AEA Technology has developed software that will encourage engineers to push their composites to the limits.
Composites designed with metallic or silicon based fibres have limited application because of their processing temperatures of between 100-200oC.
Car manufacturers, however, are trying to use composites in more tasks because of their resistance to corrosion and relatively cheap manufacture.
`If you look under the bonnet of cars there’s much more plastic there,’ says James Tweed, technical department manager at AEA Technology.
But there could be more: `There are a lot of composites which are very conservatively designed,’ he says. `If you understand that conservatism, you can either reduce the costs for a particular application or you can extend the range of applications.’
The AEA software, developed under a programme called Thermal Performance of Polymer Composite Components, will give a more realistic set of testing formulae that will let manufacturers use composites in more aggressive environments.
`Conventional testing is often done on a worst case scenario,’ says Tweed. `For example, they apply the worst temperature, the worst environment and the worst stress. By representing what is happening more realistically, you can end up with a composite which is designed reasonably suited to the environment.’
Testing with AEA’s software could lead to composites being used at temperatures 10oC higher than previously.
A typical composite is glass reinforced nylon, used for items such as intake manifolds, gearstick bearings and belt covers. Testing the material under AEA’s software could give it more applications.
The programme has been completed with help from the National Physical Laboratory and the DTI as part of its Materials Measurement programme.