ABSTRACT Liquid Composite Molding (LCM) is an increasingly used class of processes to manufacture high performance composites. In LCM, the fibrous reinforcement is first laid in a mold cavity. After closure of the mold or covering of reinforcement with a plastic bag, a polymer resin is either injected or infused under vacuum through the fiber bed. The engineering fabrics commonly used in LCM possess generally dual scale architecture in terms of porosity: microscopic pores exist between the filaments in the fiber tows, while macroscopic pores appear between the tows as a result of the stitching/weaving fabrication process. On a microscopic scale, capillary flows in fiber tows play a major role on the quality of composites made by resin injection through fibrous reinforcements. In order to better understand the mechanisms that govern the impregnation of fibrous reinforcements in LCM, a study of wicking behavior is carried out in fiber tows. The experimental approach is based on capillary rise experiments, which are less expensive and time-consuming than other more standard characterization techniques often used in porous media. In addition, it allows gathering representative data on the wicking properties of fiber tows as a function of their morphological characteristics such as micro-porosity, total cross-section area, specific surface area, filament diameter and packing configuration. The morphological properties of the fiber tows will also be characterized by other standard experimental methods in order to compare with the results obtained by capillary rise experiments. These standard methods include gravimetry for the micro-porosity and fiber mass density, microscopic analysis to measure the filament diameter, cross-section area and packing configuration of the filaments and capillary flow porometry to evaluate the equivalent pore diameter. The capillary rise method has already been used not only in Soil Mechanics, but also to characterize engineering textiles used in high performance composites. Such experiments are not easy to perform, because of technical difficulties such as textile geometrical alteration during testing, changes in fluid properties due to solvent evaporation and inaccurate observation of the progression of the capillary front (fading). To circumvent these problems, a monitoring technique based on fluorescent dye penetration inspection (DPI) and CCD image acquisition is proposed in this investigation. Visual monitoring of the capillary front is coupled with real-time fluid mass acquisition using a high resolution balance. Experimental observations on the height of the capillary front and the fluid mass absorbed by the fiber tows can be analyzed by four imbibition models. These models consider the evolution of the capillary height with (model I) or without gravity (model II) and of the fluid mass absorbed by capillary effect with (model III) or without gravity (model IV). The models without gravity will be used on short imbibition distances to derive the microscopic properties of fiber tows from the experimentally observed evolutions of the capillary height and the fluid mass absorbed by capillarity. After describing the new capillary rise setup devised for the fiber tow experiments, a set of experiments is carried out to characterize the properties of the fiber tows and investigate the wicking phenomena along the warp and weft directions. The consistency of this approach is compared with more standard methods. At the same time, the impact of fiber sizing on the tow wicking behavior is investigated. Note that experimental evaluations of tow permeability can also be derived from this approach. The results compare well with permeability predictions based on Blake-Kozeny-Carman models. In the future, it will be possible to apply the same experimental approach to engineering fabrics. Indeed, a comprehensive wicking characterization of fibrous reinforcements is expected to provide useful information in order to evaluate the optimal processing conditions of high performance composites fabricated by Liquid Composite Molding.
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