Textile-based composites could significantly benefit from local toughening using nanofiber coatings. Nanofibers, thermoplastic or otherwise, can be applied to the surface of the fiber tow bundle, achieving toughening of the fiber tow contact surfaces, resulting in tougher and more damage-resistant/tolerant composite structures. The same technique could also be applied to other technologies such as tape laying, fiber placement, or filament winding operations. Other modifications to the composite properties such as thermal and electrical conductivity could be made through selection of appropriate nanofiber material.

Investigations of the failure and damage mechanisms of textile composites has led to the conclusion that toughening of the matrix material would result in increased material performance. Several approaches exist in which the bulk of the matrix is modified either through chemical formulation or the addition of fillers. These methods can detrimentally affect the processability of the resulting matrix material. Other methods exist that rely on modification of the fiber material (so-called “fuzzy fiber” approaches) that results in reduced fiber performance.

Control of the needle electric potential, precursor solution, ambient temperature, ambient humidity, airflow, etc., are used to vary the diameter and nanofiber coating morphology as needed. Post-coating heat treatments may also be used for the purpose of curing, drying, oxidation, annealing, etc. The array of electrospinning jets may be varied as needed to achieve uniform, quality coatings, and may involve the controlled use of gas flow to direct nanofiber deposition. An adhesive coating may also be applied (pre- or postapplication) to the receiving material to enhance the mechanical stability of the nanofiber coating. Additionally, any number of different nanofiber materials can be simultaneously applied.

This method produces a product with a toughening agent applied to the fiber tow or other continuous composite precursor material where it is needed (at interfaces and boundaries) without interfering with other composite processing characteristics.

This work was done by Lee W. Kohlman and Gary D. Roberts of Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. LEW-18844-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the August, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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