FIBER REINFORCED PLASTIC (FRP)

FIBER REINFORCED PLASTIC

Fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) (also called fibre-reinforced polymer, or fiber-reinforced plastic) is a composite material made of a polymer matrix reinforced with fibres. The fibres are usually glass (in fibreglass), carbon, aramid, or basalt. Rarely, other fibres such as paper, wood, or asbestos have been used. The polymer is usually an epoxy, vinylester, or polyester thermosetting plastic, though phenol formaldehyde resins are still in use.


FRPs are commonly used in the aerospace, automotive, marine, and construction industries. They are commonly found in ballistic armor as well.

Manufacturing Process



A polymer is generally manufactured by step-growth polymerization or addition polymerization. When combined with various agents to enhance or in any way alter the material properties of polymers the result is referred to as a plastic. Composite plastics refer to those types of plastics that result from bonding two or more homogeneous materials with different material properties to derive a final product with certain desired material and mechanical properties. Fibre-reinforced plastics are a category of composite plastics that specifically use fibre materials to mechanically enhance the strength and elasticity of plastics.
The original plastic material without fibre reinforcement is known as the matrix or binding agent. The matrix is a tough but relatively weak plastic that is reinforced by stronger stiffer reinforcing filaments or fibres. The extent that strength and elasticity are enhanced in a fibre-reinforced plastic depends on the mechanical properties of both the fibre and matrix, their volume relative to one another, and the fibre length and orientation within the matrix. Reinforcement of the matrix occurs by definition when the FRP material exhibits increased strength or elasticity relative to the strength and elasticity of the matrix alone.

Process Brief

FRP involves two distinct processes, the first is the process whereby the fibrous material is manufactured and formed, the second is the process whereby fibrous materials are bonded with the matrix during moulding.

Manufacture of fibre fabric

Reinforcing Fibre is manufactured in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional orientations:

  1. Two-dimensional fibreglass-reinforced polymer is characterized by a laminated structure in which the fibers are only aligned along the plane in xdirection, and y-direction of the material. This means that no fibers are aligned in the through-thickness or the z-direction, this lack of alignment in the through thickness can create a disadvantage in cost and processing. Costs and labour increase because conventional processing techniques used to fabricate composites, such as wet hand lay-up, autoclave and resin transfer moulding, require a high amount of skilled labour to cut, stack and consolidate into a preformed component.
    2. Three-dimensional fiberglass-reinforced polymer composites are materials with three-dimensional fiber structures that incorporate fibers in the x-direction, y-direction and z-direction. The development of three-dimensional orientations arose from industry’s need to reduce fabrication costs, to increase through-thickness mechanical properties, and to improve impact damage tolerance; all were problems associated with two-dimensional fibre-reinforced polymers.

Manufacture of fibre preforms

Fibre preforms are how the fibres are manufactured before being bonded to the matrix. Fibre preforms are often manufactured in sheets, continuous mats, or as continuous filaments for spray applications. The four major ways to manufacture the fibre preform is through the textile processing techniques of weaving, knitting, braiding and stitching.

  1. Weaving can be done in a conventional manner to produce two-dimensional fibres as well in a multilayer weaving that can create three-dimensional fibres. However, multilayer weaving is required to have multiple layers of warp yarns to create fibres in the z- direction creating a few disadvantages in manufacturing namely the time to set up all the warp yarns on the loom. Therefore, most multilayer weaving is currently used to produce relatively narrow width products, or high value products where the cost of the preform production is acceptable. Another one of the main problems facing the use of multilayer woven fabrics is the difficulty in producing a fabric that contains fibres oriented with angles other than 0″ and 90″ to each other respectively.
  2. The second major way of manufacturing fibre preforms is Braiding. Braiding is suited to the manufacture of narrow width flat or tubular fabric and is not as capable as weaving in the production of large volumes of wide fabrics. Braiding is done over top of mandrels that vary in cross sectional shape or dimension along their length. Braiding is limited to objects about a brick in size. Unlike standard weaving, braiding can produce fabric that contains fibres at 45-degree angles to one another. Braiding three-dimensional fibres can be done using four step, two-step or Multilayer Interlock Braiding.Four step or row and column braiding utilizes a flatbed containing rows and columns of yarn carriers that form the shape of the desired preform. Additional carriers are added to the outside of the array, the precise location and quantity of which depends upon the exact preform shape and structure required. There are four separate sequences of row and column motion, which act to interlock the yarns and
    produce the braided preform. The yarns are mechanically forced into the structure between each step to consolidate the structure in a similar process to the use of a reed in weaving. Two-step braiding is unlike the four-step process because the two-step includes a large number of yarns fixed in the axial direction and a fewer number of braiding yarns. The process consists of two steps in which the braiding carriers move completely through the structure between the axial carriers. This relatively simple sequence of motions is capable of forming preforms of essentially any shape, including circular and hollow shapes. Unlike the four-step process, the two-step process does not require mechanical compaction the motions involved in the process allows the braid to be pulled tight by yarn tension alone. The last type of braiding is multi-layer interlocking braiding that consists of a number of standard circular braiders being joined together to form a cylindrical braiding frame. This frame has a number of parallel braiding tracks around the circumference of the cylinder but the mechanism allows the transfer of yarn carriers between adjacent tracks forming a multilayer braided fabric with yarns interlocking to adjacent layers. The multilayer interlock braid differs from both the
    four step and two-step braids in that the interlocking yarns are primarily in the plane of the structure and thus do not significantly reduce the in plane properties of the preform. The four-step and two-step processes produce a greater degree of interlinking as the braiding yarns travel through the thickness of the preform, but therefore contribute less to the in-plane performance of the preform. A disadvantage of the multi-layer interlock equipment is that due to the conventional sinusoidal movement of the yarn carriers to form the preform, the equipment is not able to have the density of yarn carriers that is possible with the two step and four step machines.
  3. Knitting fibre preforms can be done with the traditional methods of Warp and Knitting, and the fabric produced is often regarded by many as two-dimensional fabric, but machines with two or more needle beds are capable of producing multi-layer fabrics with yams that traverse between the layers. Developments in electronic controls for needle selection and knit loop transfer, and in the sophisticated mechanisms that allow specific areas of the fabric to be held and their movement controlled. This has allowed the fabric to form itself into the required three-dimensional preform shape with a minimum of material wastage.
  4.  Stitching is arguably the simplest of the four main textile manufacturing techniques and one that can be performed with the smallest investment in specialized machinery. Basically stitching consists of inserting a needle, carrying the stitch thread, through a stack of fabric layers to form a 3D structure. The advantages of stitching are that it is possible to stitch both dry and prep reg fabric, although the tackiness of the prep reg makes the process difficult and generally creates more damage within the prep reg material than in the dry fabric. Stitching also utilizes the standard two dimensional fabrics that are commonly in use within the composite industry therefore there is a sense of familiarity concerning the material systems. The use of standard fabric also allows a greater degree of flexibility in the fabric lay-up of the component than is possible with the other textile processes, which have restrictions on the fibre orientations that can be produced.

Forming Technique

A rigid structure is usually used to establish the shape of FRP components. Parts can be laid up on a flat surface referred to as a “caul plate” or on a cylindrical structure referred to as a “mandrel”. However most fibre-reinforced plastic parts are created with a mold or “tool.” Molds can be concave female molds, male molds, or the mold can completely enclose the part with a top and bottom mold.

The moulding processes of FRP plastics begins by placing the fibre preform on or in the mold. The fibre preform can be dry fibre, or fibre that already contains a measured amount of resin called “prepreg”. Dry fibres are “wetted” with resin either by hand or the resin is injected into a closed mold. The part is then cured, leaving the matrix and fibres in the shape created by the mold. Heat and/or pressure are sometimes used to cure the resin and improve the quality of the final part. The different methods of forming are listed below.

Bladder moulding
Individual sheets of prepreg material are laid up and placed in a female-style mould along with a balloon-like bladder. The mould is closed and placed in a heated press. Finally, the bladder is pressurized forcing the layers of material against the mould walls.

Compression moulding

When the raw material (plastic block,rubber block, plastic sheet, or granules) contains reinforcing fibres, a compression molded part qualifies as a fiber reinforced plastic. More typically the plastic preform used in compression molding does not contain reinforcing fibres. In compression molding, a “preform” or “charge”, of SMC, BMC is placed into mould cavity. The mould is closed and the material is formed & cured inside by pressure and heat.
Compression moulding offers excellent detailing for geometric shapes ranging from pattern and relief detailing to complex curves and creative forms, to precision engineering all within a maximum curing time of 20 minutes.

Mandrel wrapping
Sheets of prepreg material are wrapped around a steel or aluminium mandrel. The prepreg material is compacted by nylon or polypropylene cello tape. Parts are typically batch cured by vacuum bagging and hanging in an oven. After cure the cello and mandrel are removed leaving a hollow carbon tube. This process creates strong and robust hollow carbon tubes.

Wet layup

Wet layup forming combines fibre reinforcement and the matrix as they are placed on the forming tool. Reinforcing Fibre layers are placed in an open mould and then saturated with a wet resin by pouring it over the fabric and working it into the fabric. The mould is then left so that the resin will cure, usually at room temperature, though heat is sometimes used to ensure a proper cure. Sometimes a vacuum bag is used to compress a wet layup. Glass fibres are most commonly used for this process, the results are widely known as fibreglass, and is used to make common products like skis, canoes, kayaks and surf boards.

Chopper gun

Continuous strands of fibreglass are pushed through a hand-held gun that both chops the strands and combines them with a catalyzed resin such as polyester. The impregnated chopped glass is shot onto the mould surface in whatever thickness and design the human operator thinks is appropriate. This process is good for large production runs at economical cost, but produces geometric shapes with less strength than other moulding processes and has poor dimensional tolerance.

Filament Winding

Machines pull fibre bundles through a wet bath of resin and wound over a rotating steel mandrel in specific orientations Parts are cured either room temperature or elevated temperatures. Mandrel is extracted, leaving a final geometric shape but can be left in some cases.

Pultrusion

Fibre bundles and slit fabrics are pulled through a wet bath of resin and formed into the rough part shape. Saturated material is extruded from a heated closed die curing while being continuously pulled through die. Some of the end products of pultrusion are structural shapes, i.e. I beam, angle, channel and flat sheet. These materials can be used to create all sorts of fibreglass structures such as ladders, platforms, handrail systems tank, pipe and pump supports.

Resin transfer moulding

Also called resin infusion. Fabrics are placed into a mould into which wet resin is then injected. Resin is typically pressurized and forced into a cavity which is under vacuum in resin transfer moulding. Resin is entirely pulled into cavity under vacuum in vacuum-assisted resin transfer moulding. This moulding process allows precise tolerances and detailed shaping but can sometimes fail to fully saturate the fabric leading to weak spots in the final
shape.

Material requirements


A thermoset polymer matrix material, or engineering grade thermoplastic polymer matrix material, must meet certain requirements in order to first be suitable for FRPs and ensure a successful reinforcement of itself. The matrix must be able to properly saturate, and preferably bond chemically with the fibre reinforcement for maximum adhesion within a suitable curing period. The matrix must also completely envelop the fibres to protect them from cuts and notches that would reduce their strength, and to transfer forces to the fibres. The fibres must also be kept separate from each other so that if failure occurs it is localized as much as possible, and if failure occurs the matrix must also de-bond from the fibre for similar reasons. Finally the matrix should be of a plastic that remains chemically and physically stable during and after the reinforcement and moulding processes. To be suitable as reinforcement material, fibre additives must increase the tensile strength and modulus of elasticity of the matrix and meet the following conditions; fibres must exceed critical fibre content; the strength and rigidity of fibres itself must exceed the strength and rigidity of the matrix alone; and there must be optimum bonding between fibres and matrix.

Glass fibre

“Fibreglass reinforced plastics” or FRPs (commonly referred to simply as fibreglass) use textile grade glass fibres. These textile fibres are different from other forms of glass fibres used to deliberately trap air, for insulating applications (see glass wool). Textile glass fibres begin as varying combinations of SiO2, Al2O3, B2O3, CaO, or MgO in powder form. These mixtures are then heated through direct melting to temperatures around 1300 degrees Celsius,
after which dies are used to extrude filaments of glass fibre in diameter ranging from 9 to 17 µm. These filaments are then wound into larger threads and spun onto bobbins for transportation and further processing. Glass fibre is by far the most popular means to reinforce plastic and thus enjoys a wealth of production processes, some of which are applicable to aramid and carbon fibres as well owing to their shared fibrous qualities.
Roving is a process where filaments are spun into larger diameter threads. These threads are then commonly used for woven reinforcing glass fabrics and mats, and in spray applications.

Fibre fabrics are web-form fabric reinforcing material that has both warp and weft directions. Fibre mats are web-form non-woven mats of glass fibres. Mats are manufactured in cut dimensions with chopped fibres, or in continuous mats using continuous fibres. Chopped fibre glass is used in processes where lengths of glass threads are cut between 3 and 26 mm, threads are then used in plastics most commonly intended for moulding processes. Glass fibre short strands are short 0.2–0.3 mm strands of glass fibres that are used to reinforce thermoplastics most commonly for injection moulding.

Carbon fibre
Carbon fibres are created when polyacrylonitrile fibres (PAN), Pitch resins, or Rayon are carbonized (through oxidation and thermal pyrolysis) at high temperatures. Through further processes of graphitizing or stretching the fibres strength or elasticity can be enhanced respectively. Carbon fibres are manufactured in diameters analogous to glass fibres with diameters ranging from 4 to 17 µm. These fibres wound into larger threads for transportation
and further production processes. Further production processes include weaving or braiding into carbon fabrics, cloths and mats analogous to those described for glass that can then be used in actual reinforcements.

Aramid Fiber

Aramid fibres are most commonly known as Kevlar, Nomex and Technora. Aramids are generally prepared by the reaction between an amine group and a carboxylic acid halide group (aramid);[1] commonly this occurs when an aromatic polyamide is spun from a liquid concentration of sulphuric acid into a crystallized fibre. Fibres are then spun into larger threads in order to weave into large ropes or woven fabrics (Aramid). Aramid fibres are
manufactured with varying grades to based on varying qualities for strength and rigidity, so that the material can be somewhat tailored to specific design needs concerns, such as cutting the tough material during manufacture.

Polymer & Reinforcement Combinations:

Renforcing Material Most Common Matrix Material Properties Improved
Glass Fibers UP, EP, PA, PC, POM, PP, PBT, VE Strength, Elasticity, Heat Resistance
Wood Fiber PE,PP,ABS,HDPE,PLA Flexural strength, tensile modulus, tensile strength
Carbon & Aramid Fiber EP, UP, VE, PA Elastic strength, compression strength, electric strength
Inorganic Particulates UP, Semi-crystalline thermoplastics Isotropic shrinkage, abrasion, compression strength
Microspheres Glass Microspheres Weight reduction relative to solid fibers

 

Structural applications

FRP can be applied to strengthen the beams, columns, and slabs of buildings and bridges. It is possible to increase the strength of structural members even after they have been severely damaged due to loading conditions. In the case of damaged reinforced concrete members, this would first require the repair of the member by removing loose debris and filling in cavities and cracks with mortar or epoxy resin. Once the member is repaired, strengthening can be achieved through wet, hand lay-up of impregnating the fibre sheets with epoxy resin then applying them to the cleaned and prepared surfaces of the member.
Two techniques are typically adopted for the strengthening of beams, relating to the strength enhancement desired: flexural strengthening or shear strengthening. In many cases it may be necessary to provide both strength enhancements. For the flexural strengthening of a beam, FRP sheets or plates are applied to the tension face of the member (the bottom face for a simply supported member with applied top loading or gravity loading). Principal tensile fibres are oriented in the beam longitudinal axis, similar to its internal flexural steel reinforcement. This increases the beam strength and its stiffness (load required to cause unit deflection), however decreases the deflection capacity and ductility.

For the shear strengthening of a beam, the FRP is applied on the web (sides) of a member with fibres oriented transverse to the beam’s longitudinal axis. Resisting of shear forces is achieved in a similar manner as internal steel stirrups, by bridging shear cracks that form under applied loading. FRP can be applied in several configurations, depending on the exposed faces of the member and the degree of strengthening desired, this includes: side bonding, Uwraps (U-jackets), and closed wraps (complete wraps). Side bonding involves applying FRP to the sides of the beam only. It provides the least amount of shear strengthening due to failures caused by de-bonding from the concrete surface at the FRP free edges. For U-wraps, the FRP is applied continuously in a ‘U’ shape around the sides and bottom (tension) face of the beam. If all faces of a beam are accessible, the use of closed wraps is desirable as they provide the most strength enhancement. Closed wrapping involves applying FRP around the entire perimeter of the member, such that there are no free ends and the typical failure mode is rupture of the fibres. For all wrap configurations, the FRP can be applied along the length of the member as a continuous sheet or as discrete strips, having a predefined minimum width and spacing.

Slabs may be strengthened by applying FRP strips at their bottom (tension) face. This will result in better flexural performance, since the tensile resistance of the slabs is supplemented by the tensile strength of FRP. In the case of beams and slabs, the effectiveness of FRP strengthening depends on the performance of the resin chosen for bonding. This is particularly an issue for shear strengthening using side bonding or U-wraps. Columns are
typically wrapped with FRP around their perimeter, as with closed or complete wrapping. This not only results in higher shear resistance, but more crucial for column design, it results in increased compressive strength under axial loading. The FRP wrap works by restraining the lateral expansion of the column, which can enhance confinement in a similar manner as spiral reinforcement does for the column core.

Disposal and recycling status
As a subset of plastic FR plastics are liable to a number of the issues and concerns in plastic waste disposal and recycling. Plastics pose a particular challenge in recycling because they are derived from polymers and monomers that often cannot be separated and returned to their virgin states, for this reason not all plastics can be recycled for re-use, in fact some estimates claim only 20% to 30% of plastics can be recycled at all. Fibre-reinforced plastics and their matrices share these disposal and environmental concerns. In addition to these concerns, the fact that the fibres themselves are difficult to remove from the matrix and preserve for re-use means FRP’s amplify these challenges. FRP’s are inherently difficult to separate into base materials, that is into fibre and matrix, and the matrix is difficult to separate into usable plastics, polymers, and monomers. These are all concerns for environmentally-informed design today. Plastics do often offer savings in energy and economic savings in comparison to other materials. In addition, with the advent of new more environmentally friendly matrices such as bioplastics and UV-degradable plastics, FRP will gain environmental sensitivity.

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