You might think you know everything about the AFP (Automated Fiber Placement) process, but here's something that might just break your guessing machine: During AFP, the temperature might be too short to allow fibers to release their accumulated stress. Yes, you read that right! This isn't just a minor hiccup; it poses significant challenges for in-situ consolidation and even the subsequent welding of parts. 🤯

Now, let's fix that guessing machine: This unexpected fact underscores the importance of understanding the intricacies of in-situ consolidation. It's not just about pressing materials together; it's about ensuring every tiny part of one surface intimately touches the other, much like interlocking fingers in a handshake. In the ever-evolving world of composites, especially in the aerospace sector, these nuances can make or break the final product's strength and durability. Let's dive deeper!

Credit: We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the authors of the article "Consolidation of continuous-carbon-fiber-reinforced PAEK composites: a review". The authors, R. Arquier, I. Iliopoulos, G. Régnier, and G. Miquelard-Garnier, affiliated with various esteemed institutions, have provided an in-depth exploration into the consolidation of continuous-carbon-fiber-reinforced PAEK composites. Their meticulous research sheds light on the challenges and intricacies of manufacturing these composites, emphasizing the importance of factors such as tape roughness, temperature control, and the ATP lay-up process. Their insights into the impact of crystallinity and porosity rate on the final product's quality are invaluable. This research not only contributes to the academic community but also offers practical guidelines for industry professionals. Their dedication and expertise have significantly enriched our understanding, and their findings have been instrumental in shaping the content of the following blog.

1. Introduction

1.1 Thermoplastic Composites - A Glimpse into the Future:

  • For decades, the aerospace sector relied on thermoset-based composites due to their ease of processing and impressive mechanical properties.
  • However, the changing industrial demands and the quest for more sustainable solutions have shifted the focus toward high-performance thermoplastic composites.
Chemical structure of PEEK and PEKK
Chemical structure of PEEK and PEKK
  • These thermoplastic composites, especially those from the PAEK family, are renowned for their high service temperature, chemical resistance, and weldability.
  • Carbon fiber, known for maximizing stiffness and reducing weight, is commonly used as a filler in these composites.

1.2 The Manufacturing Evolution:

  • The manufacturing of these composites involves several intricate steps, from tape fabrication to the final consolidation.
  • The consolidation step is particularly crucial as it ensures the tapes are welded together, reducing voids and ensuring a high-quality final product.
  • Achieving a porosity level lower than 1% is essential, especially in industries like aerospace.

1.3 Why Efficient Manufacturing Techniques Matter:

Schematic of the AFP/ATP process
Schematic of the AFP/ATP process
  • With the increasing demand for high-quality composites, the need for efficient manufacturing techniques has never been more pressing.
  • The consolidation of thermoplastic-based composites presents unique challenges due to their higher viscosities and processing temperatures.
  • Addressing these challenges is essential to ensure the production of top-notch composites that meet industry standards.

2. The Essence of In-situ Consolidation:

2.1 Understanding In-situ Consolidation:

  • In the world of composites, consolidation refers to the process of welding tapes together and reducing voids to ensure a high-quality final product.
  • "In-situ" or out-of-autoclave (OOA) consolidation processes have emerged as a promising alternative to traditional methods, aiming to achieve the desired mechanical properties in a shorter time frame.
  • The primary goal of in-situ consolidation is to achieve a sufficiently low void content in the composite, which is crucial for obtaining the desired mechanical properties.
Schematic representation of the vacuum bagging process.
Schematic representation of the vacuum bagging process.

2.2 Why It's a Revolutionary Approach:

  • Traditional thermoset-based composites have been the industry standard for a long time. However, the introduction of in-situ consolidation for thermoplastic composites like CF/PAEK offers a more efficient alternative.
  • This method addresses the challenges of achieving high-quality composites in shorter consolidation times, a significant advancement in the manufacturing process.
AFP head placing thermoplastic tape using huum3 flash lamp
AFP head placing thermoplastic tape using huum3 flash lamp
  • While in-situ consolidation offers many advantages, it's essential to understand that producing parts of the same quality as those consolidated in an autoclave remains a challenge.
  • The understanding of multi-scale rheological phenomena during consolidation is critical, and this review aims to shed light on these intricate processes.

3. The Real-world Challenges:

3.1 The Paradox of In-situ Consolidation:

  • At its core, in-situ consolidation aims to produce high-quality composites in a short amount of time.
  • However, this presents a paradox: achieving high-quality composites typically requires longer consolidation times. Balancing these two aspects is a significant challenge in the field.

3.2 Quality vs. Size:

  • As the size of the specimens increases, maintaining a consistent consolidation quality becomes more challenging. This means that producing larger composites without compromising on quality is a hurdle that manufacturers face.

3.3 Technological Limitations:

  • While in-situ consolidation offers many advantages, current technological capabilities do not always produce composites with the same quality as those consolidated using traditional methods, such as autoclaves.
  • Factors like the speed of the roller during the process can lead to fast cooling rates, resulting in lower degrees of crystallinity in the composite. For instance, the crystallinity achieved for in-situ consolidated CF/PAEK is around 10%, which is significantly lower than what's achieved using autoclave processes.

3.4 Striking the Right Balance:

  • The balance between speed and quality is a delicate act. High heating and cooling rates, coupled with short-term pressure, make it challenging to obtain a well-pre-consolidated laminate.
  • Proper temperature control is crucial: too low, and you face high viscosities that prevent proper consolidation; too high, and you risk thermal degradation of the material.

4. The Science in Layman's Terms:

4.1 Breaking Down In-situ Consolidation:

  • Imagine you're trying to press two pieces of bread together to make a sandwich. The better they stick, the less likely your fillings will fall out. In the world of composites, this "sticking together" is called "intimate contact."
  • During the consolidation process, the aim is to get the materials (akin to our bread slices) to come into close contact, ensuring they bond well. The smoother the surfaces, the quicker they bond. However, if they're too smooth, there might be issues like trapped air.

4.2 The Role of Intimate Contact:

  • Intimate contact is all about getting the materials to bond at a microscopic level. Think of it as ensuring every tiny part of one surface touches the other, like interlocking fingers in a handshake.
  • Once this close contact is achieved, the materials start to merge or "diffuse" into each other, leading to a strong bond. This is crucial for the final product's strength and durability.
Schematic illustration of the different phenomena occurring during consolidation of a [0/45] oriented towards y-axis. The matrix is represented in grey color. White ellipses stand for the 45◦ oriented fbers and white circles for the 0 ◦ oriented fbers. Voids (in black) can be present within a ply (intra-laminar void) or at the interface between plies (inter-laminar voids). Step 1: “IC”: intimate contact development, “Slip”: inter-ply slip, “Shear”: transverse intra-ply shear; Step 2: “H”: healing, with red arrows representing chain interdiffusion, “P”: resin percolation, “SF”: squeeze flow
Schematic illustration of the different phenomena occurring during consolidation of a [0/45] oriented towards y-axis. The matrix is represented in grey color. White ellipses stand for the 45◦ oriented fbers and white circles for the 0 ◦ oriented fbers. Voids (in black) can be present within a ply (intra-laminar void) or at the interface between plies (inter-laminar voids). Step 1: “IC”: intimate contact development, “Slip”: inter-ply slip, “Shear”: transverse intra-ply shear; Step 2: “H”: healing, with red arrows representing chain interdiffusion, “P”: resin percolation, “SF”: squeeze flow

4.3 Why Flow Mechanisms Matter:

  • The way materials move and interact during consolidation determines the quality and properties of the final composite. If the materials don't flow correctly, we might end up with a product that's not as strong or durable as it should be.
  • Understanding these flow mechanisms is like knowing the dance steps in a choreography. If one step goes wrong, it can throw off the entire performance.

4.4 Flow Mechanisms Simplified:

  • Inter-ply slip: Imagine sliding one card over another. This is how one layer moves over the other.
  • Intra-ply shear: Think of it as the slight twisting movement within a single layer.
  • Matrix percolation: Picture honey slowly seeping through a sponge. This is how the resin flows through the fiber network within a layer.
  • Squeeze flow: Like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube, this is how the material gets pushed out when pressure is applied.

5. Consolidation Quality Improvement

5.1 Optimization of the Tape:

  • Tape Roughness: The roughness of the tape plays a crucial role in the consolidation process. Tapes with high roughness can increase the time required for intimate contact, especially if fibers are present at the ply interface. Conversely, tapes that are too smooth might hinder the evacuation of volatiles through interlaminar voids. The ideal scenario involves a balance, possibly with a resin-rich surface.

5.2 Optimization of the Processing Parameters:

5.2.1 Tape Preparation Before Consolidation:

  • Temperature Control: Achieving a good control over temperature is vital. Low temperatures can result in high viscosities that prevent void content reduction and consolidation at the interfaces. On the other hand, excessively high temperatures might induce thermal degradation.

5.2.2 Optimization of the Prepreg ATP Lay-up Process:

  • ATP Lay-up Process: The Automated Tape Placement (ATP) lay-up process is more critical for in-situ consolidation than for other methods like press or autoclave consolidation.
  • Parameters: Relevant parameters involved in the ATP process include the heating cycle, layup velocity, and roller pressure. These parameters influence the degree of bonding of the laminates.
  • Challenges: High heating and cooling rates, combined with short-term pressure, make it challenging to achieve a well pre-consolidated laminate.

5.2.3 Optimization of the Consolidation Process:

  • Short Processing Time: One of the main challenges of in-situ consolidation is the very limited time dedicated to the healing process. A high pressure and a smooth tape can reduce the intimate contact time, but the time required for complete healing remains constant for a given resin.
  • Crystallinity: The short processing time can lead to low degrees of crystallinity, which in turn affects the mechanical properties of the composite. Solutions include annealing the laminate at a temperature above Tg or increasing the tool temperature to achieve lower cooling rates and a higher degree of crystallinity.
  • Fiber Stress-Release: During the pre-impregnation step, the elastic energy of the fiber network is stored in the composite due to differences in thermal expansion coefficients between fibers and matrix. This energy can be released as de-compaction of fiber reinforcement. The time above Tm during AFP might be too short to allow fibers to release their accumulated stress, which can pose challenges for in-situ consolidation and subsequent welding of parts.

6. Practical Takeaways from the Research:

Key Findings and Their Industrial Application:

(i) the composite displays an initial content of dissolved moisture within the matrix. Then, (ii) when the temperature increases, the water molecules start to diffuse through the ply-thickness. The diffusion is accelerated when the temperature is above Tg because of the increase in chain mobility. As the temperature increases, the water exerts more and more pressure on the specimen. (iii) When the temperature reaches Tm, the water will increase the voids size because the matrix can no longer sustain the pressure induced by the water vapor, which leads to an increase in the specimen thickness. (iv) Voids start to merge and create channels between the plies enabling the water to diffuse more easily. (v) The internal void pressure decreases and the thickness decreases again.
(i) The composite displays an initial content of dissolved moisture within the matrix. Then, (ii) when the temperature increases, the water molecules start to diffuse through the ply-thickness. The diffusion is accelerated when the temperature is above Tg because of the increase in chain mobility. As the temperature increases, the water exerts more and more pressure on the specimen. (iii) When the temperature reaches Tm, the water will increase the voids size because the matrix can no longer sustain the pressure induced by the water vapor, which leads to an increase in the specimen thickness. (iv) Voids start to merge and create channels between the plies enabling the water to diffuse more easily. (v) The internal void pressure decreases and the thickness decreases again.
  • Tape Roughness: The roughness of the tape is pivotal. A balance between high roughness and smoothness is essential for optimal consolidation. Tapes that are too smooth might hinder the evacuation of volatiles through interlaminar voids.
  • Temperature Control: Proper temperature regulation is vital during the consolidation process. Low temperatures can result in high viscosities, preventing optimal consolidation. Conversely, excessively high temperatures might induce thermal degradation.
  • ATP Lay-up Process: The Automated Tape Placement (ATP) lay-up process is crucial for in-situ consolidation. Parameters such as the heating cycle, layup velocity, and roller pressure significantly influence the bonding degree of laminates.
  • Short Processing Time: The limited time dedicated to the healing process during in-situ consolidation poses challenges. Achieving the right balance in terms of temperature and pressure is essential for optimal results.

Impact of Crystallinity and Porosity Rate:

Crystallinity:

  • The degree of crystallinity is a measure of the order in the molecular structure of the composite.
  • For instance, in-situ consolidated CF/PAEK through AFP has a crystallinity of around 10%, which can be lower than composites produced using other methods.
  • The crystallinity level directly impacts the mechanical properties of the composite. For example, a low degree of crystallinity can result in a composite that's less robust.

Porosity Rate:

  • Refers to the voids or empty spaces within the composite.
  • Achieving a low porosity rate is essential for certain industries, such as aerospace. A porosity level lower than 1% ensures the material's strength and durability.
  • High porosity rates can compromise the structural integrity of the composite, making it less reliable for high-stress applications.

7. Conclusion:

The Significance of In-situ Consolidation:

  • In-situ consolidation has emerged as a promising technique in the realm of thermoplastic composites. By optimizing various factors, from tape roughness to processing parameters, this method offers the potential to produce high-quality composites efficiently.
  • The research underscores the importance of understanding and controlling factors like temperature, tape preparation, and the ATP lay-up process. These elements play a pivotal role in determining the final product's properties, such as crystallinity and porosity rate.

Crystallinity and Porosity Rate:

  • The degree of crystallinity and porosity rate are vital indicators of a composite's quality. A low degree of crystallinity can compromise the composite's mechanical properties, while a high porosity rate can affect its structural integrity.
  • Achieving optimal levels of these factors is crucial, especially for industries like aerospace, where material strength and durability are paramount.

A Call to Action:

  • The research provides valuable insights into the intricacies of in-situ consolidation. However, the journey doesn't end here. Continuous innovation and research are essential to further refine the process and overcome existing challenges.
  • As the composites industry evolves, staying abreast of the latest techniques and findings, like those presented in this research, will be crucial for manufacturers and industry professionals.

What's Next!

Discover the future of composite manufacturing with Addcomposites! Here's how you can get involved:

  1. Stay Informed: Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest updates, news, and developments in AFP systems and services. Knowledge is power, and by staying informed, you'll always have the upper hand. Subscribe Now
  2. Experience Our Technology: Try our cutting-edge simulation software for a firsthand experience of the versatility and capability of our AFP systems. You'll see how our technology can transform your production line. Try Simulation
  3. Join the Collaboration: Engage with us and other technical centers across various industries. By joining this collaborative platform, you'll get to share ideas, innovate, and influence the future of AFP. Join Collaboration
  4. Get Hands-On: Avail our educational rentals for university projects or semester-long programs. Experience how our AFP systems bring about a revolution in composite manufacturing and leverage this opportunity for academic and research pursuits. Request for Educational Rental
  5. Take the Next Step: Request a quotation for our AFP systems. Whether you're interested in the AFP-XS, AFP-X, or SCF3D, we are committed to offering cost-effective solutions tailored to your needs. Take the plunge and prepare your production line for the next generation of composite manufacturing. Request Quotation

At Addcomposites, we are dedicated to revolutionizing composite manufacturing. Our AFP systems and comprehensive support services are waiting for you to harness. So, don't wait – get started on your journey to the future of manufacturing today!

Quick Contact

Stay Updated with Our Latest Innovations