A method was developed for producing thick-section [>2 in. (≈5 cm)], continuous fiber-reinforced ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). Ultramet-modified fiber interface coating and melt infiltration processing, developed previously for thin-section components, were used for the fabrication of CMCs that were an order of magnitude greater in thickness [up to 2.5 in. (≈6.4 cm)]. Melt processing first involves infiltration of a fiber preform with the desired interface coating, and then with carbon to partially densify the preform. A molten refractory metal is then infiltrated and reacts with the excess carbon to form the carbide matrix without damaging the fiber reinforcement. Infiltration occurs from the inside out as the molten metal fills virtually all the available void space. Densification to <5 vol% porosity is a one-step process requiring no intermediate machining steps.
The melt infiltration method requires no external pressure. This prevents over-infiltration of the outer surface plies, which can lead to excessive residual porosity in the center of the part. However, processing of thick-section components required modification of the conventional process conditions, and the means by which the large amount of molten metal is introduced into the fiber preform. Modification of the low-temperature, ultraviolet-enhanced chemical vapor deposition process used to apply interface coatings to the fiber preform was also required to accommodate the high preform thickness.
The thick-section CMC processing developed in this work proved to be invaluable for component development, fabrication, and testing in two complementary efforts. In a project for the Army, involving SiC/SiC blisk development, nominally 0.8 in. thick × 8 in. diameter (≈2 cm thick × 20 cm diameter) components were successfully infiltrated. Blisk hubs were machined using diamond-embedded cutting tools and successfully spin-tested. Good ply uniformity and extremely low residual porosity (41 ksi (≈283 MPa) flexural strength.