Composite Repairs – Layup and Vacuum Bag Materials

in Advanced Composite Materials

Layup Materials
Hand Tools

Prepreg and dry fabrics can be cut with hand tools, such as scissors, pizza cutters, and knives. Materials made from Kevlar® are more difficult to cut than fiberglass or carbon and tools wear quicker. A squeegee and a brush are used to impregnate dry fibers with resin for wet layup. Markers, rulers, and circle templates are used to make a repair layout. [Figure 7-31]

Figure 7-31. Hand tools for laminating.

Figure 7-31. Hand tools for laminating.

Air Tools

Air-driven power tools, such as drill motors, routers, and grinders, are used for composite materials. Electric motors are not recommended, because carbon is a conductive material that can cause an electrical short circuit. If electric tools are used, they need to be of the totally enclosed type. [Figure 7-32]

Figure 7-32. Air tools used for composite repair.

Figure 7-32. Air tools used for composite repair.

Caul Plate

A caul plate made from aluminum is often used to support the part during the cure cycle. A mold release agent, or parting film, is applied to the caul plate so that the part does not attach to the caul plate. A thin caul plate is also used on top of the repair when a heat bonder is used. The caul plate provides a more uniform heated area and it leaves a smoother finish of the composite laminate.

Figure 7-33. Five-axis CNC equipment for tool and mold making.

Figure 7-33. Five-axis CNC equipment for tool and mold making.

Support Tooling and Molds

Certain repairs require tools to support the part and/or maintain surface contour during cure. A variety of materials can be used to manufacture these tools. The type of material depends on the type of repair, cure temperature, and whether it is a temporary or permanent tool. Support tooling is necessary for oven and autoclave cure due to the high cure temperature. The parts deform if support tooling is not used. There are many types of tooling material available. Some are molded to a specific part contour and others are used as rigid supports to maintain the contour during cure. Plaster is an inexpensive and easy material for contour tooling. It can be filled with fiberglass, hemp, or other material. Plaster is not very durable, but can be used for temporary tools. Often, a layer of fiberglass-reinforced epoxy is placed on the tool side surface to improve the finish quality. Tooling resins are used to impregnate fiberglass, carbon fiber, or other reinforcements to make permanent tools. Complex parts are made from metal or high-temperature tooling boards that are machined with 5-axis CNC equipment to make master tools that can be used to fabricate aircraft parts. [Figures 7-33 and 7-34]

Figure 7-34. A mold of an inlet duct.

Figure 7-34. A mold of an inlet duct.

Vacuum Bag Materials

Repairs of composite aircraft components are often performed with a technique known as vacuum bagging. A plastic bag is sealed around the repair area. Air is then removed from the bag, which allows repair plies to be drawn together with no air trapped in between. Atmospheric pressure bears on the repair and a strong, secure bond is created.

Several processing materials are used for vacuum bagging a part. These materials do not become part of the repair and are discarded after the repair process.

Release Agents

Release agents, also called mold release agents, are used so that the part comes off the tool or caul plate easily after curing.

Bleeder Ply

The bleeder ply creates a path for the air and volatiles to escape from the repair. Excess resin is collected in the bleeder. Bleeder material could be made of a layer of fiberglass, nonwoven polyester, or it could be a perforated Teflon® coated material. The structural repair manual (SRM) indicates what type and how many plies of bleeder are required. As a general rule, the thicker the laminate, the more bleeder plies are required.

Peel Ply

Peel plies are often used to create a clean surface for bonding purposes. A thin layer of fiberglass is cured with the repair part. Just before the part is bonded to another structure, the peel ply is removed. The peel ply is easy to remove and leaves a clean surface for bonding. Peel plies are manufactured from polyester, nylon, flouronated ethylene propylene (FEP), or coated fiberglass. They can be difficult to remove if overheated. Some coated peel plies can leave an undesirable contamination on the surface. The preferred peel ply material is polyester that has been heat-set to eliminate shrinkage.

Layup Tapes

Vacuum bag sealing tape, also called sticky tape, is used to seal the vacuum bag to the part or tool. Always check the temperature rating of the tape before use to ensure that you use appropriately rated tape.

Perforated Release Film

Perforated parting film is used to allow air and volatiles out of the repair, and it prevents the bleeder ply from sticking to the part or repair. It is available with different size holes and hole spacing depending on the amount of bleeding required.

Solid Release Film

Solid release films are used so that the prepreg or wet layup plies do not stick to the working surface or caul plate. Solid release film is also used to prevent the resins from bleeding through and damaging the heat blanket or caul plate if they are used.

Figure 7-35. Bagging materials.

Figure 7-35. Bagging materials.

Breather Material

The breather material is used to provide a path for air to get out of the vacuum bag. The breather must contact the bleeder. Typically, polyester is used in either 4-ounce or 10-ounce weights. Four ounces is used for applications below 50 pounds per square inch (psi) and 10 ounces is used for 50–100 psi.

Figure 7-36. Bagging of complex part.

Figure 7-36. Bagging of complex part.

Vacuum Bag

The vacuum bag material provides a tough layer between the repair and the atmosphere. The vacuum bag material is available in different temperature ratings, so make sure that the material used for the repair can handle the cure temperature. Most vacuum bag materials are one time use, but material made from flexible silicon rubber is reusable. Two small cuts are made in the bagging material so that the vacuum probe valve can be installed. The vacuum bag is not very flexible and plies need to be made in the bag if complex shapes are to be bagged. Sometimes, an envelope type bag is used, but the disadvantage of this method is that the vacuum pressure might crush the part. Reusable bags made from silicon rubber are available that are more flexible. Some have a built-in heater blanket that simplifies the bagging task. [Figures 7-35, 7-36, and 7-37]

Figure 7-37. Self-sealing vacuum bag with heater element.

Figure 7-37. Self-sealing vacuum bag with heater element.

Vacuum Equipment

A vacuum pump is used to evacuate air and volatiles from the vacuum bag so that atmospheric pressure consolidates the plies. A dedicated vacuum pump is used in a repair shop. For repairs on the aircraft, a mobile vacuum pump could be used. Most heat bonders have a built-in vacuum pump. Special air hoses are used as vacuum lines, because regular air hoses might collapse when a vacuum is applied. The vacuum lines that are used in the oven or autoclave need to be able to withstand the high temperatures in the heating device. A vacuum pressure regulator is sometimes used to lower the vacuum pressure during the bagging process.

Vacuum Compaction Table

A vacuum compaction table is a convenient tool for debulking composite layups with multiple plies. Essentially a reusable vacuum bag, a compaction table consists of a metal table surface with a hinged cover. The cover includes a solid frame, a flexible membrane, and a vacuum seal. Repair plies are laid up on the table surface and sealed beneath the cover with vacuum to remove entrapped air. Some compaction tables are heated but most are not.