The utilization of composites increases daily in manufacturing as more ways in which to use this advanced material are discovered. Composite is a smart material that provides a lighter weight and stronger product. This advanced material is being used in many different industries, from consumer products like bicycle frames to airplanes. Yet, because the strength is held in the fibrous matrix of the material, composites must be adhesively bonded together as traditional mechanical fasteners can break the fibers and compromise the material’s integrity.

To guarantee these bonds, BTG Labs’ Surface Analyst™ precisely, accurately, and quantifiably measures the surface’s readiness to bond. BTG Labs’ experience in the field of composites reaches back to the genesis of the Surface Analyst when the USAF turned to the company to engineer a hand-held surface energy measurement device for composite bonding of aircraft. Since then, the Surface Analyst’s composite applications continue to increase and span into many more industries.

Surface Analyst Applications Examples for Bonding, Coating, Sealing, and Painting Composites

  • Aerospace: satellites, aircraft, and spacecraft
  • Sports and Recreation: sporting equipment
  • Automotive: structural components, drive shafts, interior parts
  • Medical Device: prosthetics, repair equipment, tubing
  • Marine: structural frames and components, fiber glass applications
  • Renewable energy: wind turbines, fuel cells, marine turbines, power transmissions, solar panels
  • Construction: architectural, fiberglass, bridges, infrastructure, housing, refurbishing

Application Story

An innovative spacecraft manufacturer used composite materials for a structural component of their ship. These composite components were manually prepared and bonded together.  The company lacked an accurate, quantifiable, objective and in-line method to monitor the surface treatment process prior to bonding.

The manufacturer utilized a surface preparation method that included a solvent wipe, hand sanding, and a final solvent wipe. This manual process left plenty of room for human error and lacked the ability to measure and monitor consistency, allowing for uncertainty and potential for failure and re-work.

The spacecraft manufacturer sent a sample of their material component to BTG’s Materials and Processing Lab where the company’s M&P Engineers used the Surface Analyst to examine their process step-by-step.

Three contact angle measurements were taken on four areas of the part. The first measurement was on the as-received sample; the second, after the first solvent wipe; and the third was taken after the sanding and final solvent wipe. While the contact angle varied slightly at each measurement point, the trend was a decrease in contact angle throughout the process. The Surface Analyst showed the sample’s increase in surface energy through the preparation process.

BTG Labs was then able to help the manufacturer determine contact angle pass/fail parameters that could be loaded into the Surface Analyst, allowing the surface preparation process to seamlessly flow on the manufacturing floor.

Surface Analyst inspections on composite

Composite preparation process monitored with the Surface Analyst. Final contact angles correlate to required bond strength for this particular application. Contact angle parameters can vary depending on application.

Video: A Step-by-Step Process

Watch the video of the Surface Analyst measuring each step in the composite surface preparation process. This demo dissects the process to determine the effectiveness of the method and shows how the Surface Analyst fits right on the manufacturing floor. This instrument can be used to correlate to the manufacturers specs and ensure those specs are attained or to create new specs.