The potential of graphene for the composite market
Stronger than a diamond yet a million times thinner than a human hair, the properties of graphene are astounding. The market for this material may still be in its infancy, but graphene is already being hailed as one of the most disruptive technologies of our time. For the composite market, there is no doubt that using graphene could open up a host of new possibilities. Here, John Cove, marketing manager of test and measurement specialist, Starrett, discusses the impact this new technology will have on product design and manufacturing.
Graphene provides incredible strength at an ultra-light weight. The technology is already being used in various ways, such as in the manufacturing of glass reinforced plastic (GRP) composite road plates being used by utilities and infrastructure firms during necessary road works. Major automotive manufacturers are also beginning to run research groups to test graphene-based composites for use in new vehicles. Regardless of its obvious advantages, using graphene to its fullest potential is not without its challenges.
Research has shown that dispersing a small amount of graphene into polymer composites can dramatically improve a material’s tensile strength, elastic modulus and electrical and thermal conductivity. However, because these graphene related materials (GRMs) are not yet fully scalable, product researchers and designers are yet to develop a comprehensive understanding of the technology.
The potential for graphene to reinforce a composite relies on a trade-off between the properties of the matrix material and the graphene itself. As a result, force measurement testing will need play a major role in ensuring simultaneous stiffness, strength and toughness of GRMs during the manufacturing process.
Currently, mass manufacturing data for graphene composites is not available and there is no tried and tested method for the largescale production of graphene-based products. While there is no denying that graphene composites are going to be a major trend, if GRMs are to dominate the market, they will require thorough testing to the same standard as established materials.
Composite materials are continually developing and the introduction of graphene adds another layer of complexity. As GRMs are completely new to the market, engineers will not be familiar with potential properties so will be unsure of what tests are required to measure tolerances. This is purely due to the fact that there will not be any existing data to draw from. As engineers begin to incorporate graphene into new composites, the challenge of accurate measurement can be overcome by using intelligent testing and measurement software.
Starrett’s L3 software, for example, does not pre-suppose any prior knowledge of what measurements are required. Instead, the software will examine how the material is adapting and adjust the test based on this data. Naturally, the software will also test for common measurement data, such as tensile strength, tensile chord modulus of elasticity, tensile strain and transition strain. Once the test method has been created, a graph will automatically be generated, allowing the engineer to measure any point or segment on the graph for tension, compression, flexural, cyclic, shear and frictional forces.
Without thorough testing of newly developed GRMs, these materials may fall short of their potential and engineers utilising the expensive material could miss valuable opportunities. The properties of graphene are fascinating and the possibilities it affords the composite market is exponential. However, to truly deliver design engineering excellence using graphene, innovation in measurement must come first.