Lottie's Summer Adventure at the National Composite Centre with Beene M'membe

Submitted by Sophie Hutchins on 3 Nov 2018 - 19:27
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What is the National Composites Centre (NCC)?

The NCC is a research centre specialised in making products made from composite materials.

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What are composite materials?

Composite materials are materials made from two of more materials to make a SUPERIOR material. They are composed of a fancy glue called a resin and tiny wires called fibres. Fibres are up to 18 times smaller than a strand of human hair in diameter.

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How do you measure the dimensions of tiny things?

You can measure the dimensions of tiny things like fibres on a microscope. Since I am very small, I got to measure the thickness of my hair strands by sitting under the microscope.

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How do you make composite materials? 

Making composites is like making lasagne. Layers of fibres are placed on a surface and resin is placed between the sheets.

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There are many ways of making a composite. The sheets of composite can be placed by hand or you can use robots.

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What happens after you combine the fibres with resin?

Like lasagne, composites need to be cooked to make them yummy! Cooking composites is called curing. Curing is a complex chemical reaction which happens in the composite resin. It requires pressure and sometimes heat. There are many ways to cure composite materials.  

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Curing composites in ovens and autoclaves takes a long time. It takes engineers all morning and afternoon until the parts are ready.

The NCC also has big machines which can cure composites in less 5 minutes. This type of curing is called high pressure resin transfer moulding (RTM). In this process, the resin is injected into the fibres at high pressure and temperature. It is mostly suitable for thin composite components like a car hood.

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Did you know that the NCC has RTM machine which applies pressure equal to 80 double decker buses squashing you? It is called the Schuler press.

What do composite parts look like?

I got to see many cool composite parts at the NCC. I saw car parts, aeroplane parts, sporting equipment and many more! Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take any pictures because of they are company secrets.

There was one cool gadget I saw which was not a secret - it is the Dymag wheel.

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Dymag was the first company to make a commercial carbon fibre composite wheel. Their wheel only weighs 4.8 kg compared to 8kg for a metallic wheel! This means that cars with composite wheels do not use up as much fuel.

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