In my short time as a student in the composites program at IYRS, I quickly learned that composites have an incredibly wide scale of application, from the bathtub in your house to SpaceX’s falcon 9 rockets and everything in between.
In the first month we started off with the absolute basics and slowly we’re working our way through different methods of manufacturing composites. Our first project was to make a filament winder which fabricates fiberglass cylinders. Each student group was given a set list of materials that could be used and a brief explanation of how a filament winder works. The rest was left up to us.
[Here’s a filament winder in action creating a cylinder.]
Our next project was learning how to make a square fiberglass panel, the most basic form of hand lay up composites. From there we made a balsa-core reinforced panel. Once our core panels were done, we went back to flat panels - but this time we used pigment in the resin and made each layer a different color. Why? So we can identify each layer in the repair process. That’s right - we are making panels just to break them so we can learn to repair them!
After our colored panels, we moved onto gelcoat which is special kind of resin that is used to give composite parts a cosmetic surface. While learning about gelcoat and how to spray it, we started the process of making our first mold.
[Spraying gelcoat for the first time.]
The mold making process has been a long process, one that we are still working on as I write this. We built the master mold out of wood, then covered it in resin with a wax additive so we could sand it completely smooth and level. Once the surface was smoothed and leveled, we sprayed PVA which makes a thin plastic film over the mold to prevent sticking. From there we sprayed the mold with gelcoat so it would have the smooth, level surface we were working so hard to achieve. All of these steps bring us to where we are today...adding layers of fiberglass reinforcement to the gelcoat which we will pop off of the master mold and have the first half of our mold complete.
[Our master mold before it gets sanded. As you can see there’s lots of sanding that needs to be done because the surface is far from level.]
[This is me spraying tooling gelcoat on my master mold.]
[This is where we are as a class currently adding fiber and resin to our molds.]