Composite Repairs – Types of Layups

in Advanced Composite Materials

Types of Layups
Wet Layups

During the wet layup process, a dry fabric is impregnated with a resin. Mix the resin system just before making the repair. Lay out the repair plies on a piece of fabric and impregnate the fabric with the resin. After the fabric is impregnated, cut the repair plies, stack in the correct ply orientation, and vacuum bag. Wet layup repairs are often used with fiberglass for nonstructural applications. Carbon and Kevlar® dry fabric could also be used with a wet layup resin system. Many resin systems used with wet layup cure at room temperature, are easy to accomplish, and the materials can be stored at room temperature for long period of times. The disadvantage of room temperature wet layup is that it does not restore the strength and durability of the original structure and parts that were cured at 250 °F or 350 °F during manufacturing. Some wet layup resins use an elevated temperature cure and have improved properties. In general, wet layup properties are less than properties of prepreg material.


Epoxy resins may require refrigeration until they are used. This prevents the aging of the epoxy. The label on the container states the correct storage temperature for each component. The typical storage temperature is between 40 °F and 80 °F for most epoxy resins. Some resin systems require storage below 40 °F.

Prepreg

Prepreg is a fabric or tape that is impregnated with a resin during the manufacturing process. The resin system is already mixed and is in the B stage cure. Store the prepreg material in a freezer below 0 °F to prevent further curing of the resin. The material is typically placed on a roll and a backing material is placed on one side of the material so that the prepreg does not stick together. The prepreg material is sticky and adheres to other plies easily during the stack-up process. You must remove the prepreg from the freezer and let the material thaw, which might take 8 hours for a full roll. Store the prepreg materials in a sealed, moisture proof bag. Do not open these bags until the material is completely thawed, to prevent contamination of the material by moisture.

After the material is thawed and removed from the backing material, cut it in repair plies, stack in the correct ply orientation, and vacuum bag. Do not forget to remove the backing material when stacking the plies. Cure prepregs at an elevated cure cycle; the most common temperatures used are 250 °F and 350 °F. Autoclaves, curing ovens, and heat bonders can be used to cure the prepreg material.

Consolidation is necessary if parts are made from several layers of prepreg, because large quantities of air can be trapped between each prepreg layer. Remove this trapped air by covering the prepreg with a perforated release film and a breather ply, and apply a vacuum bag. Apply the vacuum for 10 to 15 minutes at room temperature. Typically, attach the first consolidated ply to the tool face and repeat this process after every 3 or 5 layers depending on the prepreg thickness and component shape.

Store prepreg, film adhesive, and foaming adhesives in a freezer at a temperature below 0 °F. If these types of materials need to be shipped, place them in special containers filled with dry ice. The freezer must not be of the automatic defrost type; the auto-defrost cycle periodically warms the inside of the freezer, which can reduce the shelf life and consume the allowable out-time of the composite material. Freezers must be capable of maintaining 0 °F or below; most household freezers meet this level. Walk-in freezers can be used for large volume cold storage. If usage is small, a chest-type freezer may suffice. Refrigerators are used to store laminating and paste adhesives and should be kept near 40 °F. [Figure 7-44]

Figure 7-44. Walk-in freezer for storing prepreg materials.

Figure 7-44. Walk-in freezer for storing prepreg materials.

Uncured prepreg materials have time limits for storage and use. [Figure 7-45] The maximum time allowed for storing of a prepreg at low temperature is called the storage life, which is typically 6 months to a year. The material can be tested, and the storage life could be extended by the material manufacturer. The maximum time allowed for material at room temperature before the material cures is called the mechanical life. The recommended time at room temperature to complete layup and compaction is called the handling life. The handling life is shorter than the mechanical life. The mechanical life is measured from the time the material is removed from the freezer until the time the material is returned to the freezer. The operator must keep records of the time in and out of the freezer. Material that exceeds the mechanical life needs to be discarded.

Figure 7-45. Storage life for prepreg materials.

Figure 7-45. Storage life for prepreg materials.

Many repair facilities cut the material in smaller kits and store them in moisture-proof bags that thaw quicker when removed from the freezer. This also limits the time out of the freezer for a big roll.

All frozen prepreg materials need to be stored in moisture proof back to avoid moisture contamination. All prepreg material should be protected from dust, oil, vapors, smoke, and other contaminants. A clean room for repair layup would be best, but if a clean room is not available, the prepreg should be protected by storing them in bags or keeping them covered with plastic. Before starting the layup, cover the unprotected sides of the prepreg with parting film, and clean the area being repaired immediately before laying up the repair plies.

Prepreg material is temperature sensitive. Excessively high temperatures cause the material to begin curing, and excessively low temperatures make the material difficult to handle. For repairs on aircraft in very cold or very hot climates, the area should be protected by a tent around the repair area. Prepare the prepreg repair plies in a controlledtemperature environment and bring them to the repair area immediately before using them.

Co-curing

Co-curing is a process wherein two parts are simultaneously cured. The interface between the two parts may or may not have an adhesive layer. Co-curing often results in poor panel surface quality, which is prevented by using a secondary surfacing material co-cured in the standard cure cycle or a subsequent fill-and-fair operation. Co-cured skins may also have poorer mechanical properties, requiring the use of reduced design values.

A typical co-cure application is the simultaneous cure of a stiffener and a skin. Adhesive film is frequently placed into the interface between the stiffener and the skin to increase fatigue and peel resistance. Principal advantages derived from the co-cure process are excellent fit between bonded components and guaranteed surface cleanliness.

Secondary Bonding

Secondary bonding utilizes precured composite detail parts, and uses a layer of adhesive to bond two precured composite parts. Honeycomb sandwich assemblies commonly use a secondary bonding process to ensure optimal structural performance. Laminates co-cured over honeycomb core may have distorted plies that have dipped into the core cells. As a result, compressive stiffness and strength can be reduced as much as 10 and 20 percent, respectively.

Precured laminates undergoing secondary bonding usually have a thin nylon or fiberglass peel ply cured onto the bonding surfaces. While the peel ply sometimes hampers nondestructive inspection of the precured laminate, it has been found to be the most effective means of ensuring surface cleanliness prior to bonding. When the peel ply is stripped away, a pristine surface becomes available. Light scuff sanding removes high resin peak impressions produced by the peel ply weave which, if they fracture, create cracks in the bondline.

Composite materials can be used to structurally repair, restore, or enhance aluminum, steel, and titanium components. Bonded composite doublers have the ability to slow or stop fatigue crack growth, replace lost structural area due to corrosion grind-outs, and structurally enhance areas with small and negative margins. This technology has often been referred to as a combination of metal bonding and conventional on-aircraft composite bonded repair. Boron prepreg tape with an epoxy resin is most often used for this application.

Co-bonding

In the co-bonding process, one of the detail parts is precured with the mating part being cured simultaneously with the adhesive. Film adhesive is often used to improve peel strength.