Curing Stages of Resins
Thermosetting resins use a chemical reaction to cure. There are three curing stages, which are called A, B, and C.
- A stage: The components of the resin (base material and hardener) have been mixed but the chemical reaction has not started. The resin is in the A stage during a wet layup procedure.
- B stage: The components of the resin have been mixed and the chemical reaction has started. The material has thickened and is tacky. The resins of prepreg materials are in the B stage. To prevent further curing the resin is placed in a freezer at 0 °F. In the frozen state, the resin of the prepreg material stays in the B stage. The curing starts when the material is removed from the freezer and warmed again.
- C stage: The resin is fully cured. Some resins cure at room temperature and others need an elevated temperature cure cycle to fully cure.
Pre-Impregnated Products (Prepregs)
Prepreg material consists of a combination of a matrix and fiber reinforcement. It is available in unidirectional form (one direction of reinforcement) and fabric form (several directions of reinforcement). All five of the major families of matrix resins can be used to impregnate various fiber forms. The resin is then no longer in a low-viscosity stage, but has been advanced to a B stage level of cure for better handling characteristics. The following products are available in prepreg form: unidirectional tapes, woven fabrics, continuous strand rovings, and chopped mat. Prepreg materials must be stored in a freezer at a temperature below 0 °F to retard the curing process. Prepreg materials are cured with an elevated temperature. Many prepreg materials used in aerospace are impregnated with an epoxy resin and they are cured at either 250 °F or 350 °F. Prepreg materials are cured with an autoclave, oven, or heat blanket. They are typically purchased and stored on a roll in a sealed plastic bag to avoid moisture contamination. [Figure 7-11]Dry Fiber Material
Dry fiber materials, such as carbon, glass, and Kevlar®, are used for many aircraft repair procedures. The dry fabric is impregnated with a resin just before the repair work starts. This process is often called wet layup. The main advantage of using the wet layup process is that the fiber and resin can be stored for a long time at room temperature. The composite can be cured at room temperature or an elevated temperature cure can be used to speed up the curing process and increase the strength. The disadvantage is that the process is messy and reinforcement properties are less than prepreg material properties. [Figure 7-12]
Thixotropic agents are gel-like at rest but become fluid when agitated. These materials have high static shear strength and low dynamic shear strength at the same time to lose viscosity under stress.Adhesives
Structural adhesives for aerospace applications are generally supplied as thin films supported on a release paper and stored under refrigerated conditions (–18 °C, or 0 °F). Film adhesives are available using high temperature aromatic amine or catalytic curing agents with a wide range of flexibilizing and toughening agents. Rubber-toughened epoxy film adhesives are widely used in aircraft industry. The upper temperature limit of 121–177 °C (250–350 °F) is usually dictated by the degree of toughening required and by the overall choice of resins and curing agents. In general, toughening of a resin results in a lower usable service temperature. Film materials are frequently supported by fibers that serve to improve handling of the films prior to cure, control adhesive flow during bonding, and assist in bond line thickness control. Fibers can be incorporated as short-fiber mats with random orientation or as woven cloth. Commonly encountered fibers are polyesters, polyamides (nylon), and glass. Adhesives containing woven cloth may have slightly degraded environmental properties because of wicking of water by the fiber. Random mat scrim cloth is not as efficient for controlling film thickness as woven cloth because the unrestricted fibers move during bonding. Spunbonded nonwoven scrims do not move and are, therefore, widely used. [Figures 7-13 and 7-14]
Paste adhesives are used as an alternative to film adhesive. These are often used to secondary bond repair patches to damaged parts and also used in places where film adhesive is difficult to apply. Paste adhesives for structural bonding are made mostly from epoxy. One part and two part systems are available. The advantages of paste adhesives are that they can be stored at room temperature and have a long shelf life. The disadvantage is that the bond line thickness is hard to control, which affects the strength of the bond. A scrim cloth can be used to maintain adhesive in the bondline when bonding patches with paste adhesive. [Figure 7-15]
Most foaming adhesives are 0.025-inch to 0.10-inch thick sheets of B staged epoxy. Foam adhesives cure at 250 °F or 350 °F. During the cure cycle, the foaming adhesives expand. Foaming adhesives need to be stored in the freezer just like prepregs, and they have only a limited storage life. Foaming adhesives are used to splice pieces of honeycomb together in a sandwich construction and to bond repair plugs to the existing core during a prepreg repair. [Figure 7-16]