Purdue University Graduate School
DissertationJDMiller-2022-12-22-FINALsubmitted.pdf (21.1 MB)

Design Principles for Hybrid Composite Structures with Continuous Fiber Tow-Based Preforms

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posted on 2023-02-06, 21:11 authored by Justin D MillerJustin D Miller

Demand for lightweight, cost-effective, structural components is driving the development of continuous fiber thermoplastic tow preforms, also known as 3D-tow or tow reinforcements, to add material performance to hybrid-molded structures as an alternative to metal components. Tow reinforcements offer the performance advantages of continuous fiber composites within molded structures. The tow reinforcements also feature more tailorability of performance compared to fabric or organo-sheet reinforced hybrid-molded structures, improving their potential for design optimization. However, the added complexity of 3D-tow reinforcement structure requires the development of unique design principles and computer aided engineering (CAE) methodologies to effectively design components which meet manufacturing and performance requirements. 

A systematic evaluation of design considerations was performed comparing parts manufactured with various design features, configurations, and materials. Choosing the structural profile and balance of material properties was shown to be an important component of achieving the desired performance especially where the tow reinforcement must work in conjunction with the overmolding material to provide structural performance. 

By experimentally testing representative structures with features found on automobile components and molded sports equipment, performance was evaluated for a range of material combinations and reinforcement content. Tow reinforcements were made from continuous glass or carbon fiber reinforced PA6 prepreg tape and injection overmolded with unfilled or glass fiber filled PA6 adding a shear web and rib structures. Tow reinforcement significantly reduced warpage, and in tensile loading, demonstrated potential for 340\% strength increase over parts without tow. However, three-point bend performance was dominated by the overmolding material. High strain to break overmolding materials are recommended to avoid premature overmolding material cracking. 

Tensile performance of tow reinforced structures is not accurately captured by conventional modeling processes. When wrapped around load introduction points, the fibers of a thick tow traverse a shorter distance at the inner radius than the outer radius leading to waviness on the inner region of each wrap. The Hsaio and Daniel model was used to predict local elastic properties of the wavy fiber composite and spatially varying material properties were applied to 3D finite element models of a suspension link. Neglecting fiber waviness overpredicted experimental tensile stiffness and strength by 36\% and 33\% respectively while modeling waviness overpredicted stiffness and strength by only 9\% and 14\% respectively. Tow wrap configuration, waviness propagation, and material parameters have significant effect on tensile performance while the tow has little effect on compressive performance.

In addition to fiber waviness, tow bundles also spread to reconcile path length differences. A method for accounting for tow spread orientations was developed and combined with fiber waviness modeling techniques. The effects of simulating the resulting fiber orientations and effective elastic properties was used to model representative beams in tension and bending load cases and compared to previous experimental results. Accounting for fiber waviness in tension demonstrated greatly improved part stiffness predictions. Spread tow bundles improved predicted strength and stiffness over simulations where tow was constrained to a uniform cross section. Increased tow reinforcement increased bending stiffness, but failure behavior was significantly influenced by the overmolding material.  

The studies in this work identified key performance attributes of 3D-tow reinforced hybrid composite structures. Design principles and modeling techniques were developed in this work, providing improved performance predictions which brings the technology closer to widespread adoption. 


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jan-Anders Mansson

Additional Committee Member 2

Weinong Chen

Additional Committee Member 3

Johnathan Goodsell

Additional Committee Member 4

Mukerrem Cakmak

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