Fiber placement technology for ceramic composites

Engineers at the National Composites Centre (NCC) have successfully trialled making ceramic matrix composite (CMC) parts using automated fiber placement (AFP) technology.

This was achieved by adapting existing AFP technology, used with organic matrix composites such as carbon fiber reinforced epoxy materials, to process a ceramic material provided by science company 3M. The research team also investigated how process parameters such as speed, heat and compaction force could influence the material deposition and quality.

Whilst conventional nickel-based superalloys have a maximum continuous temperature of approximately 800°C, oxide-based CMCs can operate at 1000°C. However, the use of CMCs is currently limited to high value applications, such as heat shields and turbine vanes, the NCC said. Using AFP could make the material more affordable, making CMCs more suitable for industries requiring components such as aerospace engines that can withstand high temperatures. Using an automated process could also improve control over material deposition and material consistency.

“By manufacturing 3D trial parts, we have demonstrated compatibility of CMC towpregs with existing AFP equipment,” said Dr Dave King, engineering capability lead at the NCC, said. “In the next year we hope to use our optimised manufacturing parameters to create even more complex geometries, starting with curved surfaces, to closer represent industrial parts. With 3M’s support, we are also investigating wider material formats to reduce the number of inter tape joints in the material to increase its performance.”