This project develops ultra-thin and tailorable composites made from the Tailorable universal Feedstock for Forming (TuFF) material developed under a recent DARPA program. The short fiber TuFF material allows in-plane extension of up to 40% to create highly steerable tapes and ultra-thin ply areal weights of 8gsm and above. The materials can be processed using conventional autoclave with mechanical properties equivalent to continuous fiber composites. The effort will evaluate a new TuFF fabrication approach to create prepreg with locally tailored fiber orientations and evaluate steerable TuFF tape for automated tape placement (ATP) to create highly optimized structures to exploit maximum mass benefit potential of composites.
Preliminary experiments have demonstrated sheet/prepreg creation of aligned short fibers with locally varying fiber orientations and unidirectional short fiber tape allowing steering radius of 1-2 orders smaller compared to continuous fiber tape. Both approaches will be investigated in the proposed Phase I SBIR to create composite coupons and demonstrate the ability to control fiber orientations locally expanding the design capability of composites.
The effort will result in novel manufacturing capabilities based on the TuFF technology allowing fabrication of tailorable and ultra-thin composites. This will enable optimum design configurations for load-bearing structures reducing material weight with improved damage tolerance using conventional composites fabrication processes including autoclave and tape placement processing.
NASA has shown interest in applying thin-ply, tailorable technology in various programs. The thin-ply approach has the potential to reduce cost by 25% and weight by 30 percent compared to existing propellant tanks. Minimum weight solutions and the potential for material reuse with thin-ply and tailorable composites are also critical for deep-space habitation structures and can be used in many smaller size components such as attachment brackets, hinges, clevises, etc.
The general approach and specific technologies developed in this SBIR can be applied to other military platforms and commercial applications (aerospace, automotive, wind etc). These applications may require additional material testing and R&D to meet certifications and particular application requirements.