Materials Science/Materials/Composite Materials

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Composite Materials

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Composite materials (or composites for short) are engineered materials made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties and which remain separate and distinct within the finished structure.

Composite materials (or composites for short) are engineering materials made from two or more constituent materials that remain separate and distinct on a macroscopic level while forming a single component. There are two categories of constituent materials: matrix and reinforcement. At least one portion of each type is required. The matrix material surrounds and supports the reinforcement materials by maintaining their relative positions. The reinforcements impart their special mechanical and physical properties to enhance the matrix properties. A synergism produces material properties unavailable from the individual constituent materials. Due to the wide variety of matrix and reinforcement materials available, the design potentials are incredible.

The most primitive composite materials comprised straw and mud in the form of bricks for building construction. The most advanced examples perform routinely on spacecraft in demanding environments. The most visible applications pave our roadways in the form of either steel and aggregate reinforced portland cement or asphalt concrete. Those composites closest to our personal hygiene form our shower stalls and bath tubs made of fiberglass. Solid surface, imitation granite and cultured marble sinks and countertops are widely used to enhance our living experiences.

There are the so-called natural composites like bone and wood. Both of these are constructed by the processes of nature and beyond the scope of this text. Engineered composite materials must be formed to shape. This involves strategically placing the reinforcements while manipulating the matrix properties to achieve a melding event at or near the beginning of the component life cycle. A variety of methods are used according to the end item design requirements. The principal factors impacting the methodology are the natures of the chosen matrix and reinforcement materials. Another important factor is the gross quantity of material to be produced. Large quantities can be used to justify high capital expenditures for rapid and automated manufacturing technology. Small production quantities are accommodated with lower capital expenditures but higher labor and tooling costs at a correspondingly slower rate.

Most commercially produced composites use a polymer matrix material often called a resin solution. There are many different polymers available depending upon the starting raw ingredients. There are several broad categories, each with numerous variations. The most common are known as polyester, vinyl ester, epoxy, phenolic, polyimide, polyamide, polypropylene, PEEK, and others. The reinforcement materials are often fibers but also commonly ground minerals.

The physical properties of composite materials are generally not isotropic in nature. For instance, the stiffness of a composite panel will often depend upon the directional orientation of the applied forces and/or moments. In contrast, an isotropic material has the same stiffness regardless of the directional orientation of the applied forces and/or moments. The relationship between forces/moments and strains/curvatures for an isotropic material can be described with the following material properties: Young's Modulus, the Shear Modulus and the Poisson's Ratio, in relatively simple mathematical relationships. For the anisotropic material, it requires the mathematics of a second order tensor and can require up to 21 material property constants. For the special case of orthogonal isotropy, there are three different material property constants for each of Young's Modulus, Shear Modulus and Poisson's Ratio for a total of 9 material property constants to describe the relationship between forces/moments and strains/curvatures.

Fiber Reinforced Composite Materials can be divided into two main categories normally referred to as short fiber reinforced materials and continuous fiber reinforced materials. Continuous reinforced materials will often constitute a layered or laminated structure.

Shocks, impact, loadings or repeated cyclic stresses can cause the laminate to separate at the interface between two layers, a condition known as delamination. Individual fibers can separate from the matrix e.g. fiber pull-out.