Acoustic emission technique for monitoring the pyrolysis of composites for process control

Bernhard R. Tittmann, C. E. Yen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Carbonization is the first step in the heat and pressure treatment (pyrolysis) of composites in preparing carbon-carbon parts. These find many uses, including aircraft brakes, rocket nozzles and medical implants. This paper describes the acoustic emissions (AE) from various stages of the manufacturing process of carbon-carbon composites. This process involves carbonization at a high temperature and this results in both thermal expansion and volume change (due to pyrolysis in which a sacrificial polymer matrix is converted to carbon). Importantly the resultant matrix is porous and has a network of small intra-lamina cracks. The formation of these microcracks produces AE and this paper describes how this observation can be used to monitor (and eventually control) the manufacturing process. The aim is to speed up manufacture, which is currently time-consuming. The first section of the paper describes the design of unimodal waveguides to enable the AE to propagate to a cool environment where a transducer can be located. The second part of the paper describes various experimental observations of AE under a range of process conditions. In particular, this paper presents a technique based on detecting acoustic emissions and (1) uses wire waveguides to monitor parts within the autoclave to 800 °C, (2) monitors microcracking during pyrolysis, (3) uses a four-level threshold to distinguish between low- and high-amplitude cracking events, (4) recognizes the occurrence of harmful delaminations, and (5) guides the control of the heating rate for optimum efficiency of the pyrolysis process. In addition, supporting data are presented of in situ measurements of porosity, weight loss, cross-ply shrinkage, and mass spectroscopy of gases emitted. The process evolution is illustrated by the use of interrupted manufacturing cycle micrographs obtained by optical, scanning acoustic (SAM) and scanning electron (SEM) microscopy. The technique promotes in-process monitoring and control but also contributes to current understanding of pyrolysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)621-630
Number of pages10
Issue number6-7
StatePublished - Nov 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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