Polymer matrix composites (PMCs) are present in almost all aspects of modern life - from gadget components to a vast selection of automotive accessories. Derived from its name, meaning many repeating units, polymers are often made up of branches of carbon and hydrogen chemically linked together to make a chain.
Polymers that are often used as composites are either thermoplastic polymers, thermosetting polymers or elastomers. They are a source of a wide variety of low-priced, raw materials which offer many advantages like :
Yet, they suffer from some deficiencies as in strength and stiffness. To make up for those deficiencies, reinforcements are integrated into polymer materials to enhance their mechanical properties.
What is a polymer matrix composite?
Polymer matrix composites are materials made up of fibres that are embedded in an organic polymer matrix. These fibres are introduced to enhance selected properties of the material .
Polymer matrix composites are classified based on their level of strength and stiffness into two distinct types:
The constituents of a PMC, which affect its overall properties, are :
Aside from the types of matrix and reinforcement used, other factors affecting the properties of a PMC are the constituents’ relative proportions, the reinforcement geometry and the nature of the interphase .
The main advantages of polymer matrix composite materials are their strength and stiffness. Other qualities that come with the reinforcement of polymers are as follows :
|Improved processing||Density Control||Thermal Conductivity||Thermal Expansion Control|
|Flame retardancy||Cost reduction||Greater toughness||Impact resistance|
|Fatigue resistance||Fracture resistance||Abrasion resistance||Corrosion resistance|
|High specific strength to weight ratio||
High specific stiffness to weight ratio
|Improved fatigue strength||High creep resistance|
Despite these many desirable qualities, polymer matrix composites are limited to service temperatures below 600° F (316° C), above which, polymers start to degrade .
Polymers are reinforced with fibres which are 8 to 12 μm in diameter either as continuous single or chopped multi-filaments that are woven into cloth and other types of preformed textiles. These fibres are then impregnated into the matrix polymer in liquid form by injection, extrusion, pressing or stamping and then cured to produce the final composite .
During the fabrication and shaping of polymer matrix composites into finished products, often the formation of the material itself is incorporated in the fabrication process. These processes include [4,5]:
PMCs are regarded due to their low cost and straightforward fabrication methods. Applications for PMCs include [4,6]:
Automotive industry - Body panels, leaf springs, driveshaft, bumpers, doors, racing car bodies, and so on.
Aircraft and aerospace industry - Used in the construction of structural parts for military aircraft, space shuttles, and satellite systems. The main purposes of using PMCs are to reduce aircraft weight, which can improve its performance, and to reduce its costs.
Marine - Fibreglass boat bodies, as well as canoes and kayaks.
Sports goods - Used in performance footwear, sports equipment and other sporting goods because of their lightweight and high-strength properties.
Biomedical applications - Medical implants, orthopaedic devices, MRI scanners, X-ray tables, and prosthetics.
Electrical - Panels, housing, switchgear, insulators, and connectors. It also covers electronic devices like capacitors, Li-ion and flexible batteries and covers for digital portable equipment like headphones, etc.
Protective equipment - Since polymer matrix composites can withstand extreme hot or cold and other hazardous conditions, they are often made as raw materials for bulletproof vests and other armour.
Industrial - Chemical storage tanks, pressure vessels, pump housing, and valves. PMCs are also used in impellers, blades, blower and pump housings, and motor covers.
Structural - Polymer matrix composites are used to repair bridges and other construction materials and equipment like booms and cranes.
 M. Akay, 2015, An introduction to polymer matrix composites,” from: https://www.academia.edu/37778336/An_introduction_to_polymer_matrix_composites
 S.G. Advani, K.T. Hsiao, 2012, Manufacturing Techniques for Polymer Matrix Composites (PMCs), UK: Woodhead Publishing ltd.
 “Chapter 3 Polymer Matrix Composites,” n.d., from: https://www.princeton.edu/~ota/disk2/1988/8801/880106.PDF
 J.P. Jose et al., 2012, “Advances in Polymer Composites: Macro- and Microcomposites – State of the Art, New Challenges, and Opportunities,” In Polymer Composites: Volume 1, First Edition. S. Thomas, K. Joseph, S.K. Malhotra, K. Goda, and M.S. Sreekala (ed.s), Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA.
 “Processing of polymer composites,” 2012, from: http://www-materials.eng.cam.ac.uk/3C1archive/handout6.pdf
 “Introduction to polymer matrix composites,” In Polymer Matrix Composites and Technology, R.M. Wang, S.R. Zheng, and Y.P. Zheng (ed.s), UK: Woodhead Publishing ltd.
Composite materials allow engineers to adjust the formulation to meet specific strength requirements of any application.