Thermoforming process effects on structural performance of carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic composite parts through a manufacturing to response pathway

Abstract Thermoforming process of thermoplastic-based continuous CFRP’s offer a major advantage in reducing cycle times for large-scale productions, but it can also have a significant impact on the structural performance of the parts by inducing undesirable effects. This necessitates the development of an optimal manufacturing process that minimizes the introduction of undesirable factors in the structure and thereby achieves the targeted mechanical performance. This can be done by first establishing a relationship between the manufacturing process and mechanical performance and successively optimizing it to achieve the desired targets. The current study focuses on the former part, where a manufacturing-to-response (MTR) pathway is established for a continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite hat structure. The MTR pathway incorporates the thermoforming process-induced effects while determining the mechanical performance and principally comprises of material characterization, finite element simulations, and experimental validation. The composite material system selected for this study is AS4/Nylon-6 (PA6) with a woven layup. At first, the thermoforming simulations are performed above the melt temperature of PA6 using an anisotropic hyperelastic material model, and the process-induced effects such as thickness variation, fiber orientations, and residual stresses are captured from the analysis. Residual stresses developed in the formed structure during quench cooling from the elevated temperature are predicted by the implementation of classical laminate theory (CLT). These results are then mapped onto a duplicate part meshed suitably for mechanical performance analysis. A quasi-static 3-point bend test and a dynamic impact test are carried out and the results are compared with experimental tests. Experimental results from thermoforming, bending and dynamic impact trials show good agreement with the simulation results for the hat structure under consideration. Further, the static and dynamic performance is evaluated for the thermoformed structure and the effects of the thermoforming process are compared numerically, for the cases with and without the inclusion of process effects.

Keywords: Thermoforming, finite element analysis, thermoplastic composites, residual stress

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