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Rapid Cost-Effective Production of Damage-Tolerant C/C-SiC Composites



Challenges in Manufacturing High-Performance Ceramic Matrix Composites

Ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) have emerged as a critical class of materials for demanding high-temperature applications due to their unique combination of properties, including:

  • High thermal stability

  • Low density

  • Low thermal expansion

  • High thermal conductivity

  • High elastic modulus

  • High strength retention at elevated temperatures

However, manufacturing high-performance CMCs that can fully leverage these properties remains a significant challenge. Some of the key issues include:

  1. Achieving uniform distribution and alignment of reinforcing fibers

  2. Ensuring strong interfacial bonding between fibers and matrix

  3. Minimizing defects such as porosity, delamination, and microcracks

  4. Optimizing processing parameters for desired microstructure and properties

Conventional methods for fabricating CMCs, such as chemical vapor infiltration (CVI) and polymer infiltration and pyrolysis (PIP), often involve complex, multi-step processes that are time- and cost-intensive. These limitations have hindered the widespread adoption of CMCs in various industries, despite their potential for enabling new levels of performance in extreme environments.

To address these challenges, researchers have been exploring novel manufacturing approaches that can streamline the production of CMCs while maintaining or even enhancing their mechanical and thermal properties. One promising direction is the use of additive manufacturing techniques, which offer the potential for greater design flexibility, faster processing times, and reduced material waste compared to traditional methods.


Limitations of Current CMC Fabrication Methods: Cost, Time, and Complexity

Conventional methods for fabricating ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) face several limitations that have hindered their widespread adoption in various industries. Two of the most commonly used techniques are chemical vapor infiltration (CVI) and polymer infiltration and pyrolysis (PIP).CVI involves the infiltration of a porous fiber preform with gaseous precursors that decompose to form the ceramic matrix. While CVI can produce high-quality CMCs with good mechanical properties, it has several drawbacks:

  1. Slow processing times, often requiring hundreds of hours for complete densification

  2. High energy consumption due to the need for elevated temperatures and low pressures

  3. Limited control over the microstructure and composition of the final composite

PIP, on the other hand, involves the repeated infiltration of a fiber preform with a polymer precursor, followed by pyrolysis to convert the polymer into a ceramic matrix. Although PIP is generally faster than CVI, it still suffers from some limitations:

  1. Multiple infiltration-pyrolysis cycles are required to achieve sufficient densification

  2. Shrinkage and cracking can occur during the pyrolysis step, leading to defects in the final composite

  3. The high temperatures required for pyrolysis can cause degradation of the reinforcing fibers

In addition to these process-specific issues, both CVI and PIP involve complex, multi-step processing that requires specialized equipment and skilled operators. This complexity contributes to the high cost and limited scalability of CMC production.

The need for more efficient and cost-effective manufacturing methods is a major pain point for industries seeking to adopt CMCs for high-temperature applications.


Additive Manufacturing of C/C-SiC Composites via Automated Fiber Placement and Reactive Melt Infiltration

To address the limitations of conventional CMC manufacturing methods, researchers have developed a novel approach that combines additive manufacturing, specifically AFP, with reactive melt infiltration (RMI). This innovative process enables the rapid and cost-effective production of carbon fiber-reinforced carbon matrix composites (C/C) that can be further densified with silicon carbide (SiC) to form C/C-SiC composites.

The key steps in this AFP-based process are as follows:

  1. Continuous carbon fiber tows are impregnated with a thermoplastic polymer, such as polyether ether ketone (PEEK), to form a composite filament.

  2. The composite filament is fed through a heated nozzle and deposited onto a build platform in a layer-by-layer fashion, with precise control over fiber orientation and placement.

  3. The printed C/PEEK composite is then subjected to pyrolysis, where the PEEK matrix is converted to amorphous carbon, resulting in a porous C/C preform.

  4. The porous C/C preform undergoes reactive melt infiltration with silicon, which partially reacts with the carbon matrix to form silicon carbide (SiC), yielding a dense C/C-SiC composite.

This additive manufacturing approach offers several advantages over traditional CMC fabrication methods:

  • Faster processing times, with the potential for high-volume production

  • Greater design flexibility, enabling the creation of complex geometries and functionally graded structures

  • Reduced material waste, as the AFP process allows for precise deposition of the composite filament

  • Improved interfacial bonding between the carbon fibers and the matrix, due to the intimate contact achieved during the AFP process

By combining the benefits of additive manufacturing with the unique properties of C/C-SiC composites, this novel approach has the potential to unlock new applications for high-temperature materials in industries such as aerospace, energy, and transportation.


Novel AFP-Based Process for Rapid, Cost-Effective Production of Damage-Tolerant C/C-SiC Composites

The novel additive manufacturing approach based on AFP and reactive melt infiltration (RMI) has demonstrated the potential to revolutionize the production of ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), particularly carbon fiber-reinforced carbon-silicon carbide (C/C-SiC) composites.

The C/C-SiC composites manufactured using this AFP-based process exhibit several desirable properties:

  1. High density (1.93 g/cm³) with relatively low porosity (10-20%)

  2. Characteristic flexural strength of 234.91 MPa

  3. Weibull modulus of 3.21, indicating moderate strength variability

  4. Significant displacement to failure, demonstrating damage tolerance and toughness.

The damage tolerance of these composites arises from the unique microstructure developed during processing. The carbon fibers are partially protected by the pyrolyzed carbon matrix, which provides a weak interface for crack deflection and fiber pullout. The SiC matrix, formed through the reaction of infiltrated silicon with the carbon matrix, further enhances the strength and stiffness of the composite.

Microstructural characterization using techniques such as optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS), and Raman spectroscopy confirms the presence of the desired phases (carbon fibers, pyrolyzed carbon matrix, SiC, and residual silicon) and their distribution within the composite.

The mechanical properties and microstructural features of the C/C-SiC composites produced via this AFP-based process are comparable to those of CMCs manufactured using conventional methods, while offering the benefits of faster production times and greater design flexibility.

Further optimization of the process parameters, such as placement settings, pyrolysis conditions, and melt infiltration cycles, can help to minimize defects such as porosity and delamination, thereby improving the overall performance of the composites.

In summary, the AFP-based additive manufacturing approach, coupled with reactive melt infiltration, provides a promising solution for the rapid and cost-effective production of damage-tolerant C/C-SiC composites. This novel process has the potential to expand the adoption of CMCs in various high-temperature applications across multiple industries.



let's thank the authors Corson L. Cramer, Bola Yoon, Michael J. Lance, Ercan Cakmak, Quinn A. Campbell, and David J. Mitchell for their valuable contributions to this research and for providing the foundation for this informative blog post. Their work, as detailed in the paper "Additive Manufacturing of C/C-SiC Ceramic Matrix Composites by Automated Fiber Placement of Continuous Fiber Tow in Polymer with Pyrolysis and Reactive Silicon Melt Infiltration," has opened up exciting new possibilities in the field of ceramic matrix composite manufacturing. We are grateful for their dedication and expertise, which have enabled us to share these insights with our readers.


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!


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