The Production of Next Generation Composite Materials

The technical specifications of next-generation materials are taking the technology of Thermo Fisher Scientific to an entirely new level, thereby enabling the creation of products with outstanding properties – that were impossible to achieve in the past. These materials are a product of a massive drive toward innovation in the material science space, which has only been achieved due to the invention of the first composite materials and their introduction into the industrial landscape.

This article describes the way in which these next-generation materials are being developed. Further, it also specifies the analysis of their chemical composition and the measurement of their performance.

How Beneficial Properties of Composite Materials are Created and Preserved

A few materials possess outstanding properties, which make them the perfect fit for a specific application. However, often the environment affects these materials to such an extent that unfortunately they cannot be easily used. What’s more, they also require continuous replacement and maintenance, which thus compormises and negates all the advantages stemming from their use.

However, the creation of multiple layers, or the application of a coating, can shield such delicate materials. This enables the delicate materials to be used, with all the benefits that they bring.

Glass sheet coated with different materials. The multiple layers add specific properties to the product.

Figure 1. Glass sheet coated with different materials. The multiple layers add specific properties to the product.

For instance, the introduction of nanofibers in a slab can vastly improve its resistance to traction, flexion, or torsion. Such materials ordinarily feature a matrix (the external part of the material, directly exposed to the stress), supported by a network of fibers. In the event of stress being applied to the material, this is then transferred to the fibers. The fibers respond with an elastic deformation since they can easily handle the applied force. However, once the stress is removed, the fibers will drag the material back to its original state.

Thus, the process of stress-transfer is what led to the formation of self-healing materials. Such a technique is applied to the plastic covers of some smartphones that, when scratched, can recover in a matter of minutes. When the scratch isn’t too deep, it will then completely disappear, thus ensuring that the ‘brand-new’ feeling of the phone lasts longer.

Crafting these materials requires high-level engineering, which occurs as a result of large investments in research. Scientists have specifically focused their attention on ways to transfer the stress from the matrix to the fiber, without the latter slipping inside the structure. For this, many different solutions were taken into account and investigated – for instance, creating a complex fibrous skeleton or coating the fibers with a material to improve the shear stress transmission at the fiber-matrix interface.

Different kinds of fiber weaving offer different resistance to stress. The appropriate weaving technique is chosen according to the application.

Figure 2 & 3. Different kinds of fiber weaving offer different resistance to stress. The appropriate weaving technique is chosen according to the application.

How Next-Generation Composite Materials are Analyzed and Measured

Since the above investigations were performed on nano-scaled materials, the use of electron microscopes was undertaken for the analysis and measurements. Using a desktop scanning electron microscope (SEM), it is therefore possible to evaluate the fibers’ diameter and monitor changes along the structure. Moreover, it is also possible to locally analyze the coating’s quality and chemical composition, in order to verify optimization of the fiber adhesion to the matrix. Such a procedure can be done using an energy dispersive X-ray analysis (EDS).

It is important to note that composite materials are not a recent invention. Ancient Europeans were already mixing different types of materials for decorative or practical uses. An example of this is the discovery of archaeological grave goods in the imperial and royal tombs in the Speyer Cathedral in Speyer, Germany, where textile fibers were mixed with golden threads.

Within the KUR-Project “Conservation and restoration of mobile cultural assets” in Germany, electron microscopy has been successfully used to perform numerous analyses of the tombs’ contents.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Thermo Fisher Scientific Phenom-World BV.

For more information on this source, please visit Thermo Fisher Scientific Phenom-World BV.

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