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Polymer Matrix Composites and Their Applications

Posted on 10 Mar 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Humans have been using materials for thousands of years, and ever since then, they’ve been constantly seeking ways to improve their resources. The world has witnessed the coming and going of various periods: the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. These speak volumes of the inherent traits in humans to come up with better ways.

Fortunately, rapid developments in science and technology have lent a hand in the human quest for improvement. These advancements led to the production of lighter, more durable materials, and polymer matrix composites (PMCs) are one of these.

polymer matrix composite

 

Polymer Matrix Composites Defined

Polymer matrix composites “are comprised of a variety of short or continuous fibers bound together by an organic polymer matrix.” They offer high strength and stiffness, unlike ceramic matrix composites (CMC), which offer toughness.

 

Categories of Polymer Matrix Composites

Polymer matrix composites are classified into two categories. However, there is no concrete property that separates the two, and the sole basis for this distinction lies on mechanical properties.

1. Reinforced plastics

Reinforced plastics are made up of polyester resins, and these resins use E-glass, or low-stiffness glass fibers for reinforcements. They’ve been around much longer, as it was only about 40 years ago when people first began using them for automative panels, boat hulls, pipes, and the like.

2. Advanced composites

Advanced composites, on the other hand, are made up of several matrix and fiber combinations. This results to a composite material of top-notch stiffness and strength.

Compared to reinforced plastics, advanced composites have been around only recently, about 15 years ago. They’re often used in the aerospace industry, but because they’re expensive, they haven’t been used much elsewhere.

 

Advantages of Polymer Matrix Composites

You’re lucky to be born in a period wherein science and technology have made superior advancements. This applies to not only the scientific community but also the market and consumer fields.

For manufacturers, especially in the transportation realm, polymer matrix composites are the next best things to sliced bread. Here’s why:

1. Lightweight and durable

Polymer matrix composites are favored for their ability to be both lightweight and durable. In the old days, people relied heavily on stones and metals for various purposes, but not everything went well in this front.

Most stones and metals were heavy and bulky, and they were difficult to transport. The early humans succeeded in constructing buildings and structures entirely from stone and metal, but they had to adjust around the characteristics of these resources.

The early humans had other plans involving the use of materials readily available to them. However, down the line, they always had to compromise. Stone, for example, makes for a great shelter, but they couldn’t use it as a battle shield. It would be too heavy to lug around, and the warrior risks losing his balance. Not fun.

2. Fatigue and corrosion resistant

Polymer matrix composites are also favored for their high resistance to corrosion and fatigue. Their plastic encasing makes them virtually invincible against the clutches of wear and tear, and remember, they’re lightweight.

With current polymer matrix composites, they tend to decompose when exposed to temperatures below 316°C (or 600°F). Experts are coming up with methods to improve this characteristic.

 

Applications of Polymer Matrix Composites

Polymer matrix composites are the stuff of every manufacturer’s dream. They’re a combination of both strength and durability, and they can be fabricated through a process referred to as a lay-up. Thank heavens for modern technology!

1. Aerospace

About 50% of sales for polymer matrix composites come from the aerospace industry. And why not? These composites make for a great building material for airplanes, spacecraft, and the like.

Airbus has pioneered the use of polymer matrix composites in their planes, for example. Other airline companies are likely to follow suit, but as mentioned, price remains a hindrance for this project.

2. Economic areas

Polymer matrix composites help boost up economic areas, be it in a country or in a manufacturing firm. The United States, for example, produced more than a million tons of fiber composites, and this greatly benefitted the national economy.

3. Transport

Transportation has gained a new base-material favorite with polymer matrix composites. These have been used for more than fifty years already, and each year, the world sees an increase in the production of these composite products.

Polymer matrix composites penetrate mostly the automotive manufacturing and railway industries. You can see them in the form of dashboards, car covers, engine covers, car floors, and seats. Yup, they’re practically everywhere in your car.

4. Construction

Polymer matrix composites are used in lighthouses, hydraulic construction, storage tanks, and door and window components, to name a few. They’re also used to reconstruct and repair infrastructure.

5. Shipbuilding

Boats—a large chunk of them, actually—are mostly made up of composite materials. From your yacht, lifeboat, cruise ship, fishing boat, and others, you can find polymer matrix composites in them.

The future of polymer matrix composites is bright and promising. Scientists are constantly seeking ways to improve these materials and address their weak points. It’s exciting what the next step for polymer matrix composites is, so stay tuned.

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