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Tooling design and microwave curing technologies for the manufacturing of fiber-reinforced polymer composites in aerospace applications

Abstract

The increasing demand for high-performance and quality polymer composite materials has led to international research effort on pursuing advanced tooling design and new processing technologies to satisfy the highly specialized requirements of composite components used in the aerospace industry. This paper reports the problems in the fabrication of advanced composite materials identified through literature survey, and an investigation carried out by the authors about the composite manufacturing status in China’s aerospace industry. Current tooling design technologies use tooling materials which cannot match the thermal expansion coefficient of composite parts, and hardly consider the calibration of tooling surface. Current autoclave curing technologies cannot ensure high accuracy of large composite materials because of the wide range of temperature gradients and long curing cycles. It has been identified that microwave curing has the potential to solve those problems. The proposed technologies for the manufacturing of fiber-reinforced polymer composite materials include the design of tooling using anisotropy composite materials with characteristics for compensating part deformation during forming process, and vacuum-pressure microwave curing technology. Those technologies are mainly for ensuring the high accuracy of anisotropic composite parts in aerospace applications with large size (both in length and thickness) and complex shapes. Experiments have been carried out in this on-going research project and the results have been verified with engineering applications in one of the project collaborating companies.

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Correspondence to Yingguang Li.

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Li, Y., Li, N. & Gao, J. Tooling design and microwave curing technologies for the manufacturing of fiber-reinforced polymer composites in aerospace applications. Int J Adv Manuf Technol 70, 591–606 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00170-013-5268-3

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Keywords

  • Polymer composites manufacturing
  • Anisotropic composite tooling design
  • Vacuum-pressure microwave curing
  • Aerospace composite materials