans often
involving composites to drastically reduce the gross weight of vehicles. In 2013,
GM introduced the Chevrolet Silverado Cheyenne concept vehicle featuring some
carbon fiber-reinforced parts. Its approximately 200 pounds lighter than the base
curb weight of the 5.3L Silverado. Volkswagen created the Transporter, a utility
concept truck weighing just 3.5 tons. It saves on diesel consumption and carbon
dioxide emissions by providing 40 percent more payload and up to 30 percent
savings in shipments.
Composites do not rust or corrode. There are many examples of glass fiber
reinforced polymer ductwork being in service in chemical manufacturing plants
for more than 25 years, operating in harsh chemical environments 24 hours a
day, seven days a week. Composites offer corrosion-resistant solutions for many
industries, including air pollution control, chemical processing, desalination, food
and beverage, mineral processing and mining, oil and gas, pulp and paper, solid
waste landfill and water and wastewater treatment.

Corrosion resistance is determined by the choice of resin and reinforcement used

within the composite application. There are various resin systems available
which provide long-term resistance to nearly every chemical and temperature
environment. The choice of reinforcements is much more limited but crucial for
certain chemical environments. Properly designed composites have a long
service life and minimum maintenance.

History of Corrosion Composites

In 1953, the first high-performance industrial corrosion resins were developed by

Atlas Chemical and Hooker Chemical Companies. The pulp and paper and
chemical processing industries were quick to recognize the benefits and use
composites in their processing equipment.

In 1961, the Amoco Division of Standard Oil introduced the first underground
gasoline storage tank. Between 1961 and 1965, Shell Oil and Owens Corning
researched corrosion-resistant solutions, ultimately producing the first
commercial line of large composite underground storage tanks.

During the 1970s, the use of composites in industrial applications became

widespread. Then in 1989, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
published the seminal design standard for FRP tanks, Reinforced Thermoset
Plastic Corrosion-Resistant Equipment. By the 1990s, the corrosion industry had
accumulated 40 years of experience and case histories to build a positive
performance record. Today, corrosion-resistant composites account for
approximately 11 to 15 percent of the total composites market and generate an
estimated $3 billion in annual sales.
Resins Role in Corrosion Resistance

One of the primary functions of resins in composites is to protect the fibers they
surround. There are dozens of resins designed to provide corrosion resistance.
Each unique formulation offers protection against specific conditions, such as
caustic solutions, acidic environments, alkaline environments, oxidizing
chemicals and high temperatures.

The first corrosion resins employed bisphenol fumurate and chlorendic anhydride
resin chemistries. Subsequently, isophthalic resins were developed and became
the mainstay of corrosion-resistant resins. Isophthalic resins along with epoxy
vinyl ester resins are commonly used today.

Reinforcements Role in Corrosion Resistance

While the same resin matrix will typically be used throughout the composite
structure, reinforcements may be used in three specific areas of the laminate. A
fiberglass or synthetic veil is used at the inner surface of the laminate. The inner
surface is the interface of the composite and corrosive material. The veil serves
to provide a resin-rich (90% resin) surface for the composite while preventing
micro-cracks in the resin which would otherwise occur if a resin-only surface (or
gel coat) was attempted. The next layer is the chopped fiberglass layer which
provides a more robust backup for the veil and is also resin-rich (70% resin). This
layer is usually considerably thicker than the veil layer and when combined with
the veil layer forms a 100 to 200 mil thick corrosion barrier. The last layer, and
by far the thickest layer is the structural portion of the laminate. Different forms
of fiberglass reinforcements can be used in this layer to provide a high glass
content (35% resin, 65% reinforcement) structural layer: direct draw single-end
rovings, fabrics, or choppable reinforcements.

There is a vast choice of materials used for the veil layer since this is the first line
of defense against a corrosive assault. C-glass, E-CR glass, several types of
synthetics thermoplastic non-wovens and carbon veil are the main material
choices for veils. Each has a specific environment where they excel. E-glass is
almost never used due to its poor corrosion performance. The material choices
for the chopped fiberglass layer and the structural layer narrow considerably to
E-glass and E-CR glass.

Industry Design Standards

If youre planning a project using corrosion-resistant composites, the design will
likely need to adhere to industry standards. The most widely used standards for
corrosion applications are issued and maintained by ASTM International and the
American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). All standards address the
basic issues of scope of applicability, design, materials, construction, quality
control, testing and record keeping.

While there are more than a dozen standards associated with construction design
related to composite corrosion applications, the primary one is ASTM C582. Its a
standard specification for contact-molded reinforced thermosetting plastic (RTP)
laminates for corrosion-resistant equipment. It covers composition, thickness,
fabrication procedures and physical property requirements for corrosion-resistant
tanks, piping and equipment manufactured by contact molding also known as
open molding.

ecause composites are a blend of reinforcing fibers, resins and additives, they
can be manufactured to meet an array of requirements. Designers are free to
create exciting new products and, in many cases, are only limited by their
imagination. Applications ranging from sports cars to wind blades take
advantage of the inherent design flexibility of composites to produce complex
shapes, add specific properties and enhance aesthetics.

Design flexibility
Innovative Geometries

One of the biggest benefits of composites is the ability to mold them into
complicated shapes more easily that most other materials. Intricate shapes and
contours are possible without the need for high-pressure tools because
composites are formed when the resin cures or solidifies during production.
So composite parts can easily take on many shapes, whether theyre created in
low volumes manually or manufactured using high-volume, automated

Having options when it comes to the shape of parts and products is

advantageous for nearly every industry that uses composites. Recreational boats
have long been built with FRP composites because these materials can be easily
molded into complex shapes, which improve boat design while lowering costs.
More recently, high-profile buildings such as the San Francisco Museum of
Modern Art have incorporated FRP cladding panels into their facades. None of the
700 undulating panels on the museum are alike, which makes for an eye-
catching building.
Precise Properties

Designers like working with composites because parts can be tailor-made to have
strength and stiffness in specific directions and areas. For instance, a composite
part can be made to resist bending in one direction. The strategic placement of
materials and orientation of fibers allows companies to design parts and products
to meet unique property requirements.

Being able to address high stress and strain areas is critical in several markets,
such as sports and recreation, where both high-end and everyday applications
count on composites. At the elite level of competition, racing yachts in the
biannual Americas Cup rely on exacting design of composite parts to carry
structural loads throughout the yachts hulls and cross beams. By aligning fibers
in various patterns laterally across skis, you can improve the torsional rigidity
the skis ability to resist twisting forces.

Surface Appearance

People are often drawn to composites because of aesthetics, with companies

marketing the carbon fiber look on everything from phone covers to
countertops. The popularity of the exposed weave appearance derives from the
automotive industry, where high-end cars rely on carbon fiber-reinforced
composites to not only enhance performance, but also reflect style. Options on
the Aston Martin Vanquish, for example, include exposed carbon fiber roofs, door
handles, wing mirrors and interiors.

But aesthetics arent reserved solely for luxury markets. Composite surfaces can
be molded to simulate any finish or texture, from smooth to coarse. Consumers
opt for composite countertops because they can be formed into any shape and
customized into any color. Handles and knobs on household appliances look
stylish and feel good to the touch. With composites, designers have endless
options to create beautiful products.


How long do composites last? There is no easy answer. Thats

because many of the original composite structures put in place
more than 50 years ago have not yet come to the end of their
lives. Composites hold up well against fatigue and are resistant
to environmental factors such as U.V. damage, temperature
fluctuations, moisture and chemical exposure. They also require
less scheduled and unexpected maintenance.

Resistant to Fatigue

Composites are strong, allowing them to withstand repeatedly

applied loads. This is particularly important for infrastructure
applications such as bridge decks, which support traffic 24
hours a day. Many of the nations deteriorating bridges are
being renovated with FRP decks, including the Broadway Bridge
in Portland, Ore. Spanning the Willamette River in the heart of
the Portland Harbor, the drawbridge handles 30,000 vehicles
per day in addition to pedestrian traffic.

Weather Warriors

Composites are hardy, holding up well in all kinds of weather.

The Prez Art Museum Miami features breathtaking hanging
gardens around the building. The 67 fiberglass-reinforced tubes
that hold flowering plants can withstand up to 146 mph winds
and resist saltwater corrosion.

Reduced Maintenance

The aerospace industry provides a great example of how

composites require less maintenance than competing
materials. Consider Boeings twin-engine jet airliners: The
composite tail of the Boeing 777 is 25 percent larger than the
767s aluminum tail. But it requires 35 percent fewer scheduled
maintenance hours, according to the company. This is because
composites are less susceptible to corrosion and fatigue than
Still Going Strong

These three composite applications showcase the materials


The Chevrolet Corvette has been built with FRP

composites since 1953. That year, 300 Corvettes were
manufactured, and more than two-thirds are still around
The first all-composite bridge in the United States the No
Name Creek span in Kansas was installed nearly 20
years ago. Its still in service and shows no signs of
In 1963, a composite gasoline tank was buried at a service
station in Chicago. When it was dug up 25 years later, the
tank was in good condition, showing no signs of leakage,
structural distress or corrosion. Experts predicted the tank
couldve lasted another 25 years.


There are two major groups of resins that make up what we call
polymer materialsthermosets and thermoplastics. These
resins are made of polymers (large molecules made up of long
chains of smaller molecules or monomers).

Thermoset resins are used to make most composites. Theyre

converted from a liquid to a solid through a process called
polymerization, or cross-linking. When used to produce finished
goods, thermosetting resins are cured by the use of a
catalyst, heat or a combination of the two. Once cured, solid
thermoset resins cannot be converted back to their original
liquid form. Common thermosets are polyester, vinyl ester,
epoxy, and polyurethane.


Thermosets cross link during the curing process to form an

irreversible bond.

Polyester: Unsaturated polyester resins (UPR) are the

workhorse of the composites industry and represent
approximately 75% of the total resins used. A range of raw
materials and processing techniques are available to achieve
the desired properties in the formulated or processed polyester
resin. Polyesters are versatile because of their capacity to be
modified or tailored during the building of the polymer chains.
They have been found to have almost unlimited usefulness in
all segments of the composites industry. The principle
advantage of these resins is a balance of properties (including
mechanical, chemical, and electrical) dimensional stability, cost
and ease of handling or processing. Polyester producers have
proved willing and capable of supplying resins with the
necessary properties to meet the requirements of specific end
user applications. These resins can be formulated and
chemically tailored to provide properties and process

Epoxy: Epoxy resins have a well-established record in a wide

range of composites parts, structures and concrete repair. The
structure of the resin can be engineered to yield a number of
different products with varying levels of performance. A major
benefit of epoxy resins over unsaturated polyester resins is
their lower shrinkage. Epoxy resins can also be formulated with
different materials or blended with other epoxy resins to
achieve specific performance features. Epoxies are used
primarily for fabricating high performance composites with
superior mechanical properties, resistance to corrosive liquids
and environments, superior electrical properties, good
performance at elevated temperatures, good adhesion to a
substrate, or a combination of these benefits. Epoxy resins do
not however, have particularly good UV resistance.

Vinyl Ester: Vinyl esters were developed to combine the

advantages of epoxy resins with the better handling/faster
cure, which are typical for unsaturated polyester resins. These
resins are produced by reacting epoxy resin with acrylic or
methacrylic acid. This provides an unsaturated site, much like
that produced in polyester resins when maleic anhydride is
used. The resulting material is dissolved in styrene to yield a
liquid that is similar to polyester resin. Vinyl esters are also
cured with the conventional organic peroxides used with
polyester resins. Vinyl esters offer mechanical toughness and
excellent corrosion resistance. These enhanced properties are
obtained without complex processing, handling or special shop
fabricating practices that are typical with epoxy resins.

Phenolic: Phenolics are a class of resins commonly based on

phenol (carbolic acid). Phenolics are thermosetting resins that
cure through a condensation reaction producing water that
should be removed during processing. Pigmented applications
are limited to red, brown or black. Phenolic composites have
many desirable performance qualities including high
temperature resistance, creep resistance, excellent thermal
insulation and sound damping properties, corrosion resistance
and excellent fire/smoke/smoke toxicity properties. Phenolics
are applied as adhesives or matrix binders in engineered woods
(plywood), brake linings, clutch plates, circuit boards, to name a

Polyurethane: Polyurethane is a family of polymers with widely

ranging properties and uses, all based on the exothermic
reaction of an organic polyisocyanates with a polyols (an
alcohol containing more than one hydroxyl group). A few basic
constituents of different molecular weights and functionalities
are used to produce the whole spectrum of polyurethane
materials. Polyurethanes appear in an amazing variety of forms.
These materials are all around us, playing important roles in
more facets of our daily life than perhaps any other single
polymer. They are used as a coating, elastomer, foam, or
adhesive. When used as a coating in exterior or interior
finishes, polyurethanes are tough, flexible, chemical resistant,
and fast curing. Polyurethanes as an elastomer have superior
toughness and abrasion in such applications as solid tires,
wheels, bumper components or insulation. There are many
formulations of polyurethane foam to optimize the density for
insulation, structural sandwich panels, and architectural
components. Polyurethanes are often used to bond composite
structures together. Benefits of polyurethane adhesive bonds
are that they have good impact resistance, the resin cures
rapidly and the resin bonds well to a variety of different
surfaces such as concrete.

Thermoplastic resins, on the other hand, are not cross-linked

and, so, can be melted, formed, re-melted and re-formed.
Thermoplastic resins are characterized by materials such as
ABS, polyethylene, polystyrene, and polycarbonate.


Thermoplastics form extremely strong bonds within chain


These resins are recognized by their capability to be shaped or

molded while in a heated semi-fluid state and become rigid
when cooled. We are surrounded by everyday household items
made of thermoplastics.

Thermoset Resins In Depth


To avoid any confusion in terms, readers should be aware that

there is a family of thermoplastic polyesters that are best
known for their use as fibers for textiles and clothing.
Thermoset polyesters are produced by the condensation
polymerization of dicarboxylic acids and difunctional alcohols
(glycols). In addition, unsaturated polyesters contain an
unsaturated material, such as maleic anhydride or fumaric acid,
as part of the dicarboxylic acid component. The finished
polymer is dissolved in a reactive monomer such as styrene to
give a low viscosity liquid. When this resin is cured, the
monomer reacts with the unsaturated sites on the polymer
converting it to a solid thermoset structure.

Unsaturated polyesters are divided into classes depending

upon the structures of their basic building blocks. Some
common examples would be orthophthalic (ortho), Isophthalic
(iso), dicyclopentadiene (DCPD) and bisphenol A fumarate
resins. In addition, polyester resins are classified according to
end use application as either general purpose (GP) or specialty
polyesters such as fire retardant (FR).


Cure rates can be controlled to match process requirements

through the proper selection of hardeners and/or catalyst
systems. Generally, epoxies are cured by addition of an
anhydride or an amine hardener as a 2-part system. Different
hardeners, as well as quantity of a hardener produce a different
cure profile and give different properties to the finished
composites. Since the viscosity of epoxy is much higher than
most polyester resin, it requires a post-cure (elevated heat) to
obtain ultimate mechanical properties making epoxies more
difficult to use. However, epoxies emit little odor as compared
to polyesters.
Epoxy resins are used with a number of fibrous reinforcing
materials, including glass, carbon and aramid. This latter group
is small in volume, comparatively high cost and is usually used
to meet high strength and/or high stiffness requirements.
Epoxies are compatible with most composites manufacturing
processes, particularly vacuum-bag molding, autoclave
molding, pressure-bag molding, compression molding, filament
winding and hand lay-up.

Curing Polyester and Vinyl Ester Resins

Resins must cure in a way that is compatible with the

fabrication process. Some parts are small and can be laid-up
quickly. The faster a resin cures, the quicker the turnaround is
on the molds and the greater the production rates. Other parts
may involve large lay-ups where more time is required for the
lamination process. In compression molding, pultrusion and
sometimes RTM, heated molds provide rapid curing.

The physical properties of a finished part are greatly affected

by its cure. The hardness of the laminate is affected by the
curing process as well as the chemical resistance of the
laminate surface. Flexural, compressive, and tensile properties
are partially determined by the efficiency of the cure. The cure
must be complete to develop the full potential of a resin. Thick
laminates require special attention. Resin exotherm must be
controlled in order to prevent excessive shrinkage, laminate
warping, and other problems related to high exotherms during

Many materials are capable of reinforcing polymers. Some

materials, such as the cellulose in wood, are naturally occurring
products. Most commercial reinforcements, however, are man-
made. There are many commercially available reinforcement
forms to meet the design requirements of the user. The ability
to tailor the fiber architecture allows for optimized performance
of a product that translates to weight and cost savings.

Although many forms of fiber are used as reinforcement in

composite laminates, glass fibers account for more than 90
percent of the fibers used in reinforced plastics because they
are inexpensive to produce and have relatively good strength-
to weight characteristics.


Glass Fibers: Based on an alumina-lime-borosilicate

composition, E or E-CR glass produced fibers are considered
the predominant reinforcements for polymer matrix composites
due to their high electrical insulating properties, low
susceptibility to moisture and high mechanical properties. E-CR
glass is further distinguished from E-glass by having superior
corrosion resistance properties. Other commercial compositions
include S glass, with higher strength, heat resistance and
modulus, H-glass with higher modulus, and AR glass (alkali
resistant) with excellent corrosion resistance. Glass is generally
a good impact resistant fiber but weighs more than carbon or
aramid. Glass fibers have excellent mechanical characteristics,
stronger than steel in certain forms. The lower modulus
requires special design treatment where stiffness is critical.
Glass fibers are transparent to radio frequency radiation and
are used in radar antenna applications.

Carbon Fibers: Carbon fibers are made from organic precursors,

including PAN (polyacrylonitrile), rayon, and pitches, with the
latter two generally used for low modulus fibers. The terms
carbon and graphite fibers are typically used
interchangeably, although graphite technically refers to fibers
that are greater than 99 percent carbon composition, versus
93-95 percent for PAN-based carbon fibers. Carbon fiber offers
the highest strength and stiffness of all the reinforcement
fibers. High temperature performance is particularly
outstanding for carbon fibers. The major drawback to PAN-
based fibers is their high relative cost, which is a result of the
cost of the base material and an energy-intensive
manufacturing process. Carbon fiber composites are more
brittle than glass or aramid. Carbon fibers can cause galvanic
corrosion when used next to metals. A barrier material such as
glass and resin is used to prevent this occurrence.

Aramid Fibers (Polyaramids): The most common synthetic fiber

is aramid. Aramid fiber is an aromatic polyimid that is a man-
made organic fiber for composite reinforcement. Aramid fibers
offer good mechanical properties at a low density with the
added advantage of toughness or damage/impact resistance.
They are characterized as having reasonably high tensile
strength, a medium modulus, and a very low density as
compared to glass and carbon. Aramid fibers are insulators of
both electricity and heat and increase the impact resistance of
composites. They are resistant to organic solvents, fuels and
lubricants. Aramid composites are not as good in compressive
strength as glass or carbon composites. Dry aramid fibers are
tough and have been used as cables or ropes, and frequently
used in ballistic applications. Kevlar is perhaps the best
known example of aramid fiber. Aramid is the predominant
organic reinforcing fiber replacement for steel belting in tires.

New Fibers: Polyester and nylon thermoplastic fibers have

recently been introduced both as primary reinforcements and in
a hybrid arrangement with fiberglass. Attractive features
include low density, reasonable cost, and good impact and
fatigue resistance. Although polyester fibers have fairly high
strengths, their stiffness is considerably below that of glass.
More specialized reinforcements for high strength and high
temperature use include metals and metal oxides such as those
used in aircraft or aerospace applications.

Reinforcement Forms

Regardless of the material, reinforcements are available in

forms to serve a wide range of processes and end-product
requirements. Materials supplied as reinforcement include
roving, milled fiber, chopped strands, continuous, chopped or
thermoformable mat. Reinforcement materials can be designed
with unique fiber architectures and be preformed (shaped)
depending on the product requirements and manufacturing

Multi-End and Single-End Rovings: Rovings are utilized primarily

in thermoset compounds, but can be utilized in thermoplastics.
Multi-end rovings consist of many individual strands or bundles
of filaments, which are then chopped and randomly deposited
into the resin matrix. Processes such as sheet molding
compound (SMC), preform and spray-up use the multi-end
roving. Multi-end rovings can also be used in some filament
winding and pultrusion applications. The single-end roving
consists of many individual filaments wound into a single
strand. The product is generally used in processes that utilize a
unidirectional reinforcement such as filament winding or
Mats & Veils: Reinforcing mats and non-woven veils are usually
described by weight-per-unit-of-area. For instance, a 2 ounce
chopped strand mat will weigh 2 ounces per square yard. The
reinforcement type, the fiber dispersion, and amount of binder
that is used to hold the mat or veil together dictate differences
between mat products. In some processes such as hand lay-up,
it is necessary for the binder to dissolve. In other processes,
particularly in compression molding, and pultrusion the binder
must withstand the hydraulic forces and the dissolving action of
the matrix resin during molding. Therefore, from a binder point
of view, two general categories of mats or veils are produced
and are known as soluble and insoluble binders.

Woven, Stitched, Braided & 3-D Fabrics: There are many types
of fabrics that can be used to reinforce resins in a composite.
Multidirectional reinforcements are produced by weaving,
knitting, stitching or braiding continuous fibers into a fabric
from twisted and plied yarn. Fabrics can be manufactured
utilizing almost any reinforcing fiber. The most common fabrics
are constructed with fiberglass, carbon or aramid. Fabrics offer
oriented strengths and high reinforcement loadings often found
in high performance applications. Fabrics allow for the precise
placement of the reinforcement. This cannot be done with
milled fibers or chopped strands and is only possible with
continuous strands using relatively expensive fiber placement
equipment. Due to the continuous nature of the fibers in most
fabrics, the strength to weight ratio is much higher than that for
the cut or chopped fiber versions. Stitched fabrics allow for
customized fiber orientations within the fabric structure. This
can be of great advantage when designing for shear or
torsional stability.

Unidirectional: Unidirectional reinforcements include tapes,

tows, unidirectional tow sheet and roving (which are collections
of fibers or strands). Fibers in this form are all aligned parallel in
one direction and uncrimped, providing the highest mechanical
properties. Composites using unidirectional tapes or sheets
have high strength in the direction of the fiber. Unidirectional
sheets are thin and multiple layers are required for most
structural applications. Typical applications for unidirectional
reinforcements include highly loaded designed composites,
such as aircraft components or race boats.

Prepreg: Prepregs are a ready-made material made of a

reinforcement form and polymer matrix. Passing reinforcing
fibers or forms such as fabrics through a resin bath is used to
make a prepreg. The resin is saturated (impregnated) into the
fiber and then heated to advance the curing reaction to
different curing stages. Thermoset or thermoplastic prepregs
are available and can be either stored in a refrigerator or at
room temperature depending on the constituent materials.
Prepregs can be manually or mechanically applied at various
directions based on the design requirements.

Milled: Milled fibers are chopped fibers having very short fiber
lengths (usually less than 1/8). These products are often used
in thermoset putties, castings, or syntactic foams to prevent
cracking of the cured composition due to resin shrinkage.

Although additives are generally used in relatively low quantity

by weight compared to resins, reinforcements and fillers, they
perform critical functions. While additives and modifiers often
increase the cost of the basic material system, these materials
always improve cost/performance.
Additive Functions

There are a number of additives that are used to modify and

enhance resin properties that become a part of the polymer
matrix. These additives include

Thixotropes: In some processes such as hand lay-up or spray-

up, thixotropic agents may be used. When at rest, resins
containing thixotropic agents remain at elevated viscosities.
This reduces the tendency of the liquid resin to flow or drain
from vertical surfaces. When the resin is subjected to shear, the
viscosity is reduced and the resin can be easily sprayed or
brushed on the mold. Fumed silica and certain clays are
common thixotropic agents.

Pigments & Colorants: Pigment dispersions and color pastes

can be added to resin or gel coat for cosmetic purposes or to
enhance weatherability. In the case of gel coats, finely milled
pigments are blended with resin using high shear mixers. Many
pigments react differently in polyester resin than in paint, and
various pigments may slow down or speed up resin gel time.
Additives can be mixed in as part of the resin or applied as part
of the molding process (as a gel coat). A wide range of coatings
can be applied after molding.

Fire Retardants: Most thermoset resins are combustible and

create toxic smoke when burned. Combustion resistance is
improved by proper choice of resin, use of fillers or flame
retardant additives. Included in this category are materials
containing ATH (alumina trihydrate), bromine, chlorine, borate
and phosphorus.

Suppressants: In open mold applications, styrene emission

suppressants are used to block evaporation for air quality
compliance. These wax-based materials form a film on the resin
surface and reduce styrene emissions during curing.
UV Inhibitors & Stabilizers: Both thermoset and thermoplastic
composites may use special materials which are added to
prevent loss of gloss, crazing, chalking, discoloration, changes
in electrical characteristics, embrittlement and disintegration
due to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Additives, which protect
composites by absorbing the UV, are called ultraviolet
absorbers. Materials, which protect the polymer in some other
manner, are known as ultraviolet stabilizers. In the event that a
non-gel coated resin will be exposed to sunlight, the addition of
a UV stabilizer will slow the surface degradation.

Conductive Additives: Most composites do not conduct

electricity. It is possible to obtain a degree of electrical
conductivity by the addition of metal, carbon particles or
conductive fibers. Electromagnetic interference shielding can
be achieved by incorporating conductive materials.

Release Agents: Release agents facilitate removal of parts from

molds. These products can be added to the resin, applied to
molds, or both. Zinc stearate is a popular mold release agent
that is mixed into resin for compression molding. Waxes,
silicones and other release agents may be applied directly to
the surface of molds.

Initiators, Promoters & Inhibitors

In polyesters, the most important additive is catalyst or

initiator. Typically, organic peroxide such as methylethylketone
peroxide (MEKP) is used for room temperature cured processes,
or benzoyl peroxide is added to the resin for heat-cured
molding. When triggered by heat, or used in conjunction with a
promoter (such as cobalt napthenate), peroxides convert to a
reactive state (exhibiting free radicals), causing the
unsaturated resin to react (cross-link) and become solid. Some
additives such as TBC (tertiary butyl catechol) are used to slow
the rate of reaction and are called inhibitors. Accelerators such
as DMA (dimethyl aniline) speed curing.

Fillers not only reduce the cost of composites, but also

frequently impart performance improvements that might not
otherwise be achieved by the reinforcement and resin
ingredients alone. Fillers are often referred to as extenders. In
comparison to resins and reinforcements, fillers are the least
expensive of the major ingredients. Fillers can improve
mechanical properties including fire and smoke performance by
reducing organic content in composite laminates. Also, filled
resins shrink less than unfilled resins, thereby improving the
dimensional control of molded parts. Important properties,
including water resistance, weathering, surface smoothness,
stiffness, dimensional stability and temperature resistance, can
all be improved through the proper use of fillers.

Use of inorganic fillers in composites is increasing. When used

in composite laminates, inorganic fillers can account for 40 to
65% by weight. There are a number of inorganic filler materials
that can be used with composites, including:

Calcium carbonate is the most widely used inorganic filler. It is

available at low cost in a variety of particle sizes and
treatments from well-established regional suppliers, especially
for composite applications. Most common grades of calcium
carbonate filler are derived from limestone or marble and very
common in automobile parts.

Kaolin (hydrous aluminum silicate) is the second most

commonly used filler. It is known throughout the industry by its
more common material name, clay. Mined clays are processed
either by air flotation or by water washing to remove impurities
and to classify the product for use in composites. A wide range
of particle sizes is available.
Alumina trihydrate is frequently used when improved
fire/smoke performance is required. When exposed to high
temperature, this filler gives off water (hydration), thereby
reducing the flame spread and development of smoke.
Composite plumbing fixture applications such as bathtubs,
shower stalls and related building products often contain
alumina trihydrate for this purpose.

Calcium sulfate is a major flame/smoke retarding filler used by

the tub/shower industry. It has fewer waters of hydration, and
water is released at a lower temperature. This mineral filler
offers a low cost flame/smoke retarding filler.


Thermal conductivity, sound insulation, and fire resistance can

also be improved by use of the proper core material. The use of
core materials is also called sandwich construction. The
sandwich consists of a face skin laminate, the core material,
and the back skin laminate. The use of a core creates a thicker
laminate with a minimum increase in weight. Stiffness is a
function of the thickness of the laminate.

Bonded sandwich structures have been a basic component of

the composites industry for over 45 years. The concept of using
relatively thin, strong face sheets bonded to thicker, lightweight
core materials has allowed the industry to build strong, stiff,
light and highly durable structures that otherwise would not be
practical. This technology has been demonstrated in boats,
trucks, automobiles, wind turbine blades and building panels. A
3% weight increase can increase the flexural strength and
stiffness by a magnitude of 3.5 times and 7 times respectively
if cores and skins are properly chosen. The structure then acts
more or less monolithically.
Face sheets can be of almost any material. In the composites
industry, the most common face sheets are glass and carbon.
Some core materials can be shaped, such as a waffle pattern or
corrugation to achieve the desired mechanical properties.

There are a number of types of core materials available, with a

wide range of properties and costs:

Balsa: Balsa has a high-aspect ratio and directionally aligned

cells such that the grain is oriented in the direction of the
maximum stress. Balsa has a proven track record in products
such as pleasure boat hulls, military aircraft, navy vessels,
vehicles, wind turbine blades and corrosion-resistant industrial
tanks. End grain balsas closed-cell structure consists of
elongated, prismatic cells with a length (grain direction) that is
approximately 16 times the diameter. With densities generally
between 6 and 16 pounds per cubic foot, this material exhibits
excellent stiffness and bond strength. End-grain balsa is
available in sheet form for flat panel construction or in a scrim-
backed block arrangement that conforms to complex curves.

Cross-Linked PVC Foam: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) foam cores are

manufactured by combining a polyvinyl copolymer with
stabilizers, plasticizers, cross-linking compounds, and blowing
agents. The mixture is heated under pressure to initiate the
cross-linking reaction and then submerged in hot water tanks to
expand to the desired density. PVC foams offer a good
combination of strength and weight with densities ranging from
4 to 30 lb/ft.

Thermoplastic Foam: Foamed thermoplastic polystyrene is very

light, weighing only about 2 lbs/ft. This material has very low
mechanical properties, and polystyrene will be attacked and
dissolved by polyester resin. These foams will not conform to
complex curves. Use is generally limited to buoyancy rather
than structural applications.
Polyurethane Foam: Polyurethane is available either in sheet
stock form or it can be foamed in place when used as an
insulation or buoyancy material. Polyurethane foam can be
blown in a wide range of densities, from 2 lb/ft to over 20 lb/ft.
Because of its relatively low shear values, this foam is generally
not used in structural applications.

Syntactic Foam: Syntactic foams are made by mixing hollow

microspheres in resin. The lightweight microspheres reduce the
density of the resin and create a thick mixture that can be
applied by hand or sprayed. Sprayable syntactic foam is
sometimes used as a barrier coat between gel coat and a bulk

Linear PVC Foam: Linear PVC foam core is produced mainly for
the marine industry. Its unique mechanical properties are a
result of a non-cross-linked molecular structure, which allows
significant deflection before failure. In comparison to the
crosslinked (non-linear) PVC, this PVC will exhibit less favorable
static properties and better impact absorption capability.

Honeycomb: Various types of manufactured honeycomb cores

are used extensively in the aerospace and transportation
industry. Honeycomb materials include paper, aluminum,
phenolic resin impregnated fiberglass, polypropylene, and
aramid fiber phenolic-treated paper. Densities range from 1 to 6
lbs/ft. The physical properties vary to a large degree with the
specific material and density. Fabrication of extremely
lightweight panels is possible with honeycomb cores.

PMI Foam: Polymethacrylimide (PMI) foam is generally used in

advanced composites prepreg composites construction, where
its ability to withstand curing temperatures in excess of 350o F
is needed.

Fiber Reinforced Core: Fiber reinforced composite core

technology combines fiberglass and closed-cell foam in an
engineered architecture to create a very efficient sandwich core
solution with very high mechanical properties. It is well suited
as a material for static applications requiring high stiffness or
as a replacement for wood and plywood.

Core Fabrics (Laminate Bulkers): Various materials are used to

produce the products that are called either core fabrics or
laminate bulkers. The purpose of these products is to create a
barrier to prevent print-out or to build laminate thickness
quickly. In most cases, core fabrics are non-woven materials
using polyester filaments that are bonded into a mat-like blotter
configuration. These products are wet-out with resin and
laminated similarly to fiberglass reinforcement.

Surface Finishes

Surface finishes can be critical to the long-term appearances of

composite products. FRP composites can accept a wide range
of surface finishes, including gel coat, surface veils and
adhesives. Other surface finishes include aliphatic isocynates,
polyurethanes, polyesters, acrylics and epoxies and in some
cases with fine sand added for additional protection.

Gel Coat: A common surface finish for FRP composites is gel

coat, a specifically formulated polyester resin that is applied to
the mold surface prior to laminate build-up. It is designed to
provide a cosmetic outer surface on a composite product and to
provide weatherability for outdoor products. Gel coats are used
to improve weathering, filter out ultraviolet radiation, add flame
resistance, provide a thermal barrier, improve chemical
resistance, improve abrasion resistance, and provide a moisture
barrier. Gel coats are used to improve the product appearance
such as the surface of a boat hull or golf cart. A unique benefit
of gel coats is that they are supplied in many colors by the
incorporation of pigments per the specification of the engineer.

Surface Veils: In some composite designs, a surface veil is used

to provide an improved corrosion or weather barrier to the
product. A surface veil is a fabric made from nylon or polyester
that acts as a very thin sponge that can absorb resin to 90% of
its volume. This helps to retain an extra layer of protective resin
on the surface of the product. Surface veils are used to improve
the surface appearance and ensure the presence of a corrosion
resistance barrier for typical composites products such as
pipes, tanks and other chemical process equipment. Other
benefits include increased resistance to abrasion, UV and other
weathering forces. Veils may be used in conjunction with gel
coats to provide reinforcement to the resin.

Adhesives: Adhesives are used to attach composites to

themselves as well as to other surfaces. Adhesive bonding is
the method of choice for bonding thermoset composites and is
sometimes used for thermoplastic composites. Adhesives
should be used in a joint design where the maximum load is
transferred into the component using the loading
characteristics of the adhesive and the composites material.
The most common adhesives are acrylics, epoxies, and
urethanes. A high-strength bond with high-temperature
resistance would indicate the use of an epoxy, whereas a
moderate temperature resistance with good strength and rapid
cure might use an acrylic. For applications where toughness is
needed, urethane might be selected.
Ultraviolet Protection: FRP materials by their nature are
susceptible to ultraviolet (UV) degradation which usually begins
with a cosmetic change in the color followed in time by
potential chalking, peeling and cracking, eventually leading to a
loss of resin on the materials surface which is called fiber
blooming. The rate of UV degradation is affected by
geographical location, resin type, fiber loading and filler
packages. FRP composites should be protected from UV by an
opaque gel coat surface or by painting the exposed surfaces.
Incorporating UV screens into the matrix is also useful. Of these
techniques, gel coating is the most common because it
provides good surface finish and a deep 10 to 20 mil (mm) thick
protective surface.

Painting: Painting systems are available for FRP composites

finishes and are widely used in both the architectural and
marine fields. Properly prepared FRP composites can also
accept a wide variety of surface coatings, including oil- and
water-based paint, as well as plural component systems such
as urethanes. The non-absorbent, inert nature of FRP
composites allow for surface paints to be applied. Paints need
not be breathable and no extraordinary surface preparation is
required beyond proper abrasion and removal of residual mold
release agents. Ceramic tile, metal, wood, and other plastics
can be adhered to FRP surfaces, provided differential thermal
properties and panel deflections are allowed for either in the
elasticity of the adhesive or mechanical attachment.

Gel Coat In Depth

Gel coats are considered resins but have a very special

purpose. A gel coat is a specially formulated polyester resin
incorporating thixotropic agents to increase the gel coats
viscosity and non-sag properties, fillers for flow properties,
pigments to give the desired color, and additives for specific
application properties, such as gel time and cure. Gel coats are
primarily used for contact molding (hand or spray lay-up). The
gel coat, usually pigmented, provides a molded-in finished
surface that is weather and wear resistant. The gel coat helps
in hiding the glass reinforcement pattern that may show
through from the inherent resin shrinkage around the glass
fibers. Considerations used for the proper selection of a gel
coat are compatibility of the underlying FRP materials to ensure
good adhesion of the gel coat, as well as the operating
environment. Factors influencing the weatherability of a gel
coated surface include the type of gel coat resin, amount and
type of fillers and colorants in the gel coat, and coating

The most common current usage of gel coats is in-mold

applications. That is, the gel coat is sprayed into the mold and
the laminate is applied behind it. Adhesion of the laminating
resin to the gel coat is a critical issue. Thickness of the gel coat
can vary depending on the intended performance of the
composites product. Gel coats are typically applied by spray
application to approximately 16-20 mils (0.003 mm) wet film
thickness. While gel coats do not add any structural strength to
the FRP part, gel coats should be resilient. Gel coats should be
able to bend without cracking. They should be resistant to
thermal cracking (cracking that may occur with dramatic
changes in temperature). The primary measurements of
resilience are flexural modulus and elongation.

Gel coat is not paint. Paint contains solvents that must

evaporate for the paint to dry. Gel coat does not have a solvent
base; it has instead a reactive diluent called a monomer which
cross-links during curing. The monomer does not have to leave
the system for the gel coat to cure; in fact, it is beneficial to
reduce monomer loss to lower emissions. Typical monomers
used in gel coat are styrene and/or methylmethacrylate
Open Molding

Hand Lay-Up
Hand lay-up is an open molding method suitable for making a
wide variety of composites products from very small to very
large. Production volume per mold is low; however, it is feasible
to produce substantial production quantities using multiple
molds. Hand lay-up is the simplest composites molding method,
offering low cost tooling, simple processing, and a wide range
of part sizes. Design changes are readily made. There is a
minimum investment in equipment. With skilled operators,
good production rates and consistent quality are obtainable.

Wet Hand Lay-up Molding Diagram


Gel coat is first applied to the mold using a spray gun for a high
quality surface. When the gel coat has cured sufficiently, roll
stock fiberglass reinforcement is manually placed on the mold.
The laminating resin is applied by pouring, brushing, spraying,
or using a paint roller. FRP rollers, paint rollers, or squeegees
are used to consolidate the laminate, thoroughly wetting the
reinforcement and removing entrapped air. Subsequent layers
of fiberglass reinforcement are added to build laminate
thickness. Low density core materials such as end-grain balsa,
foam, and honeycomb, are commonly used to stiffen the
laminate. This is known as sandwich construction.


Simple, single cavity molds of fiberglass composites

construction are generally used. Molds can range from small to
very large and are low cost in the spectrum of composites

In the spray-up process, the operator controls thickness and
consistency, therefore the process is more operator dependent
than hand lay-up. Although production volume per mold is low,
it is feasible to produce substantial production quantities using
multiple molds. This process uses simple, low cost tooling and
simple processing. Portable equipment permits on-site
fabrication with virtually no part size limitations. The process
may be automated.

Spray-up Open Molding Diagram


As with hand lay-up, gel coat is first applied to the mold and
allowed to cure. Continuous strand glass roving and initiated
resin are then fed through a chopper gun, which deposits the
resin-saturated chop on the mold. The laminate is then rolled
to thoroughly saturate the glass strands and compact the chop.
Additional layers of chop laminate are added as required for
thickness. Roll stock reinforcements, such as woven roving or
knitted fabrics, can be used in conjunction with the chopped
laminates. Core materials of the same variety as used in hand
lay-up are easily incorporated.


These are the same molds as hand lay-up: simple, single cavity
molds of fiberglass composites construction. Molds can range
from small to very large and are low cost in the spectrum of
composites molds.

Filament Winding

Filament winding results in a high degree of fiber loading, which

provides high tensile strength in the manufacture of hollow,
generally cylindrical products such as chemical and fuel storage
tanks, pipes, stacks, pressure vessels, and rocket motor cases.
The process makes high strength-to-weight ratio laminates and
provides a high degree of control over uniformity and fiber
orientation. The filament winding process can be used to make
structures that are highly engineered and meet strict
tolerances. Because filament winding is computer-controlled
and automated, the labor factor for filament winding is lower
than other open molding processes.
Filament Winding Open Molding Diagram


Continuous strand roving is fed through a resin bath and wound

onto a rotating mandrel. The roving feed runs on a trolley that
travels the length of the mandrel. The filament is laid down in a
predetermined geometric pattern to provide maximum strength
in the directions required. When sufficient layers have been
applied, the laminate is cured on the mandrel. The molded part
is then stripped from the mandrel. Equipment is available for
filament winding on a continuous basis with to axis winding for
pressure cylinders. Filament winding can be combined with the
chopping process and is known as the hoop chop process.


Filament winding uses mandrels of suitable size and shape,

made of steel or aluminum, to form the inner surface of the
hollow part. Some mandrels are collapsible to facilitate part

Closed Molding
Vacuum Bag Molding

By reducing the pressure inside the vacuum bag, external

atmospheric pressure exerts force on the bag. The pressure on
the laminate removes entrapped air, excess resin, and
compacts the laminate, resulting in a higher percentage of fiber
Vacuum Bag Molding Diagram

Vacuum bagging can be used with wet-lay laminates and

prepreg advanced composites. In wet lay up bagging the
reinforcement is saturated using hand lay up, then the vacuum
bag is mounted on the mold and used to compact the laminate
and remove air voids. In the case of pre-impregnated advanced
composites molding, the prepreg material is laid up on the
mold, the vacuum bag is mounted and the mold is heated or
the mold is placed in an autoclave that applies both heat and
external pressure, adding to the force of atmospheric pressure.
The prepreg-vacuum bag-autoclave method is most often used
to create advanced composite aircraft and military products.

Structures fabricated with traditional hand lay up techniques

can become resin rich and vacuum bagging can eliminate the
problem. Additionally, complete fiber wet-out can be
accomplished if the process is done correctly. Improved core
bonding is also possible with vacuum bag processing.


In the simplest form of vacuum bagging, a flexible film (PVA,

nylon, mylar, or polyethylene) is placed over the wet lay up, the
edges are sealed, and a vacuum is drawn. A more advanced
form of vacuum bagging places a release film over the
laminate, followed by a bleeder ply of fiberglass cloth, non-
woven nylon, polyester cloth, or other material that absorbs
excess resin from the laminate. A breather ply of a non woven
fabric is placed over the bleeder ply, and the vacuum bag is
mounted over the entire assembly. Pulling a vacuum from
within the bag uses atmospheric pressure to eliminate voids
and force excess resin from the laminate. The addition of
pressure further results in high fiber concentration and provides
better adhesion between layers of sandwich construction.
When laying non-contoured sheets of PVC foam of balsa into a
female mold, vacuum bagging is the technique of choice to
ensure proper secondary bonding of the core to the outer


Molds are similar to those used for conventional open mold


Vacuum Infusion
Vacuum infusion can produce laminates with a uniform degree
of consolidation, producing high strength, lightweight
structures. This process uses the same low-cost tooling as open
molding and requires minimal equipment. Vacuum infusion
offers substantial emissions reduction compared to either open
molding or wet lay-up vacuum bagging.

The method is defined as having lower than atmospheric

pressure in the mold cavity. The reinforcement and core
materials are laid-up dry in the mold by hand, providing the
opportunity to precisely position the reinforcement. When the
resin is pulled into the mold the laminate is already compacted;
therefore, there is no room for excess resin. Vacuum infusion
enables very high resin-to-glass ratios and the mechanical
properties of the laminate are superior. Vacuum infusion is
suitable to mold very large structures and is considered a low-
volume molding process.
Vacuum Infusion Processing Diagram


The mold may be gel coated in the traditional fashion. After the
gel coat cures, the dry reinforcement is positioned in the mold.
This includes all the plies of the laminate and core material if
required. A perforated release film is placed over the dry
reinforcement. Next a flow media consisting of a coarse mesh
or a crinkle ply is positioned, and perforated tubing is
positioned as a manifold to distribute resin across the laminate.
The vacuum bag is then positioned and sealed at the mold
perimeter. A tube is connected between the vacuum bag and
the resin container. A vacuum is applied to consolidate the
laminate and the resin is pulled into the mold.


Molds are similar to those used for conventional open-mold


Resin Transfer Molding

By laying up reinforcement material dry inside the mold, any
combination of material and orientation can be used, including
3-D reinforcements. Part thickness is determined by the tool
cavity. Fast cycle times can be achieved in temperature-
controlled tooling and the process can range from simple to
highly automated. RTM can use a wide variety of tooling,
ranging from low-cost composite molds to temperature
controlled metal tooling. Vacuum assist can be used to enhance
resin flow in the mold cavity.

Resin Transfer Molding Diagram


The mold is gel coated conventionally, if required. The

reinforcement (and core material) is positioned in the mold and
the mold is closed and clamped. The resin is injected under
pressure, using mix/meter injection equipment, and the part is
cured in the mold. The reinforcement can be either a preform or
a pattern cut roll stock material. A preform is a reinforcement
that is formed to a specific shape in a separate process and can
be quickly positioned in the mold. RTM can be done at room
temperature; however, heated molds are required to achieve
fast cycle times and product consistency. Clamping can be
accomplished with perimeter clamping or press clamping.


RTM can utilize either hard or soft tooling depending upon the
expected duration of the run. Soft tooling would be either
polyester or epoxy molds, while hard tooling may consist of
cast machined aluminum, electroformed nickel shell, or
machined steel molds. RTM can take advantage of the broadest
range of tooling of any composites process. Tooling can range
from very low-cost to high-cost, life-long molds.

Compression Molding
There are several types of compression molding that are
defined by the type of material molded: sheet molding
compound (SMC), bulk molding compound (BMC), thick molding
compound (TMC), and wet lay-up compression molding.
Compression molding tooling consists of heated metal molds
mounted in large hydraulic presses. The process can be
automated. Compression molding enables part design flexibility
and features such as inserts, ribs, bosses and attachments.
Good surface finishes are obtainable, contributing to lower part
finishing cost. Subsequent trimming and machining operations
are minimized in compression molding and labor costs are low.

Compression Molding Diagram


The mold set is mounted in a hydraulic or mechanical molding

press and the molds are heated from 250 to 400 F. A weighed
charge of molding material is placed in the open mold. The two
halves of the mold are closed and pressure is applied.
Depending on thickness, size, and shape of the part, curing
cycles range from less than a minute to about five minutes.
After cure, the mold is opened and the finished part is removed.
Typical parts include automobile components, appliance
housings and structural components, furniture, electrical
components, and business machine housings and parts.


Tooling usually consists of machined or cast metal or alloy

molds that can be in either single or multiple-cavity
configurations. Steel molds are hardened and sometimes
chrome plated for enhanced durability. The molds are heated
using steam, hot oil, or electricity. Side cores, provisions for
inserts, and other refinements are often employed. Mold
materials include cast of forged steel, cast iron, and cast
aluminum. Matched metal molds can cost 50 times as much as
an FRP open mold and tooling in the $50,000-$500,000 range is
not uncommon.

Pultrusion produces profiles with extremely high fiber loading;
thus, pultruded products have high structural properties. The
process can be readily automated and is adaptable to both
simple and complex cross-sectional shapes. Very high strengths
are possible and labor costs are low.

Pultrusion Diagram


Continuous strand glass fiber, carbon fiber or basalt fiber

roving, mat, cloth, or surfacing veil is impregnated in a resin
bath and then pulled (therefore the term pul-trusion) through a
steel die by a powerful tractor mechanism. The steel die
consolidates the saturated reinforcement, sets the shape of the
stock, and controls the fiber/resin ratio. The die is heated to
rapidly cure the resin. Many creels (balls) of roving are
positioned on a rack, and a complex series of tensioning
devices and roving guides direct the roving into the die.


Hardened steel dies are machined and include a preform area

to do the initial shaping of the resin-saturated roving. The dies
include heating which can be electric or hot oil. The latest
pultrusion technology uses direct injection dies, in which the
resin is introduced inside the die, rather than through an
external resin bath.

Reinforced Reaction
Injection Molding
RRIM composites have a number of processing advantages
including very fast cycle time, low labor, low mold clamping
pressure and low scrap rate. RRIM uses reinforcements to
improve the properties of the resin. With the use of
reinforcements, polymerization shrinkage is reduced, thermal
expansion is reduced, droop and sag of the composite at
elevated temperatures is minimized and other key properties
such as stiffness, tensile strength and tensile elongation are
generally improved. Milled fibers or flakes can be added directly
to the resin before reacting in the mixing head.

Reinforced Reaction Injection Molding Diagram

Metering is accomplished with high pressure pumps or injection

cylinders. Typically, a small mixing chamber is used. The two
resin streams enter from opposite sides of mix chamber under
high pressure. Mixing occurs from the energy-intensive collision
of these two resin streams. Although the streams are mixed at
very high pressure, the result is a low viscosity liquid. The low
viscosity mixed resin is easily injected into the mold at
relatively low pressure, 50 psi (345kPa). Polymerization takes
place very quickly within the mold cavity with little or no
additional heat required.

Resins and Reinforcement:

The RRIM process requires special resins and reinforcements. A

number of resins, including epoxies, polyesters, nylons and
polyurethanes have been successfully developed for RRIM
processing. Today, polyurethane is the predominate resin in
RRIM. Most of the urethanes used are elastomeric and range in
flex modulus from 20,000 psi to well over 500,000 psi (170MPa
to 3.5 GPa). The basic RRIM reinforcements are chopped or
hammer milled glass fiber and glass flake.

Variations on a RRIM theme:

Variations of the RRIM process include structural RIM (SRIM). In

this process, chopped fiber preforms or mats are positioned in
the mold cavity. The mold is clamped and resin is injected into
the mold cavity. The reacting resin remains liquid long enough
to completely fill the mold and penetrate the reinforcing fibers.
Then the resin quickly cures.


Presently, transportation is the principal market for RRIM

products. Automotive and truck applications for RIIM parts
include Class A body panels, fascia, bumper beams, spare tire
covers, floor pans and other similar products. The advent of
controllable reactivity resins such as polyuria/amide has
introduced a trend toward larger machines, larger clamps and
larger parts. Very large RRIM molded parts weighing over 100
pounds have already been produced. Breakthrough applications
such as this clearly indicate that the future trend in RRIM
products will be toward increased market acceptable featuring
larger and more sophisticated parts.

Centrifugal Casting
With centrifugal casting, the outside surface of the part, which
is cured against the inside surface of the mold, represents the
finished surface. The interior surface of centrifugally cast
parts can be given an additional coating of neat or pure resin
to improve surface appearance and provide additional chemical
resistance in the part. Large diameter composite pipe and tanks
are commercially produced by centrifugal casting.

Advantages of centrifugal casting include a finished exterior

surface and containment of volatiles during processing. The
primary limitations of centrifugal casting are the ability to spin
molds of large size and relatively low productivity per tool.
Continuous Lamination
Typically, high output machines up to 10 feet (3 meters) wide
combine reinforcement and resin on plastic film that is pulled
through the process. A second plastic film is applied over the
reinforcement and resin to allow mixing and exclusion of air
that is usually accomplished by compaction rollers.

Continuous Lamination Diagram

Cure is completed in an oven. Panels are automatically trimmed

to width and cut to length. Corrugated sheet is produced by
forming shoes which hold the compacted sheet in the required
shape during cure. Special surface effects are created by using
embossed carrier films that are later removed. Both mat
reinforcements and rovings chopped by special wide cutters are
employed in the process.

Polyester and acrylic modified polyesters (for improved water

resistance) are the primary resins for continuous lamination.
Cast Polymers Molding
Cast polymers are unique in the composites industry: they
typically dont have fiber reinforcement and are designed to
meet specific strength requirements of an application. Cast
polymer molding is used to produce parts of any shape or size.

Gel Coated Cultured

Gel coat is a specialized polyester resin that is formulated to
provide a cosmetic outer surface on a composite product and to
provide weatherability for outdoor products.

Several variations of cultured stone products are manufactured

using a gel coated surface and a resin-matrix casting process.
In this process a gel coat film (usually clear) is sprayed on the
mold surface. Once the gel coat is sufficiently cured, a
polyester resin matrix is blended by adding various types of
fillers to the resin. Pigments for both a solid background color
and the look of veins found in natural stone can be added. The
resin matrix is then transferred to the mold, where vibration is
applied to level and compact the matrix. Following the cure, the
part is removed from the mold.

Gel Coated Cultured Stone Molding Diagram

Gel coat is not paint. Paint contains solvents that must

evaporate for the paint to dry. The solvent in gel coat is
styrene monomer and/or methylmethacrylate (acrylic), which
cross-links during curing. The monomer does not have to leave
the system for the gel coat to cure; in fact, it is beneficial to
reduce monomer loss.

The appearance of the cultured stone products is determined

by the type of filler used and by the application of colorants to
the matrix. Fillers come in a variety of materials. Many of the
fillers used in the composites industry are mineral substances.
Mineral fillers have distinctive shapes that relate to their
chemical structure.

Marble: The natural marble look is reproduced by formulating a

matrix using calcium carbonate filler. In some cases, other
fillers or combinations of fillers may be used. Resin, initiator,
filler, and pigment are mixed to form a solid-color matrix. The
marble veining effect is created by adding a second pigment to
the matrix and partially mixing it to produce the desired look.

Onyx: The process of manufacturing cultured onyx is similar to

that of cultured marble, except alumina trihydrate (ATH) filler is
used. The cultured onyx matrix generally has a higher resin
content compared with cultured marble, and the combination of
materials creates a translucent appearance. Background and
veining pigments are added to the matrix to produce an onyx
stone look.

Granite: The cultured granite appearance is created by

blending colored chips into the resin matrix. These chips can be
made from cultured marble castings, thermoplastics, or even
actual granite stone that has been ground into particles. The
cultured granite matrix usually consists of polyester resin,
initiator, colored chips, and ATH filler.
Solid Surface Molding
Solid surface is a void-free casting made from a blend of
polyester resin or acrylic resin, initiator, ATH, color chips, and

Solid surface can be formulated to achieve a wide variety of

looks and cosmetic effects, such as simulating natural granite
stone. For this reason, it is often used to manufacture products
like kitchen countertops.

Solid Surface Cast Polymer Molding Diagram

In contrast to the gel coated surface of cultured marble, solid

surface parts are homogeneous throughout. This makes it
possible to join fabricated pieces with inconspicuous seams and
to repair and refinish the surface to its original condition.

Solid surface, or densified, castings are made using vacuum-

mixing techniques to produce a matrix that is void free. This
produces a material that presents a uniform surface when it is
cut, sanded, or bonded. Solid surface castings are post-cured at
elevated temperatures (in the range of 200 degrees Fahrenheit)
to enhance the physical properties of the matrix and produce a
stable product. Solid surface can be compression molded,
which is a high-pressure, closed-molding process suitable for
molding high volumes of complex solid surface parts. The
compression molding process uses matched metal-heated
molds mounted in large hydraulic presses.
Compression molding produces fast molding cycles and high
part uniformity but requires a high capital investment in tooling
and equipment. Features such as inserts, ribs, bosses or
attachments can be molded in. Good surface finishes can
contribute to lower part-finishing costs. Subsequent trimming
and machining operations are minimized in compression
molding. This process is capital intensive and labor-efficient.
Labor costs are low due to the fast cycle times and reduced
post-mold finishing, while capital costs are high for heated-
metal tooling and molding presses. Compression molding is a
good option for large production volumes of uniform parts.

Engineered Stone Molding

Engineered stone refers to cast products that combine natural

stone materials with polymer casting resins. These products, by
virtue of the actual stone in the matrix, are the hardest and
most durable product of all consumer-grade cast polymer
products. Features include: high heat resistance, low thermal
expansion, and good stain or scratch resistance. The
engineered stone matrix bonds relatively large sized particles
(compared with fillers) of natural stone with a thermoset resin.
Typically a small amount of resin (8 to 15 percent by weight) is
combined with the stone particles and poured into an open-
cavity mold; or a vacuum-assisted press technique can be used
to extract air from the matrix and compress it into a low
porosity casting.

What Are Composites?

A composite is a material made from two or more different
materials that, when combined, are stronger than those
individual materials by themselves.

Simply put, composites are a combination of components. In

our industry, composites are materials made by combining two
or more natural or artificial elements (with different physical or
chemical properties) that are stronger as a team than as
individual players. The component materials dont completely
blend or lose their individual identities; they combine and
contribute their most useful traits to improve the outcome or
final product. Composites are typically designed with a
particular use in mind, such as added strength, efficiency or

What are composites made of?

Composites, also known as Fiber-Reinforced Polymer (FRP)

composites, are made from a polymer matrix that is reinforced
with an engineered, man-made or natural fiber (like glass,
carbon or aramid) or other reinforcing material. The matrix
protects the fibers from environmental and external damage
and transfers the load between the fibers. The fibers, in turn,
provide strength and stiffness to reinforce the matrixand help
it resist cracks and fractures.


What Are Composites - Fiber

Provides strength and stiffness (glass, carbon, aramid, basalt,

natural fibers)

What Are Composites - Matrix

Protects and transfers

load between fibers (polyester, epoxy,
vinyl ester, others)


What Are Composites - Fiber Matrix

Creates a material with attributes superior to either component


In many of our industrys products, polyester resin is the matrix

and glass fiber is the reinforcement. But many combinations of
resins and reinforcements are used in compositesand each
material contributes to the unique properties of the finished
product: Fiber, powerful but brittle, provides strength and
stiffness, while more flexible resin provides shape and protects
the fiber. FRP composites may also contain fillers, additives,
core materials or surface finishes designed to improve the
manufacturing process, appearance and performance of the
final product.

Natural and synthetic composites

Composites can be natural or synthetic. Wood, a natural

composite, is a combination of cellulose or wood fibers and a
substance called lignin. The fibers give wood its strength; lignin
is the matrix or natural glue that binds and stabilizes them.
Other composites are synthetic (man-made).

Plywood is a man-made composite that combines natural and

synthetic materials. Thin layers of wood veneer are bonded
together with adhesive to form flat sheets of laminated wood
that are stronger than natural wood.

Are plastics composites?

Not all plastics are composites. In fact, most plasticsthe ones

used in toys, water bottles and other familiar itemsare not
composites. Theyre pure plastics. But many types of plastic
can be reinforced to make them stronger. This combination of
plastic and reinforcement can produce some of the strongest,
most versatile materials (for their weight) ever developed by

Polymer resins (such as polyester, vinyl ester, epoxy or

phenolic) are sometimes referred to as plastic.

By any other name

Many terms are used to define FRP composites. Modifiers have

been used to identify a specific fiber such as Glass Fiber
Reinforced Polymer (GFRP), Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer
(CFRP), and Aramid Fiber Reinforced Polymer (AFRP). Another
familiar term used is Fiber Reinforced Plastics. In addition, other
acronyms have been developed over the years and their use
depended on geographical location or market use. For example,
Fiber Reinforced Composites (FRC), Glass Reinforced Plastics
(GRP), and Polymer Matrix Composites (PMC) can be found in
many references. Each of the aforementioned terms means the
same thing: FRP composites.
History Of Composites
Composites have played an important role throughout human
history, from housing early civilizations to enabling future
innovations. No matter the year, composites make the world a
better place.

Ancient Times

Adobe Composites Brick House Illustration

One of the earliest uses of composite material was by the

ancient Mesopotamians around 3400 B.C., when they glued
wood strips at different angles to create plywood. The concept
of composite building construction has existed since ancient
times. Civilizations throughout the world have used basic
elements of their surrounding environment in the fabrication of
dwellings including mud/straw and wood/clay. Bricks were
and still are made from mud and straw.

In the 12th century A.D., Mongol warriors used composite

materials (bamboo, silk, cattle tendons and horns, and pine
resin) to craft archery bows that were swifter and more
powerful than those of their rivals: They put the tendons on the
tension (outer) side and sheets of horn on the compression
(inner) side of the bow over a core of bamboo. They tightly
wrapped the structure with silk and sealed it with pine resin. A
museum tested some of the surviving bows, now more than
900 years old, and found that the old bows were nearly as
strong as modern onesand could hit targets as far away as
490 yards (the length of nearly five football fields).

Paper Laminane Composites Canoe Illustration

Polymer Resins

In the late 1800s, canoe builders began experimenting with

different materials to make paper laminates. They tried gluing
layers of kraft paper (sturdy, machine-made paper created from
wood pulp) together with shellac. It was a good idea but
ultimately flopped because the available materials were not up
to the task. The first synthetic (man-made) resins that could be
converted from liquid to solid (using a chemical process called
polymerization) were developed between 1870 and 1890.
These polymer resins are transformed from the liquid state to
the solid state by crosslinking the molecules.

The 1930s heralded a new era for resins and ultimately the
composites industry as a whole. Unsaturated polyester resins
were patented in 1936 by Carleton Ellis. Because of their curing
(or hardening) properties, they became the primary choice for
resins in composites manufacturing. By the late 1930s, other
high-performance resin systems had become available,
including epoxy resins.

A New Era

Retro Radio Composites Bakelite Illustration

Belgian-born U.S. chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland ushered in

the modern era of composites in 1907 with his creation of
Bakelite, one of the first synthetic resins. The resin was
extremely brittle, but Baekeland found he could soften and
strengthen it by combining it with cellulose. The first
commercial use of Bakelite was to make gearshift knobs in
1917 for Rolls Royce automobiles. New and better resins were
produced during the 1920s and 1930s. In the early 1930s, two
U.S. chemical companies, American Cyanamid and DuPont,
further developed polymer resins. In the course of their
experimentation, both companies independently formulated
polyester resin for the first time.

In the late 1930s, the Owens-Illinois Glass Company developed

a process for drawing glass into thin strands or fibers and
began weaving them into a textile fabric. These new glass
fibers, combined with newer synthetic (polyester) resins,
produced strong and lightweight composites. In 1942, engineer
Ray Greene of Toledo, Ohio (who had worked for the Owens-
Illinois Glass Company) made a dinghy from fiberglass and
polyester resin. The boating world would never be the same.

Spruce Goose Plane Composites Plastic Resin Illustration

A Growing Industry

Howard Hughes used composite wing spars (thin wood layers

and plastic resin) on the Spruce Goose. The fledgling
composites industry further developed during World War II as
the military searched for materials to cut the weight of air and
water craft while, at the same time, increasing their strength,
durability and resistance to weather conditions and the
corrosive effects of salt air and water. By 1945, over seven
million pounds of fiberglass were used, primarily for military
applications. Soon the benefits of FRP composites, especially its
corrosion resistance became known to the public sector.
Fiberglass pipe, for instance, was first introduced in 1948 for
what has become one of its widest areas of use within the
corrosion market, the oil industry.

Composites continued to take off after the war and grew rapidly
through the 1950s: Boats, trucks, sports cars, storage tanks,
pipes, ducts and many other products were built using
composites. In 1953, the 1st production Chevrolet Corvette with
fiberglass body panels rolled off the assembly line. Also in the
early 1950s, manufacturing methods such as pultrusion,
vacuum bag molding, and large-scale filament winding were
developed. Filament winding became the basis for the large-
scale rocket motors that propelled exploration of space in the
1960s and beyond.

Widespread Use

Pontiac Tempest 1970 Carbon Fiber Illustration

Although the first carbon fiber was patented in 1961, it took

several more years for carbon fiber composites to become
commercially available. The use of carbon fiber helped advance
many applications in a number of industries, including
aerospace, automotive, marine and consumer goods. In 1966,
Stephanie Kwolek, a DuPont chemist, invented Kevlar, a para-
aramid fiber that is strong enough to be used in advanced
composites; Kevlar is best known for its use in ballistic and
stab-resistant body armor. New and improved resins helped
grow the demand for composites, particularly for use in higher
temperature ranges and corrosive applications. In the 1970s,
the automotive market surpassed marine as the number one
composites market a position it retains today.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, composites were first
used in a number infrastructure applications in Europe and
Asia, including the worlds first highway bridge using
composites reinforcing tendons and the first all-composites
bridge deck. The 1990s saw the first all-composites pedestrian
bridge installed in Aberfeldy, Scotland; the first FRP reinforced
concrete bridge deck built in McKinleyville, West Virginia; and
the first all-composites vehicular bridge deck in Russell, Kansas.
Numerous FRP composites pedestrian bridges have been
installed in U.S. state and national parks in remote locations not
accessible by heavy construction equipment, or for spanning
over roadways and railways.
3D Printer Composites Additive Manufacturing Illustration

Modern Day

Many industrial designers and engineers now specify

composites for various components within industries such as
manufacturing, construction and transportation. FRP
composites systems are used in thousands of installations
around the world to strengthen or seismically upgrade
reinforced concrete or masonry structures ranging from
buildings and parking garages to transportation structures such
as bridge columns and decks. In the early 2000s,
nanotechnology began to be used in commercial products.
Composites play an important role in carbon nanotubes; bulk
carbon nanotubes can be used as composite fibers in polymers
to improve the mechanical, thermal and electrical properties of
the bulk product. Nano-materials are incorporated into
improved fibers and resins used in new composites.

The rise of 3-D printing in the 2010s brought manufacturing

into homes and small businesses, allowing users to bring to life
on a desktop any item they can dream up with a CAD program.
Composites companies are jumping into the field by 3-D
printing items with reinforced fibers. Discontinuous strands of
carbon fiber or fiberglass are most frequently used to reinforce
plastics in 3-D printing processes across every market sector,
including automotive, aerospace, tooling, medicine and
infrastructure. These reinforcements deliver the strength of
composites with less material in less time and can be designed
and prototyped from one desktop. In 2014, MarkForged
announced the worlds first carbon fiber 3-D printer.

Looking Ahead

Future of Composites Illustration

The composites industry continues to evolve. The use of FRP
composites has already transformed the marine, automotive
and aerospace markets. Many specific applications in
infrastructure and chemical processing have seen similar
dramatic conversions. There is huge potential for a similar
technology shift in the architectural and building & construction
segments as the industry takes advantage of the design
flexibility, durability, low weight, corrosion resistance, and other
properties that composites offer.

In 2015, the US Department of Energy announced the Institute

for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, a $259
million public-private partnership. The Institute will focus on
making advanced composites less expensive and less energy-
intensive to manufacture, while also making composites easier
to recycle. The development of new fibers and resins will help
create even more applications for composites. Environmentally
friendly resins will incorporate recycled plastics and bio-based
polymers as composites feed the demand for stronger, lighter
and environmentally friendly products. Composites will
continue to make the world a better place.

Industry Overview
The global appetite for composites is strong and continues to
flourish as composites fuel the growth of new applications in a
number of markets.

The U.S. composite materials market grew by 6.3 percent in

2014 to reach $8.2 billion in value and 5.5 billion pounds in
terms of annual shipment. Looking ahead, key economic
indicators and market dynamics suggest that in 2015, the U.S.
composite materials market will grow 4.9 percent to reach 5.8
billion pounds of annual shipment. Dominating the materials
market are glass fiber in the reinforcement segment and
polyester resin in the resin segment. The U.S. market for
composites end products was $21 billion for 2014. The total
composites market including materials and end products was
approximately $30 billion.

Globally, the U.S. is the second largest market for composites

worldwide after China in terms of volume consumption. In
2013, the U.S. ranked No. 1 in per capita composite materials
consumption with approximately 16 pounds, followed by
Germany with approximately 8.6 pounds. Comparatively, per
capita composites consumption in China was 4.8 pounds.

Composite materials have fueled the growth of new

applications in markets such as transportation, construction,
corrosion-resistance, marine, infrastructure, consumer
products, electrics, aerospace, appliances, and business
equipment. Composites are used to manufacture thousands of
products that fall into three broad categories: consumer,
industrial and advanced.

Consumer Composites

The composites industry has been producing consumer goods

since the 1950s. Typically, consumer composites include
products (that require a cosmetic finish) like boats, recreational
vehicles, bathroom fixtures and sporting goods. In many cases,
the cosmetic finish is an in-mold coating. Consumer products
make up a significant portion of the composites market.
Industrial Composites

Composites are used in industrial applications where corrosion

resistance and performance (in adverse environments) are
critical. Generally, premium resins such as isophthalic or vinyl
ester are required to meet corrosion-resistance specifications.
Other specialty resins may be used depending on the chemical
resistance properties required. Fiberglass is almost always used
as the reinforcing fiber. In this segment of the industry,
performance trumps cosmetic finishes. Industrial composite
products include underground storage tanks, scrubbers, piping,
fume hoods, water treatment components, and pressure

Advanced Composites

This sector of the composites industry is characterized by the

use of high-performance resin systems and high-strength, ultra-
stiff fiber reinforcement. The aerospace industry, including
military and commercial aircraft, is the major customer for
advanced composites. Stealth aircraft and Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles (drones) take advantage of composites radar
transparency. Advanced composites are also used for blast and
ballistic protection. Additionally, they have been adapted to use
in sports equipment to make it lighter and stronger. A number
of exotic resins and fibers are used in advanced composites,
but epoxy resin and aramid or carbon fibers are most common.