Characterisation of Uncured Carbon Fibre Prepreg

  • Samuel Erland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The weight saving benefits of carbon fibre composites have been keenly adopted by civil aviation, with over 50% of the weight of modern designs coming from the carbon fibre components. The rapid rise in demand for this new material has led to the development of fully automated manufacturing techniques, improving rate of production and repeatability of manufacture. However, this rapid development, combined with a constant drive for increased rate of manufacture from industry can result in the formation of critical defects in the more complicated structural components.Manufacturing complex aeronautical structures from carbon fibre leads to a number of interesting mechanical problems. Forcing a multi-layered laminate to conform to a curved geometry requires individual layers to move relative to one another in order to relieve various forming-induced stresses. If the layers are constrained the dissipation of these stresses in the form of interply shear is prevented and a wide range of defects can occur, compromising the integrity of the final component. One of the most important of these is fibre wrinkling, which is effectively the buckling of one or more layers within an uncured laminate. This buckle results in a localised change in fibre orientation, which can result in a significant knockdown in part strength.A large amount of research has been conducted on carbon fibre in its cured state, when it exists as elastic fibres in an elastic matrix. Manufacturing occurs when the material is uncured however, with modern processes typically using fibres which are pre-impregnated with resin in order to reduce void content and aid fibre placement. A ply of uncured material therefore consists of stiff elastic fibres suspended in a very weak liquid viscoelastic material, whose properties are hugely influenced by temperature and rate of deformation.This thesis builds a better understanding of the mechanics involved in forming, using a series of characterisation techniques developed drawing from techniques in the literature. Part of the process involves the fitting of a one-dimensional viscoelasto-plastic model to experimental test data in order to represent the material response when shearing two plies about their interface. This model shows the material response to be dominated by the viscoelastic resin at low temperatures, before becoming frictional and fibre dominated at higher temperatures. In terms of optimum formability, a region exists in the transition from the viscous to frictional behaviour at which resistance to forming is minimised. With this data alone, optimum forming parameters such as rate of deformation, pressure and temperature can be suggested based on the material being used, along with design parameters such as stacking sequence.Another important characteristic which must be understood when considering ply wrinkling is the bending stiffness of uncured prepreg, both as a single ply and when combined to form a small laminate. A wrinkle is in effect the buckling of a single or small number of plies within a laminate, therefore by understanding the bending stiffness and process-induced loading we can begin to predict whether or not wrinkles are likely to occur for a particular manufacturing regime. In order to assess bending stiffness, a modified Dynamic Mechanical Analysis process is employed, replacing the standard Engineers Bending Theory calculations with a Timoshenko element to capture the large degree of intraply shear experienced in the bending of uncured prepreg.Finally, a small laminate scale demonstrator is considered in which a 24-ply laminate is consolidated into a female tool in such a way as to induced maximum shear strain between the plies, in order that the optimum forming parameters predicted by the characterisation tests might be validated. A simple energy minimisation model is used to predict the variation in consolidation strain around the part due to resistance to shear, using material parameters from the model describing the inter-ply shear test data. These parameters are also used to inform a novel modelling technique which has been developed parallel to this thesis, which is validated against the experimental results, and shows how the characterisation techniques can be used to advance simulation methods aimed at reducing the development time for new carbon fibre components.This work provides a set of tests and methodologies for the accurate characterisation of the behaviour of uncured carbon fibre during forming. The models developed alongside these tests allow for a detailed interrogation of the results, providing valuable insight into the mechanics behind the observed material behaviour and enabling informed decisions to be made regarding the forming process in order that the occurrence of defects might be minimised. The primary aim has been to provide a set of vital input parameters for novel, complex process modelling techniques under development, which has been achieved and validated experimentally.
Date of Award26 Apr 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsGKN Aerospace
SupervisorRichard Butler (Supervisor), Timothy Dodwell (Supervisor) & Andrew Rhead (Supervisor)


  • material characteristics
  • analytical modelling
  • carbon fibre composites
  • process modelling
  • manufacturing improvement

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