Material characterisation for the modelling of the vacuum infusion process
Vacuum Infusion (VI) and Resin Transfer Moulding (RTM) are liquid composite moulding processes used in the manufacture of components from composite materials. The composite material in this case consists of a resin matrix combined with fibre reinforcement. In both moulding processes, a dry reinforcement preform is placed in the mould cavity and a liquid resin is introduced, driven by a pressure differential. Two rigid surfaces are used in RTM to create a fixed mould cavity. In contrast VI implements only one rigid surface and a flexible membrane or vacuum bag to form a non rigid cavity. The flexible cavity in VI influences and differentiates resin flow behaviour from that of RTM. Modelling resin flow enables the velocity, pressure and flow direction to be predicted. Resin flow in the RTM process is understood and modelled using Darcy’s law. However, flow in the VI process is not accurately modelled due to the added complexity introduced as a result of the flexible cavity. In the present work a novel approach was developed to investigate fluid flow in both processes. A unique experimental setup and testing procedure allowed for the direct comparison of fluid flow in RTM and VI. Identical flow parameters, conditions and preform construction were used in the assessment. The comparison isolated the effect of preform thickness variation as a differentiating factor influencing flow. From the experimentation, material behaviour was characterised and used to evaluate flow models for RTM and in particular VI. The model solutions were compared back to corresponding experiments. The pressure distribution behind the flow front, fill time and thickness behaviours were assessed. The pressure distribution / profiles behind the flow front of both VI and RTM were noted to be scalable with flow front progression. The profiles were curved in the VI experiments and linear in the RTM case. All VI models evaluated including the non accumulation based model accurately predicted the pressure distribution and consequently thickness variations in the VI tests. Fill times of the VI experiments were longer than that of the equivalent RTM tests. This behaviour is in contrast to previously interpreted fill time behaviour for the VI process based on VI models. It was also noted that the VI fill times were not only proportional to the square of the fill length, as in the RTM case, but also proportional to the square of the mass present. In addition, no significant accumulation was noted in the VI experiments.