Fabric may reduce manufacturing scrap

Posted Jan. 24, 2011, at 9:06 p.m.

GREENVILLE — Pepin Associates Inc. says it has developed a version of its patented Disco-Tex aligned, discontinuous carbon fiber fabric using a thermoplastic as the matrix.

Fabrication with aerospace-grade carbon fiber and nylon has resulted in a highly formable, carbon-reinforced composite material with many possible applications, the company said in a press release.

Other aerospace-friendly thermoplastics, such as Polyphenylene sulfide, and high-temperature thermoplastics, such as Polyetherimide, may be used as well, according to John Simko, the company’s director of business development.

Thermoplastics by their nature may be reformed when reheated, giving them a long life cycle. As more thermoplastic parts are reinforced with carbon fiber, the need to find ways to dispose of the material at the end of its life cycle becomes more pressing, according to the company.

While carbon-fiber-reinforced materials using a chopped mat of fibers may be press-molded to make lower-grade composites, Disco-Tex made with thermoplastics may be reformed before it is recycled by reheating the material. The orientation of the carbon fibers in Disco-Tex allows for the natural strength of the carbon fiber to be retained as the thermoplastic is remolded. In production, this should reduce the amount of scrap material sent to landfills, Pepin Associates said.

Many automotive parts are made from thermoplastics due to their dynamic ability to be molded into necessary shapes. However, as automotive designers strive for ever-lighter vehicles, especially in the hybrid and electric vehicle markets, higher-strength composites will be needed to replace heavier metal or metal alloy components. Disco-Tex using thermoplastics and carbon fiber strikes a balance between strength and stiffness versus ease of molding of parts, according to Pepin Associates.

Considering the environmentally friendlier life cycle of Disco-Tex using thermoplastics, it may become a material of choice for parts entering green markets, such as hybrid and electric vehicles, the company said.

Pepin Associates has already developed a glass fiber-reinforced version of Disco-Tex using recycled, post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, made from used soda bottles. This glass-PET composite was used to make a demonstration crush zone part for a small, compact automobile.

Pepin Associates said it believes Disco-Tex made from carbon and thermoplastics will likewise be 100 percent recyclable, possibly to be reused for production of similar composite parts for automotive or aerospace applications.

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