High-Performance Composites

MAR 2013

High-Performance Composites is read by qualified composites industry professionals in the fields of continuous carbon fiber and other high-performance composites as well as the associated end-markets of aerospace, military, and automotive.

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the military side, carbon fiber is key to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter, the Airbus A400M airlifter, the Embraer C-390 transport, the Eurofighter EF-2000 and the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial system. The big question at every Carbon Fiber conference over the past few years has been whether or not carbon fiber composites will win a place on the fuselage of the next-generation single-aisle aircraft that will replace the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. The answer is maybe. Speaker Peter Zimm, principal of aviation consultancy ICF SH&E (Fairfax, Va.), noted that carbon fiber makes good sense in aircraft wings and many fuselages, but the skin thickness of a single-aisle craft, coupled with fiber placement laydown rates, makes aluminum a competitive option. Zimm says aluminum still makes up 48 percent of aerospace raw material demand, although buy weight is still a factor — the buy-to-fly ratio of carbon fiber is highly favorable. Although nextgeneration single-aisle aircraft from Boeing and Airbus are still on the drawing board, engineers at both companies are already monitoring the carbon fiber industry, looking for the advancements in material and process capabilities necessary to tip them toward composites. Returning to solid ground, the next big thing in the carbon fiber industry is the automotive end-market. All eyes, for the moment, are fixed on the BMW i3, which represents a paradigm shift for composites use in a production vehicle and may prove to be a bellwether for other carmakers as they contemplate a similar use of carbon fiber. However the automotive industry evolves, what's clear is that the manufacture of carbon fiber automotive structures will require a robust, high-speed process that, even if it can't mimic metal stamping, must provide cycle times of just a few minutes. Several presenters emphasized such advancements. Globe Machine Manufacturing Co. (Tacoma, Wash.) was an attention grabber. Ron Jacobson, corporate projects manager, and Lloyd Champion, director, aerospace and industrial sectors, reported on Globe's work with Plasan Carbon Composites (Bennington, Vt.) to develop an out-of-autoclave, high-speed, single-tool pressure press for the manufacture of Class A carbon fiber composite automotive parts. The machine, which features an enclosed and sealed processing chamber, offers a 17-minute part-topart cycle time, 0 to 350 psi, 80 psi/min ramp rate, 110°F to 660°F (43°C to 288°C) direct heating, 900°F/482°C indirect heating, 28 inches mercury of vacuum pressure and the ability to accommodate a variety of part types and sizes, depending on the chamber size and shape. Jacobson emphasized that the machine is neither a compression molding device nor an autoclave (see the related story on p. 42). Plasan uses the machines to mold parts for the 2014 Corvette Stingray at its facility in Walker, Mich. HPC learned that after the carbon fiber prepreg is laid up on the tool, it is covered and sealed with a reusable silicone "canopy" about 0.5 inch/12.7 mm thick. After the tool is loaded into the sealed chamber in the Globe press, pressure is provided by a pressurized air mass (<150 psi) that surrounds the tool and compacts the prepreg while it is heated by the tool. march 2013 | 51

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