Improved carbon-fiber- reinforced SiC ceramic-matrix composite (C/SiC CMC) materials, suitable for fabrication of thick-section structural components, are producible by use of a combination of raw materials and processing conditions different from such combinations used in the prior art. In comparison with prior C/SiC CMC materials, these materials have more nearly uniform density, less porosity, and greater strength. The majority of raw-material/processing-condition combinations used in the prior art involve the use of chemical vapor infiltration (CVI) for densifying the matrix.
In contrast, in synthesizing a material of the present type, one uses a combination of infiltration with, and pyrolysis of, a pre-ceramic polymer [polymer infiltration followed by pyrolysis (PIP)]. PIP processing is performed in repeated, tailored cycles of infiltration followed by pyrolysis. Densification by PIP processing takes less time and costs less than does densification by CVI. When one of these improved materials was tested by exposure to a high-temperature, inert-gas environment that caused prior C/SiC CMCs to lose strength, this material did not lose strength. (Information on the temperature and exposure time was not available at the time of writing this article.)
A material of the present improved type consists, more specifically, of (1) carbon fibers coated with an engineered fiber/matrix interface material and (2) a ceramic matrix, containing SiC, derived from a pre-ceramic polymer with ceramic powder additions. The enhancements of properties of these materials relative to those of prior C/SiC CMC materials are attributable largely to engineering of the fiber/ matrix interfacial material and the densification process.
The synthesis of a material of this type includes processing at an elevated temperature to a low level of open porosity. The approach followed in this processing allows one to fabricate not only simple plates but also more complexly shaped parts. The carbon fiber reinforcement in a material of this type can be in any of several alternative forms, including tow, fabric, or complex preforms containing fibers oriented in multiple directions.