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Composite Materials

Robert P. Jackson, PE

Composite materials are made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties, that when combined, produce a material with characteristics different from the individual components. The individual components remain separate and distinct within the finished structure.

As you can see from the definition above, a typical composite material is a system of materials composed of two or more constituent materials (mixed and bonded) on a macroscopic scale. For example, concrete is made up of cement, sand, stones, and water. If the composition occurs on a microscopic scale (molecular level), the new material is then called an alloy for metals or a polymer for plastics. Generally, a composite material is composed of reinforcement fibers, particles, flakes, or fillers embedded in a matrix of polymers, metals, or ceramics. The matrix holds the reinforcement together to form the desired shape while the reinforcement improves the overall mechanical properties of the matrix. When designed properly, the new combination exhibits better strength and flexibility than would each of the individual materials. Composite materials usually consist of a resin matrix, typically an epoxy, polianite, polyester, or vinyl ester, and a fiber reinforcement. The fiber reinforcement can be glass, Kevlar, carbon fiber, Nextel, quartz, boron, or any other fibers all of which are very small in diameter and very strong. This matrix imparts added strength much greater than the resin by themselves. We will certainly go into more detail as this course progresses.

Composite parts and structures cannot be designed or built in the same manner used to conceive and construct amorphous metallic parts. Composite materials are typically anisotropic. That is, their strength and other mechanical properties are directional rather than uniform — the load-carrying capacity of the composite is optimal in the direction(s) of fiber orientation. This, of course, provides a great advantage to the designer, but also is a source of aggravation in that the designer must select carefully from what has become a vast array of composite material possibilities to best meet a manufacturer’s specific performance requirements.

Composite materials have gained wide acceptance with many design professionals as they contemplate an increasing number of applications. Vendors selling into the composite market are “designing-to-suit” engineering demands needing specific properties for complex applications.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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NY PE & PLS: You must choose courses that are technical in nature or related to matters of laws and ethics contributing to the health and welfare of the public. NY Board does not accept courses related to office management, risk management, leadership, marketing, accounting, financial planning, real estate, and basic CAD. Specific course topics that are on the borderline and are not acceptable by the NY Board have been noted under the course description on our website.