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Title:
CARBON FIBER RANDOM MAT AND CARBON FIBER COMPOSITE MATERIAL
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/011260
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
The present invention relates to a random mat material and its production method, and specifically, to a carbon fiber random mat and carbon fiber composite material made of the mat which has high mechanical properties. The invention relates to a process for producing such fiber random mat without complex steps.

Inventors:
GELI, Maurice (10 impasse Mozart, LESCAR, 64230, FR)
BUZARE, Yann (26 rue Gabrielle d'Estrées, GELOS, 64110, FR)
KARAKI, Takuya (1401-1-405, Tsutsui Masaki-cho, Iyo-gun, Ehime, 〒791-3120, JP)
TAKETA, Ichiro (2 Place Marguerite Laborde, PAU, 64000, FR)
Application Number:
EP2017/067528
Publication Date:
January 18, 2018
Filing Date:
July 12, 2017
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
TORAY CARBON FIBERS EUROPE (Route départementale 817, LACQ, 64170, FR)
International Classes:
D04H1/4209; C08J5/04; D04H1/4218; D04H1/4242; D04H1/4342
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HABASQUE, Etienne et al. (2 place d'Estienne d'Orves, PARIS CEDEX 09, PARIS CEDEX 09, 75441, FR)
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Claims:
CLAIMS

A random mat material comprising fiber bundles, said fiber bundles comprising fibers having an average fiber length of 5 to 100mm, and having an average number N of fibers in the fiber bundle that satisfies formula:

1.5 X 105 4.5 X 105

< N <

D2 D2 wherein D is the average diameter of fibers in the fiber bundle, expressed in micrometers, and

wherein the standard deviation SDN of the number of fibers in a fiber bundle satisfies the formula:

1 ,000 < SDN < 6,000

wherein at the end of the fiber bundle the number of the fibers in a fiber bundle becomes less from center to edge of the fiber bundle in the fiber direction.

The random mat according to claim 1 , wherein the standard deviation SDN of the number of fibers in a fiber bundle satisfies the formula:

2,000 < SDN < 6,000.

The random mat according to any one of claims 1 to 2, wherein the fiber is selected from the group consisting of a carbon fiber, a glass fiber, an aramid fiber, and any mixture thereof.

The random mat according to any one of claims 1 to 3, wherein said random mat comprises a thermoset or a thermoplastic matrix and fiber bundles.

A method for producing a random mat comprising fiber bundles, said fiber bundles comprising fibers, said method comprising the following steps:

(i) cutting a fiber bundle at essentially constant intervals, wherein the cutting edge has a diagonal angle Θ with respect to the fibers direction; and

(ii) reducing the size of the fiber bundle, thereby providing random a random mat material according to the present invention.

The method according to claim 5, wherein the fiber bundles comprise fibers having an average fiber length of 5 to 100mm and has an average number N of fibers in the fiber bundle N that satisfies formula:

1.5 X 105 4.5 X 105

< N <

D2 D2

wherein D is the average diameter of fibers in the fiber bundle, expressed in micrometers, and

wherein the standard deviation SDN of the number of fibers in a fiber bundle satisfies the formula:

1 ,000 < SDN < 6,000

and wherein at the end of the fiber bundle the number of the fibers in a fiber bundle becomes less from center to edge of the fiber bundle in the fiber direction. 7. The method according to claim 5 or 6, wherein the fiber bundles are as defined in any one of claims 2 to 5.

8. The method according to any one of claims 5 to 7, wherein the size of the fiber bundle is reduced by a stretching roll that is placed a distance L in the range of 5 to 100mm from a cutting roll, said cutting roll rotating at a rotational speed vc, said stretching roll rotating at a rotational speed vr; wherein vr is larger than vc.

9. The method according to any one of claims 5 to 8, wherein the cutting step (i) is performed by a cutting roll having a rotational speed vc, wherein

100 RPM < vc < 400 RPM

10. The method according to any one of claims 5 to 9, wherein the ratio of vr/vc satisfies the formula:

20 < vr/vc < 80

1 1 . The method according to any one of claims 8 to 10, wherein the roll is cylindrically or conically shaped.

12. The method according to any one of claims 5 to 1 1 , wherein 12K or 24K carbon fiber bundles are cut at step (i).

13. The method according to any one of claims 5 to 12, wherein the film is coated with a thermoset or thermoplastic polymer film or powder.

14. A composite material comprising random mat as defined in any one of claims 1 to 4, or as obtainable according to the method as defined in any one of claims 5 to 13.

15. A molded fiber-reinforced article, wherein said molded fiber-reinforced article comprises one or more random mats as defined in any one of claims 1 to 4, or as obtainable according to the method as defined in any one of claims 5 to 13, or comprises one or more composite materials according to claim 14, said fiber- reinforced article comprises preferably from 10 to 65% by mass of the fiber bundle with respect to the total mass of said fiber-reinforced article.

Description:
Carbon fiber random mat and carbon fiber composite material

Technical Field of the Invention The present invention relates to a random mat material and its production method, and specifically, to a carbon fiber random mat and carbon fiber composite material made of the mat which has high mechanical properties. The invention relates to a process for producing such carbon fiber random mat without complex steps. Background art of the invention

Carbon fiber composite materials comprising carbon fibers are used for the manufacture of various molded articles, and various technologies. Such materials present high mechanical properties and enable manufacturing molded article with high mechanical properties. Especially, random mat consisting of fiber bundles have been widely used to manufacture carbon fiber composites. Such carbon fiber composites have good mechanical properties and formability. In order to manufacture such a random mat, a fiber tow which bundle size is very narrow such as 1 K and 3K tows were used. However, such a fiber tow tends to be costly. Recently, wider fiber tows have been developed and are now widely used. For a random mat usage, 12K fiber tow have been tried to be used but wider fiber bundle decreases mechanical properties and cannot be used without specific production technologies. For example, the patent application WO2014156760 relates to a carbon fiber nonwoven fabric comprising carbon fibers wherein the proportion, relative to the whole amount of fibers, of specified carbon fiber bundles in a carbon fiber composite material is low, and the average number of fibers in the respective specified carbon fiber bundles is controlled in a specified range. The proportion of carbon fiber bundles relative to the total weight of carbon fibers is from 5 to 80 wt. %. If the proportion of the carbon fiber bundles is more than 80 wt. %, the mechanical properties and followability of carbon fibers to small parts deteriorate, and variability in mechanical properties becomes great. The average number of fibers in the respective specified carbon fiber bundles is 90 to 1 ,000 fibers per bundle. The standard deviation σ of the number of carbon fibers forming the carbon fiber bundle is from 50 to 500. However, in such a carbon fiber composite material as described in WO2014156760, wherein the carbon fiber bundles in the carbon fiber composite material are thin, the proportion of the bundles is low and the carbon fibers are refined. Although the mechanical properties of a molded article manufactured using the same are excellent, the process to produce it needs highly complex machinery equipment, and therefore the cost to produce such a carbon fiber composites increases even more as the carbon fiber itself is expensive.

The patent application JP 2009-062648A relates to a composite material wherein the proportion of specified carbon fiber bundles in a carbon fiber composite material relative to the whole amount of fibers, is similar to that described above, that is set high, and the average number of fibers in the respective specified carbon fiber bundles is controlled in another specified range. In addition, the angle of the edge of the carbon fiber bundle is defined so that the stress concentration does not occur at the edge of carbon fiber bundles and mechanical properties of the carbon fiber composite do not decrease. However, in such a carbon fiber composite material as described in JP 2009-062648A wherein the carbon fiber bundles are thick and the angle of the edge of the bundles is controlled, the cost to produce it becomes high and it is difficult for the carbon fiber composite to be used widely in the industry.

Accordingly, there is a need for providing carbon fiber composite materials having good mechanical properties and that could be produced by conventional machinery equipment in order to save production costs.

Technical problems to be solved by the Invention The present invention aims to provide a random mat material and a composite material solving the above described technical problems.

In particular, the present invention aims to provide a random mat material and a composite material having high mechanical properties. Especially the present invention aims to provide such materials with lower manufacturing costs. Notably, the present invention aims to provide a process for producing such carbon fiber random mat without complex steps.

The present invention also aims to provide a random mat material, and therefore a composite material, which may be manufactured without special machinery equipment.

The present invention aims to provide a random mat material and a composite material having wide applications in the industry.

Accordingly, one aim of the present invention is to provide carbon fiber composite materials having good mechanical properties and that could be produced by conventional machinery equipment in order to save production costs.

More particularly, the present invention aims to provide a random mat material which may be manufactured at low costs with , wider fiber tows, such as for example of more than 3K, preferably of at least 12K. Description of the invention/ Means of the invention for solving the technical problems

To achieve the above-described aims and solve the above-described technical problems, the inventors manufactured and a random mat material comprising fiber bundles, said fiber bundles comprising fibers having an average fiber length of 5 to 100mm, at the end of the fiber bundle the number of fibers in a fiber bundle becomes less from center to edge of the fiber bundle in the fiber direction, and having an average number N of fibers in the fiber bundle that satisfies formula:

1.5 X 10 5 4.5 X 10 5

< N <

D 2 D 2

D is the average diameter of fibers in the fiber bundle, expressed in micrometers

(μπι) .

Within this range, a random mat made of these fiber bundles can produce a carbon fiber composite which has good mechanical properties. By "fiber" are well-known in the art and mean in particular that fibers present in the composite material provide higher mechanical properties than without fibers, and more specifically at least higher flexural modulus and/or higher flexural strength. According to the invention, "fibers" refers to "fibers" unless expressed otherwise.

From the mechanical properties point of view, it is preferred that N is less than 3.5x10 5 /D 2 .

In one embodiment, N satisfies the formula: 1 ,200<N<20,000, and preferably satisfies the formula: 1 ,500<N<10,000. In one preferred embodiment, N satisfies formula: 2,000<N<10,000, and preferably satisfies the formula: 3,000<N<6,000.

In one embodiment, the fibers are carbon fibers. The carbon fibers are preferably used as fiber bundles and the average number of fiber in the fiber bundles is in a range of a formula described below.

1.5 X 10 5 4.5 X 10 5

< N < -5

D 2 D 2

D: average diameter of carbon fibers in the fiber bundle (micrometers ; μηι).

Although the fibers used in the present invention are not particularly restricted. Preferably, fibers comprise or consist of carbon fibers, glass fibers, aramid fibers, and any mixture thereof. High-strength and high-elastic modulus carbon fibers are more preferably used. Typically, fibers are man-made fibers.

In one embodiment, one kind of carbon fibers is used. In one embodiment, two or more kinds of carbon fibers are used together.

In particular, PAN-base, pitch-base, rayon-base, carbon fibers or any mixture thereof can be exemplified among commonly used carbon fibers. From the viewpoint of the balance between the strength and the elastic modulus of a molded article to be obtained, PAN-base carbon fibers are preferred.

Very often, the carbon fibers which constitute the carbon fiber bundle have a sizing agent to bundle the carbon fibers.

In a preferred embodiment, the density of carbon fibers is preferably in a range of 1 .65 to 1 .95 g/cm 3 , and more preferably in a range of 1 .70 to 1 .85 g/cm 3 . If the density is too high, the lightness in weight of the resulting composite material comprising the fibers, for example a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, is poor, and if too low, the mechanical properties of the composite material may become low.

According to the invention, high mechanical performance can be obtained without any high performance machinery and equipment, which leads to keep production costs low.

In one embodiment, the fiber bundle has beveled ends.

The variation of number of fibers in the fiber bundle is not limited to a certain range. In one embodiment, the standard deviation SD N of the number of fibers in a fiber bundle satisfies the formula:

1 ,000 < SD N < 6,000

Such standard deviation SD N of the number of fibers in a bundle gives high mechanical properties. Also the production costs are low.

In one embodiment, SD N satisfies the formula: 2,000< SD N <6,000, and preferably 3,000< SD N <6,000.

Typically, the diameter of a fiber and in particular of carbon fibers is of 1 to 30 micrometers, and more usually from 5 to 10 micrometers.

In order to get the high mechanical properties and low cost production, it is preferred that the kind of the fibers is at least one selected from the group consisting of a carbon fiber, a glass fiber, an aramid fiber, and any mixture thereof.

The present invention also relates to such fibers, in particular to such carbon fiber bundles.

Typically, the fibers form reinforcing fibers. Typically, the fiber bundles form reinforcing fiber bundles. The present invention also relates to a method or process for preparing random mat material according to the present invention, said method or process comprising the following steps:

(i) cutting a fiber bundle at essentially constant intervals, wherein the cutting edge has a diagonal angle Θ with respect to the fiber direction; and

(ii) reducing the size of the fiber bundle, thereby providing a random mat material according to the present invention.

Continuous fiber bundle is used for feeding continuously the fiber bundle in step (i). Typically such continuous fiber bundles are sold as fiber tow.

In one embodiment, continuous carbon fiber bundles are cut at step (i).

In one preferred embodiment, 12K carbon fiber bundles are cut at step (i). It is usually referred to 12K carbon fiber tows.

In one preferred embodiment, 24K carbon fiber bundles are cut at step (i). It is usually referred to 24K carbon fiber tows.

The cutting step (i) involves one or more cutting rolls.

The rotating speed of cutting roll can be selected without any limitation as long as it can provide the fiber bundles according to the invention. However, in order to manufacture composite materials having high mechanical properties at low production costs with an industrial manufacturing process, it is preferred that the cutting step (i) is performed by a cutting roll, typically a helicoidally shaped knife, having a rotational speed is vc, wherein

100 RPM < vc < 400 RPM In the range of vc, the fiber bundle can be controlled in a desirable range in a stable process.

Because the fiber bundles are cut, it is also referred to "chopped fiber bundles" or "cut fiber bundles".

At the step of cutting a continuous fiber bundle at constant intervals, the diagonal angle Θ of the cutting edge is preferably selected between 15 and 85 degree (15° < Θ < 85°). Such cutting step allows forming fiber bundles with beveled ends.

Within this preferred range of diagonal angle Θ, the fiber can be obtained in the range bundle according to the invention. Further, if the diagonal angle Θ is between 30° to 60°, fiber bundles according to the invention are more easily obtained. So that the fiber bundles shaped as the number of fibers in a fiber bundle becomes less from center to edge (or ends) of the fiber bundle in the fiber direction. This configuration can reduce the stress concentration at the edge (or end or extremity) of the fiber bundle, enhancing strength of the composite made of these fiber bundles.

The cutting tools can be selected without any limitation, but normal cutting roll with angled blade, typically made of steel, can be preferably used.

Step (ii) of reducing the size of the fiber bundle preferably comprises separating a fiber bundle into multiple fiber bundles wherein said multiple fiber bundles have a width less than the width of the original fiber bundle. The cut or chopped fiber bundle or fiber tow is separated into multiple fiber bundles forming elements or segments made of parts of the fiber bundle or fiber tow.

Step (ii) of reducing the size of the fiber bundle preferably comprises separating a fiber bundle into multiple fiber bundles wherein said multiple fiber bundles have less fibers than the original fiber bundle. In one embodiment, the number of fibers is divided by at least 1 .5 in the cut or chopped fiber bundles in comparison with the original fiber bundle or fiber tow.

In one embodiment, the number of fibers is divided by at least 2 in the cut or chopped fiber bundles in comparison with the original fiber bundle or fiber tow.

In one embodiment, the number of fibers is divided by at least 2.5 in the cut or chopped fiber bundles in comparison with the original fiber bundle or fiber tow.

Advantageously, by reducing the size of the fiber bundle, the cut or chopped fibers meet the technical characteristics of the present invention.

In one preferred embodiment, step (ii) of reducing the size of the fiber bundle involves one or more stretching rolls. The stretching roll advantageously stretches the fibers that are cut or being cut to separate the fiber bundle into multiple fiber bundles wherein said multiple fiber bundles have a width less than the width of the original fiber bundle. The distance L between cutting roll and stretching roll can be selected without any limitation as long as it can lead to the fiber bundle according to the present invention. L is the distance separating the cutting tools on the cutting roll 3 and the stretching roll 2 thereby defining the length of the fiber bundles that are cut. In order to manufacture composite material having high mechanical properties at low production costs with an industrial manufacturing process, it is preferred that the size of the fiber bundles is reduced by a stretching roll that is placed at a distance L in the range of 5 to 100mm from the cutting roll, said stretching roll rotating at a rotational speed vr; wherein

3000 RPM < vr < 15000 RPM

In one embodiment, the distance L between the stretching rolls and cutting roll is: 20 mm < L < 55 mm

According to this preferred embodiment, the process is advantageously very stable and provides the chopped fiber bundles according to the invention.

The step of reducing the size of the fiber bundle can be performed without any limitation but it is preferred to use stretching rolls for drawing the cut fiber elements to use common machine and equipment. This enables lowering the production costs.

The shape of the rolls in the method or process according to the invention can be selected without any limitation as long as it can obtain the fiber bundle according to the present invention. However, in order to manufacture composite materials having high mechanical properties at low production costs with an industrial manufacturing process, it is preferred that the roll(s) has(have) a cylindrical or conical shape.

The ratio between speed of cutting roll vc and the speed of stretching roll vr can be selected without any limitation as long as it can lead to the fiber bundle according to the present invention. In order to manufacture composite material having high mechanical properties at low production costs with an industrial manufacturing process, it is preferred that vr is larger than vc. In one preferred embodiment, that the ratio of vr/vc satisfies the formula:

20 < vr/vc < 80

When vr is larger than vc, and in particular when vr/vc is within the above specified range, the process is advantageously very stable and provides fiber bundles according to the invention.

Advantageously, such vr/vc ratio enables to separate a fiber bundle into multiple fiber bundles according to the present invention.

The fiber bundles obtained at step (ii) typically form a random mat of fiber bundle. In order to manufacture composite material having high mechanical properties at low production costs with an industrial manufacturing process, it is preferred that the fibers form a reinforcing layer for a composite material.

The present invention also relates to a random mat of fiber bundle comprising fibers as defined in the present invention or as obtainable according to the method or process of the present invention. In one embodiment, the random mat comprises a thermoset or a thermoplastic matrix and fiber bundles. Typically after step (ii) the method or process according to the invention comprises depositing a random mat of fiber bundles onto a thermoset or a thermoplastic matrix. Then, the thermoset or a thermoplastic matrix is typically cured to provide a cured thermoset or a thermoplastic matrix comprising a random mat of fiber bundles.

The present invention also relates to a composite material comprising one or more random mats as defined or as obtainable according to the method or process of the present invention. In one embodiment, the composite material comprises a thermoset or a thermoplastic matrix. In one embodiment, the composite material comprises one or more layers of random mat of fiber bundles as defined in the present invention or as obtainable according to the method or process of the present invention.

In one embodiment, a thermoset or a thermoplastic resin is a matrix resin. The thermoplastic matrix resin is not particularly restricted, and it can be appropriately selected within a range that does not greatly reduce the mechanical properties of the fiber reinforced composite material. For example thermoplastic matrix resin is selected from the group consisting of a polyolefin-group resin, such as for example polyethylene or polypropylene, a polyamide-group resin, such as for example nylon 6 or nylon 6,6, a polyester group resin such as polyethylene terephthalate or polybutylene terephthalate, a resin, such as for example a polyetherketone, a polyethersulfone, an aromatic polyamide, and any mixture thereof, can be used. For example, it is preferred that the thermoplastic matrix resin is at least one selected from the group consisting of polyamide, polyphenylene sulfide, polypropylene, polyetheretherketone, a phenoxy resin, and any mixture thereof. For example, epoxy, unsaturated polyester, vinyl ester, phenol, epoxy acrylate, urethane, can be used as thermoplastic matrix resin. More preferably, epoxy, unsaturated polyester, vinyl ester, acryl, and any mixture thereof that can provide a viscosity less than 1 x10 6 Pa.s are preferable from tackiness and drapability viewpoint (tack and drape qualities). Tack refers to the ability of a prepreg to adhere to itself or to other material surfaces. Drape refers to the ease of handling and conforming prepregs to complex surfaces. For example drape is the measure of the formability of prepregs around contours such as a small-radius rod. The drapability should be good enough to allow the prepregs to be formed into complex shapes.

In order to manufacture composite material having high mechanical properties at low production costs with an industrial manufacturing process, it is preferred that the composite material or random mat according to the invention comprises a film layer. Said film layer is advantageously coated with a thermoset or thermoplastic polymer film or powder.

In order to manufacture composite material having high mechanical properties at low production costs with an industrial manufacturing process, it is preferred that composite material comprises a mass fraction of the fiber-reinforced material between 10-65%, with respect to the total mass of the composite material.

In one embodiment, flexural strength of the composite comprising the fibers (ISO- 14125:1998) is of at least 25 GPa, preferably of at least 28 GPa, and more preferably of at least 30 GPa.

In one embodiment, flexural modulus of the composite comprising the fibers (ISO- 14125:1998) is of at least 210 MPa, preferably of at least 240 MPa, and more preferably of at least 250 MPa.

Effect according to the invention.

Thus, a random mat according to the present invention can be provided a carbon fiber composite material which can combine high mechanical performance and can be produces at low cost.

Industrial Applications of the Invention

The carbon fiber composite material according to the present invention can be used for manufacturing carbon fiber reinforced molded articles with combination of high mechanical properties and low production costs. Such carbon fiber composite have not been achieved by the conventional technologies.

Accordingly the present invention also relates to a fiber-reinforced article comprising one or more random mats or composite materials as defined in the present invention.

In one embodiment, said fiber-reinforced article comprises from 10 to 65 %, for example from 40 to 60%, by mass of the fiber bundle with respect to the total mass of said fiber-reinforced article.

Typically, said fiber-reinforced article is obtained by molding the random mat or composite. Thus, the present invention relates to such a molded fiber-reinforced article.

More preferably the molded fiber-reinforced article is a fiber-reinforced thermosetting moulding compound such as for example a sheet moulding compound (SMC).

Brief explanation of the drawings

Fig. 1 is a schematic side view of an example of a process according to the invention; Fig. 2 is a schematic of another side view of an example of a process according to the invention;

Fig. 3 is a schematic of the process according to the invention, with stretching rolls.

Fig. 4 is a schematic of a comparative process not within the scope of the invention, without stretching rolls.

Fig. 5, 6 and 7 are schematic side sections of examples of fiber bundles according to the invention but having different shapes at their ends. Fig. 5, 6 and 7 show that at fiber bundle ends the number of the fibers in the fiber bundle becomes less from center to edge of the fiber bundle in the fiber direction. In fig. 5 the fiber bundle has beveled ends. Beveled ends are formed because of the cutting step of the process according to the invention. In fig. 6 and 7 fiber bundles may present different shapes at the ends because during processing random mat, the bundle with beveled ends can be deformed as schematically represented in fig. 6 and 7. In one embodiment, such shapes can be observed in the random mat material.

Embodiments for carrying out the Invention

Hereinafter, the present invention will be explained in detail together with Examples and Comparative Examples. Through the process described above, the random mat can be obtained without expensive machinery and equipment. Traditional machinery and equipment can be used, comprising a: a feeder to run fiber bundle to a cutting roll, b: a cutting roll with blades embedded in a line on the roll, and c: a basket to gather the cut fiber bundles below the cutting roll.

Figure 1 is a schematic view an example of the process accord ng to the present invention. Fiber tow 1 is fed to cutting blade 4 through guide 8, by driving roll 6 and nip roll 7, and cut into fiber bundles 5 with the cooperation of stretching rolls 2.

Figure 2 is another schematic view of an example of a process according to the present invention showing the cutting blade 4 on the cutting roll 3. A cutting blade 4 is attached on the cutting roll 3 with a cutting edge forming an angle between the rotation direction and blade, corresponding to cut angle to fiber direction on tow.

Figure 3 is another schematic view of the process showing the fiber tow cut into fiber bundles according to an example of the process of the present invention. The edge of fiber tow has an angle because the cutting blade 4 has an angle attached on the cutting roll 3. The fiber tow 1 is cut by cutting blade 4, which starts cutting fiber tow 1 at the side edge 41 , and the edge 12 cut by the cutting blade is drawn by the stretching rolls and is separated from the fiber tow 1 , thereby forming a fiber bundle 5. The fiber bundle or fiber tow 1 is therefore separated into multiple fiber bundles 5 forming elements or segments made of parts of the fiber bundle or fiber tow 1 . Thanks to the stretching rolls 2, the number of fiber in the fiber bundles 5 is in a range defined according to the invention:

1.5 X 10 5 4.5 X 10 5

< N < -5

D 2 D 2

N: average number of fibers in the fiber bundle

D: average diameter of fibers in the fiber bundle (micrometers; μηι)

Figure 4 is a schematic view of an example of a comparative process without stretching rolls. The edge of fiber tow 1 has a diagonal angle because the cutting blade 4 forms a diagonal angle Θ on the cutting roller 3 as in figure 3. The fiber tow 1 is cut by cutting blade 4, which starts cutting fiber tow 1 at the side edge 41 as in figure 3. Such a process comprises no means for reducing the size of the fiber tow 1 . More precisely without stretching rolls 2, the edge 52 cut by the cutting blade remains in place until the full width of the fiber tow 1 is cut by cutting blade 4 and forms a fiber bundle 5 wherein the number of fibers is essentially the same as that of fiber tow 1 . Therefore, the number of fibers in the fiber bundle 5 is out of the range of the present invention. Hence it is not possible to obtain a random mat with high mechanical properties or low production costs.

Next, Examples and Comparative Examples in the present invention are explained.

First, the properties and determination methods used according to the invention are explained, then Examples and Comparative Examples are detailed. (1 ) Method for determining average number of fiber bundles N and standard deviation SD:

A sample with a size of 10 mm x 100 mm was cut out from a carbon fiber composite material, and thereafter, the sample was heated in an electric furnace heated at 500°C for about one hour to burn off organic substances such as the matrix resin. The mass of carbon fiber aggregates left after cool down to a room temperature was determined. Carbon fiber bundles were all extracted from the carbon fiber aggregates by tweezers. All extracted carbon fiber bundles were weighted using a balance capable of measuring up to a degree of 1/10,000 g. The weight Mn and the length Ln of each carbon fiber bundle was determined. After the determination, for each bundle, xn=Mnx4/D 2 / " n7Ln/S were calculated, wherein D is a diameter of carbon fibers, S is the specific gravity of carbon fibers, and xn is a number of fibers forming a carbon fiber bundle. 100 fiber bundles were picked up from the cut out materials and average bundle number N and standard deviation of SD were calculated from them.

Mechanical properties

(2) Flexural modulus

Flexural modulus was determined according to ISO-14125.

(3) Flexural strength

The flexural strength was determined according to ISO-14125.

Examples

Example 1 :

A commercial fiber tow was selected (T700SC-12K-50C ; Toray Carbon Fibers Europe, S. A.) and was set to the creel. The fiber diameter D was of 7 micrometers (μηι). The fiber tow was drawn to stretching rolls 2 via cutting rolls 3, nip roll 7, and driving roll 6 through a guide 8 (see figure 1 ). The distance between the stretching rolls 2 and cutting roll 3 was set to L = 33 mm. A cutting blade 4 was set on the cutting roll 3 at a diagonal angle Θ of 46 degree. Also a resin film coated by commercial epoxy resin with 250 micrometers (μηι) thickness on a releasing paper was prepared just below the stretching rolls 2 for collecting cut fiber bundles 5, which would form a random mat of fibers on the film after cutting. Then the stretching rolls 2 were started rotating at vr = 9778 RPM and the cutting roll 3 was started rotating at vc = 275 RPM. The resin film (not shown on figure 1 ) also started to feed at a speed of 10mm/min to obtain a random mat on resin sheet surface. The resin sheet comprising the random mat was then cut into 30 cm X 30 cm square pieces and laid up to 10 layers. Then the layers were set to a press molding machine and cured at 120 degree Celsius with 3 atmosphere pressure for 1 hour to obtain a composite material panel. Then the panel was cut into coupon and the flexural modulus and flexural strength were evaluated in accordance with ISO 14125. The process parameters are shown in Table 1 and the results are shown in Table 2. The flexural modulus and strength are high enough for providing high mechanical properties composite materials and production costs were low thanks to the use of low cost 12K fiber tow. The width of fiber bundles became thinner from center to edge by decreasing number of fibers. The average number N of fiber bundles and standard deviation SD N were measured in accordance with the methods descried above, and are shown in Table 2.

Examples 2 to 6

Fiber tow, rotation speed of cutting roll and stretching rolls were changed and the same evaluation as in example 1 was conducted. The process parameters and the results are shown in Table 1 and Table 2.

The flexural modulus and flexural strength were high enough because average number N of fibers in fiber bundles were within the range of the present invention, and production costs were low thanks to the use of low cost 12K and 24K fiber tow. Comparative example 1 to 3:

The conditions were the same as those in Example 1 except for fiber tow which was changed to T300-3K-40B and T300-1 K-40B (both are commercial productions from Toray Industries, Inc.) and the evaluation was conducted as shown in Table 3. Results were shown in Table 4. The mechanical properties of the composite according to comparative example 1 were lower than that of examples 1 to 6 because N was out of range according to the present invention. The mechanical properties of the composite according to comparative example 2 and 3 were as good as example 1 -6 but the production costs were higher than the examples according to the invention because of usage of 3K and 1 K fiber tows which price are higher than that of 12K or 24K.

Table 1 Materials and process conditions of examples 1 to 6

Table 2: Results of examples 1 to 6

Table 3: Materials and process conditions of comparative examples 1 to 3

Table 4: Results of comparative examples 1 to 3