The Composite Materials and Structures Unit of a non-profit R&D institute, based in =Oporto, is experienced in composite materials development and manufacturing for space applications, and offers the development of prepregs, from formulation level to manufacturing and qualification. The institute is interested in for manufacturing/services agreements, subcontracting or reciprocal production arrangements with composite part manufacturers and industries.
The Institution has the facilities and experience required to develop the resin systems to be used in the preparation of carbon fibre pre-impregnated materials (“prepregs”), including suitable mixing equipment and characterisation equipment to evaluate the formulation characteristics (rheometer, gel timer, differential scanning calorimetry, thermogravimetric analysis, dynamic mechanical thermal analysis). This also includes experience in the materials selection, handling and characterisation of resin systems for prepregs with space-qualified characteristics.
The prepregs are prepared in a laboratory drum-winder, with capacity to prepare unidirectional prepreg sheets of 1.5m x 0.3m. The pre-impregnation system can be adjusted to achieve prepregs with controlled physical characteristics, such as the fibre areal weight or the fibre volume fraction.
This system has been used to prepare prepregs from intermediate to high and ultra-high modulus, carbon fibres, which are typically used in space and supplied by only a few companies. The Institution provides the characterisation of these prepregs (e.g. visual inspection, gel time, resin flow) according to the typical requirements of composite parts manufacturers.
As in the case of aerospace and automotive research markets, acquiring these materials is very often a very difficult task for end-users because only a few companies supply qualified prepregsand because for research applications only a small amount of these materials is typically required.
This offer thus responds to the need for supply of prepregs in small quantities, very often, enough to produce composite-based components and with tailored charateristics for research purposes.
Innovations & Advantages
The capacity to prepare pre-impregnated materials at a laboratory scale makes it possible to develop novel prepregs with innovative performance for multiple applications. This is possible due to the Institution’s experience in R&D of polymeric matrix systems and their impact on processing characteristics and final properties of composite materials.
The R&D institution also manufactures and supplies prepregs not available in the market, for example with new matrix/fibre combinations or with specific physical characteristics, such as low areal weigh values. This means this offer can be extended to composite parts manufacturers and other industries with very different requirements.
Prepreg materials are the typical building blocks for carbon fibre reinforced polymer composites, which can offer several advantages compared to metals used in Aerospace and Automotive industries, such as higher specific stiffness and specific strengths, corrosion resistance and easier and faster manufacturing.
- The process requires the use resin systems that are liquid at room temperatures (or slightly above), such as epoxies.
- Carbon fibres with modulus up to 540 Giga Pascal (M55J) have already been used.
Current and Potential Domains of Application
Current application: manufacturing of CFRP Space structures [CFRP=Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer]
Potential domains of application in other markets:
According to a Markets&Markets market study released in June 2015, the market value of prepregs will be around 7 billion dollars by 2020 (CAGR: 10,7%). Currently the largest market for prepregs is the United States of America, mainly due to the Aerospace, Defence and Automotive Industries modernization and materials investigation. However Europe is expected to experience a procurement growth on these materials, mainly due to the environmental regulations for CO2 emissions in vehicles. In Aerospace and Automotive industries composites are one of the most suitable substitutes for materials used in car and airplanes (such as steel and aluminium) to meet the efficiency standards required by the European Commission.
Due to this expected growth in composite market (mainly in prepreg materials), the R&D institution offers customized prepregs and R&D services to companies looking for solutions in the composites field, mainly the aerospace (e.g. for aircraft interiors, aerospace components, aircraft flooring, cargo liners) and automotive industries (e.g. for automotive parts and components, tooling, ballistic panels) in Europe, with specific research needs.
Additionally, prepregs may be of interest for:
- A/C ducting, electronic-transmission applications
- UV resistant parts, sporting goods, high temperature parts
- Honeycomb and foam panels, flame retardant laminates
- Carbon-carbon composites, high-rise flooring, high impact surfaces
- UAVs, seatbacks, doublers