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  • Thursday, 24th January 2019
  • Reading time: about 2 minutes

To fully appreciate the role and application of composite materials to a structure, an understanding is required of the component materials themselves and of the ways in which they can be processed. 

In its most basic form a composite material is one which is composed of at least two elements working together to produce material properties that are different to the properties of those elements on their own. In practice, most composites consist of a bulk material (the ‘matrix’), and a reinforcement of some kind, added primarily to increase the strength and stiffness of the matrix. This reinforcement is usually in fibre form. Today, the most common man-made composites can be divided into three main groups:

Polymer Matrix Composites (PMC’s) ­ These are the most common and will the main area of discussion in this guide. Also known as FRP – Fibre Reinforced Polymers (or Plastics) – these materials use a polymer-based resin as the matrix, and a variety of fibres such as glass, carbon and aramid as the reinforcement.

Metal Matrix Composites (MMC’s) – Increasingly found in the automotive industry, these materials use a metal such as aluminium as the matrix, and reinforce it with fibres such as silicon carbide.

Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMC’s) – Used in very high temperature environments, these materials use a ceramic as the matrix and reinforce it with short fibres, or whiskers such as those made from silicon carbide and boron nitride.

Published courtesy of David Cripps, Gurit

Polymer Composites

This section looks at the desirable properties of polymer composites and their ability to be easily formed into complex shapes.

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There are four main direct loads that any material in a structure has to withstand: tension, compression, shear and flexure.

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Material Comparison

There is a very large range of mechanical properties that can be achieved with composite materials and even when considering one fibre type on its own, the composite properties can vary by a factor of 10 with the range of fibre contents and orientations that are commonly achieved.

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Design Philosophy

When used correctly, composites can be shown to be the designers’ path to the optimum structure and can be used in a wide variety of applications.

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