Composite Structures

A composite material is basically a combination of two or more materials, each of which retains it own distinctive properties. Multiphase metals are composite materials on a micro scale, but generally the term composite is applied to materials that are created by mechanically bonding two or more different materials together. The resulting material has characteristics that are not characteristic of the components in isolation. The concept of composite materials is ancient. An example is adding straw to mud for building stronger mud walls. Most commonly, composite materials have a bulk phase, which is continuous, called the matrix; and a dispersed, non-continuous, phase called the reinforcement. Some other examples of basic composites include concrete (cement mixed with sand and aggregate), reinforced concrete (steel rebar in concrete), and fiberglass (glass strands in a resin matrix).

When constructing a laminar composite, it is conventional to assign a "zero" degree outer layer and lay all the other layers relative to the zero-degree orientation.In about the mid 1960’s, a new group of composite materials, called advanced engineered composite materials (aka advanced composites), began to emerge. Advanced composites utilize a combination of resins and fibers, customarily carbon/graphite, kevlar, or fiberglass with an epoxy resin. The fibers provide the high stiffness, while the surrounding polymer resin matrix holds the structure together. The fundamental design concept of composites is that the bulk phase accepts the load over a large surface area, and transfers it to the reinforcement material, which can carry a greater load. The significance here lies in that there are numerous matrix materials and as many fiber types, which can be combined in countless ways to produce just the desired properties. These materials were first developed for use in the aerospace industry because for certain application they have a higher stiffness to weight or strength-to-weight ratio than metals. This means metal parts can be replaced with lighter weight parts manufactured from advanced composites. Generally, carbon-epoxy composites are two thirds the weight of aluminum, and two and a half times as stiff. Composites are resistant to fatigue damage and harsh environments, and are repairable.

Composites meeting the criteria of having mechanical bonding can also be produced on a micro scale. For example, when tungsten carbide powder is mixed with cobalt powder, and then pressed and sintered together, the tungsten carbide retains its identity. The resulting material has a soft cobalt matrix with tough tungsten carbide particles inside. This material is used to produce carbide drill bits and is called a metal-matrix composite. A metal matrix composite is a type of metal that is reinforced with another material to improve strength, wear or some other characteristics.