Tech Briefs

Fabrication of Polyimide-Matrix/Carbon and Boron-Fiber Tape

Production costs can be reduced and compression strengths increased.

The term “HYCARB” denotes a hybrid composite of polyimide matrices reinforced with carbon and boron fibers. HYCARB and an improved process for fabricating dry HYCARB tapes have been invented in a continuing effort to develop lightweight, strong composite materials for aerospace vehicles. Like other composite tapes in this line of development, HYCARB tapes are intended to be used to build up laminated structures having possibly complex shapes by means of automated tow placement (ATP) — a process in which a computer controlled multiaxis machine lays down prepreg tape or tows. The special significance of the present process for making dry HYCARB for ATP is that it contributes to the reduction of the overall cost of manufacturing boron-reinforced composite-material structures while making it possible to realize increased compression strengths.

The present process for making HYCARB tapes incorporates a “wet to dry” process developed previously at Langley Research Center. In the “wet to dry” process, a flattened bundle of carbon fiber tows, pulled along a continuous production line between pairs of rollers, is impregnated with a solution of a poly(amide acid) in N-methyl-2-pyrrolidinone (NMP), then most of the NMP is removed by evaporation in hot air. In the present case, the polyamide acid is, more specifically, that of LaRC™ IAX (or equivalent) thermoplastic polyimide, and the fibers are, more specifically, Manganite IM7 (or equivalent) polyacrylonitrile- based carbon filaments that have a diameter of 5.2 μm and are supplied in 12,000-filament tows.

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This Photomicrograph shows a cross of a specimen containing one layer of boron fibers.
The present process stands in contrast to a prior process in which HYCARB tape was made by pressing boron fibers into the face of a wet carbon-fiber/ poly(amide acid) prepreg tape — that is, a prepreg tape from which the NMP solvent had not been removed. In the present process, one or more layer(s) of sideby- side boron fibers are pressed between dry prepreg tapes that have been prepared by the aforementioned “wet to dry” process. The multilayer tape is then heated to imidize the matrix material and remove most of the remaining solvent, and is pressed to consolidate the multiple layers into a dense tape.

For tests, specimens of HYCARB tapes and laminated composite panels made from HYCARB tape were prepared as follows: HYCARB tapes were fabricated as described above. Each panel was made by laying down ten layers of tape, containing, variously, one, two, or three boron-fiber plies and the remainder carbon- fiber-only plies (see figure). Each panel was made by laying down ten layers of tape. Each panel was then cured by heating to a temperature of 225 °C for 15 minutes, then pressing at 200 psi (≈1.4 MPa) while heating to 371 °C, holding at 371 °C for 1 hour, then continuing to hold pressure during cooling. Control specimens that were otherwise identical except that they did not contain boron fibers also were prepared. In room-temperature flexural tests, the HYCARB specimens performed comparably to the control specimens; in room temperature, open-hole compression tests, the HYCARB specimens performed slightly better, by amounts that increased with boron content.

This work was done by Harry L. Belvin and Roberto J. Cano of Langley Research Center and Monte Treasure and Thomas W. Shahood of Textron Specialty Materials. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free online at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Materials category.

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, Langley Research Center, at (757) 864-3521. Refer to LAR-15852.