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Clarkson University

Department of Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering

Mechanics of Composite Materials
AE 457, CE 421/521, ME 457/557
Spring 2005 - Characterization of Composite Materials

The purposes of this assignment are to:

1. Gain an appreciation of the issues associated with composites fabrication by assembling

and curing a multi-directional laminate.

2. Explore some of the unique properties and behaviors that differentiate composite
materials from traditional materials:
a. Anisotropy of mechanical and thermal properties (such as Young’s modulus,
Poisson’s ratio and the coefficient of thermal expansion)
b. Coupling between i) normal loads/strains and shear strains/loads, ii) in-plane
loading and laminate curvatures, and iii) moments and in-plane strains.

3. Compare analytically determined predictions for material properties with those

determined experimentally.

This assignment consists of four phases (design, build, test, analyze) conducted over several
weeks. Each team will build and test one laminate and submit a final report.

Project Schedule

Laminate design Prior to build

Build laminate 3/7 – 3/11
Test laminate 3/21 – 3/25
Final report due Friday, 4/15

A sign up sheet will be available for teams to choose a 4-hour time slot to build the laminate and
another 4-hour time slot to test the laminate. Please allow approximately one week between your
build and test days, to allow the TA’s prep your test specimen. The layup process does not take
very long, however the laminate must cure for 1 hour and cool for about 2 hours. The testing
time will be much less than the allowed 4 hours.
A. Design

Determine which aspects of laminate behavior the team would like to investigate. Some
ideas might include: Coupling between one or more of the in-plane loading/strains and the
moments/curvatures. Coupling between different in-plane loads and strains. Coupling between
different moments and curvatures. Quasi-isotropic laminates. Thermoelastically stable
Due to a limited supply of strain gages, each team can test only one laminate. However, your
team may collaborate with one or more teams to examine the effect of varying some aspect of
laminate design. For example, two teams could determine the effect of fiber angle on balanced
symmetric laminate properties by building and testing a [ ±45]s and a [ ±30]s . There are
limitations associated with the fabrication and testing equipment. These limitations may impose
restrictions on your design. The maximum load for the load frame is 1000 lbs. The prepreg is
carbon/epoxy. Laminates must contain at least 8 plies but no more than 20 plies.
Once your laminate type is selected, use the ICAN program to determine the predicted values
for the laminate stiffnesses, compliances and engineering constants. Additionally, determine the
lamina residual stresses and laminate warpage (if any) caused by the lamination process.

B. Build

The laminates will be constructed using carbon/epoxy “prepreg” (preimpregnated tape). The
epoxy is a B-staged resin; a hardener is already mixed into the epoxy. The prepreg is stored in a
freezer to inhibit the chemical reaction that hardens the epoxy. The prepreg is very flexible and
tacky, therefore it has a paper backing on one side for ease in handling.
To create a laminate, the prepreg plies with the desired fiber orientations are cut and stacked
in the desired sequence. The layup must be cured under elevated temperature and pressure to
harden the epoxy. This is accomplished using the Carver heated press (consisting of a hydraulic
ram and a pair of heated platens) and a 5” x 5” flat mold. During curing, excess epoxy is
absorbed by “bleeder plies” placed at the top and bottom of the laminate. To prevent the bleeder
plies from becoming a permanent addition to your laminate, a “peel ply” is placed between each
bleeder ply and the laminate. In order to remove the laminate from the mold after curing, a mold
release spray must be applied to the interior surface mold before stacking the plies in the mold!
As you layup and cure the laminate, it is helpful to keep track of the x and z directions, since
these directions may not be visibly obvious after lamination, and you will need to identify them
prior to the testing phase!
Assembly instructions:
1. Apply a thin uniform coat of mold release spray to interior surfaces of the mold.
2. Cut 2 bleeder plies and 2 peel plies (a little under 5” x 5”).
3. Remove the prepreg from the freezer and cut the required length using the utility
knife. Cut on the polyethylene-topped table provided. Return the prepreg to the
freezer immediately!
4. Cut the plies to the desired fiber orientation and size (a little under 5” x 5”) using the
utility knife and a metal straight-edge. Hold the metal straight-edge firmly in place
and guide the knife – one continuous cut works best. Work quickly, but carefully –
the prepreg is easiest to handle when the resin is cold and stiff.
5. You may wish to put the cut plies in the freezer as you cut them, since they are easier
to stack when the resin is stiff and cold.
6. Place a bleeder ply in the mold base, then a peel ply.
7. Stack the prepreg plies (from the bottom ply up), in the desired sequence. Remove
the paper backing from each ply before adding it to the stack. Finally, stack the
second peel ply then the second bleeder ply, then the mold cover.
Stacking sequence:
Mold, coated with mold release spray
Bleeder ply
Peel ply
Plies of prepreg, stacked in the desired sequence
Peel ply
Bleeder ply
Mold, coated with mold release spray
8. Place the mold in the unheated press. Make sure the release valve for the hydraulic
ram is closed (turn CW). Apply a pressure of 100 psi (2500 lbs – gage reads in
9. Set the top and bottom platen heaters for a temperature of 250 degrees. This
corresponds approximately to a dial set point of 2 to 3. The temperature gages are not
completely accurate, the bottom platen gage should read about 250, while the top
platen gage should read about 300. Adjust the dials as needed.
10. The pressure will slowly decrease if left unattended. Therefore, you must monitor the
pressure and carefully re-pump as needed to maintain a constant pressure.
11. Once the desired temperature is achieved, maintain a constant temperature and
pressure for approximately one hour to fully cure the laminate. After this time, turn
the heaters off, and allow the laminate to cool for about 2 hours. Do not remove the
pressure until the laminate has cooled. However, it is not necessary to re-pump to
maintain exactly the 2500 pounds pressure during this time.
12. Release the pressure (turn release valve CCW) and remove the mold from the press.
The laminate may pop out of the mold when you remove the cover, or you may need
to unscrew the bottom to pop it out.
13. Determine the x and z directions for your laminate and label them on the laminate.
Label your laminate with your team number. The finished laminates should be given
to the TA’s, who will prepare the test specimens.

C. Test

Two tests will be conducted which will enable you to determine some of the mechanical
properties (compliances and elastic moduli) of your laminate. The tests are a uni-axial tension
test, and a four point bending test. After your laminate is built, a test specimen will be prepared
for your team. This specimen will be approximately 5” long (x-direction) and 1” wide, with
rectangular strain gage rosettes ( 0! , 45! , 90! ) applied to the top and bottom. Thickness will vary,
depending upon the number of plies (you can measure laminate thickness using a micrometer
and calculate the ply thickness – this may differ slightly from the ply thickness used by the
ICAN program). A data collection system, similar to the one used in the ME biaxial stress lab,
will be used to collect data regarding applied loads and resulting strains. A separate procedure
regarding operation of the load frame and data collection will be provided
The same specimen with the same strain gages must be used for both tests. Therefore, it is
recommended that you conduct the uni-axial tension test first, making sure to remain well within
the elastic ranges of the specimen and gages. Conduct the 4-point bending test last. After
obtaining the necessary data from the bending test in the elastic range of the specimen and gages,
you may load the specimen to failure – of course, this will destroy both the specimen and the
gages, but may provide interesting information regarding the failure mode of your laminate.
The geometry of the 4-point bend fixture limits the amount of vertical deflection that can be
obtained before the specimen “bottoms out” (see attached dimensioned sketch of 4-point bend
fixture). This limitation may affect the ability to load your specimen to failure in bending,
depending upon the deflection necessary to fail your particular laminate.

D. Analyze

In this phase, you will calculate the experimentally determined laminate compliances and
engineering constants and compare them to those predicted during the design phase, and discuss
possible reasons for any discrepancies you observe. Additionally, in the design phase you
identified some aspect(s) of laminate behavior you planned to examine with your laminate
design. In this section you will also discuss the behavior you expected to observe and compare it
to what was actually observed, and identify possible causes and remedies for the discrepancies.
The strain gage data is used to determine the reference plane strains and curvatures. Using
the experimental data for loads and the reference plane strains and curvatures, it is possible to
determine 3 laminate compliances for each test. From these compliances, you can then
determine some of the laminate engineering constants.
Compare the experimentally determined laminate compliances and engineering constants
with those determined using the ICAN program, and determine a percent difference. Engineers
and researchers often use a second method to verify the results obtained from the first method,
thus providing the verification needed to proceed with the results. Therefore, any significant
difference in values between the two methods must be examined and a course of action
For your laminate, prepare a discussion/analysis of your results, focusing on two aspects: i)
actual vs. expected behavior of the laminate, and ii) predicted vs. experimentally determined
laminate compliances and engineering constants. As a minimum, address the following issues:
a. Summarize the expected and actual behaviors. Identify the discrepancies.
b. Summarize the predicted and experimentally determined properties. Identify the
discrepancies, including percent differences.
c. Are the observed discrepancies acceptable? Why?
d. Discuss as many possible causes for the discrepancies as you can. What are the most
probable causes? Why? List some methods you could use to verify that these are the
e. What could have been done differently to prevent problems that caused discrepancies?
f. If this were an actual engineering/research project, which aspects of this work would you
repeat or rework? Why?
g. Engineers/researchers often observe discrepancies between predicted and experimentally
determined composite material properties. How does this affect our ability to utilize
composite materials in different applications (consumer goods, vehicles, space/water
craft, structures, medical applications, etc.)? What are the impacts on the design and
manufacturing processes?

Finally, discuss any existing or possible applications for the unique couplings, behaviors,
and/or properties that you observed in your laminate. Your ideas can be practical or crazy!
After all, some great ideas started out as crazy ones (like snow boards?).

Team Report Guidelines

Begin with a one or two page executive summary: The purpose of this section is to provide a
concise summary of the most important aspects of the report. The intended audience is someone
who may not be familiar with your work, but will ultimately pass judgment upon it, often having
read only this section! Therefore, you need to explain the purpose of the work, the expected and
actual results, any significant discrepancies, most probably causes, and a recommended plan of
action – all in less than 2 pages! It may be easier to write this section last.

The remainder of the report should contain a more detailed discussion of the points presented in
the executive summary, including supporting data or information. Often, something in the
executive summary will prompt questions from the reader, who should be able to readily locate
the appropriate supporting detail in your report. Somewhere you should discuss your design and
include a comparison of calculated and measured engineering constants and compliances. You
should also provide a complete discussion of the issues listed above in section D. “Analyze.”

The report should be typed, neat and professional. Figures, graphs and/or tables should be
labeled properly. There is no minimum required report length. However, you are expected to
provide a complete, organized presentation of your results, thoughtful discussion of the issues,
and logical conclusions/recommendations.