(19)
(11)EP 3 281 757 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
25.11.2020 Bulletin 2020/48

(21)Application number: 17182128.3

(22)Date of filing:  19.07.2017
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
B29C 41/04(2006.01)
B29C 70/32(2006.01)
B29C 41/20(2006.01)
B29K 101/12(2006.01)

(54)

REINFORCED THERMOPLASTIC PRODUCTS AND METHODS OF MAKING THE SAME

VERSTÄRKTE THERMOPLASTISCHE PRODUKTE UND VERFAHREN ZUR HERSTELLUNG DAVON

PRODUITS THERMOPLASTIQUES RENFORCÉS ET LEURS PROCÉDÉS DE FABRICATION


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 03.08.2016 US 201615227751

(43)Date of publication of application:
14.02.2018 Bulletin 2018/07

(73)Proprietor: Johns Manville
Denver, CO 80202 (US)

(72)Inventors:
  • ZHANG, Mingfu
    Englewood, CO 80112 (US)
  • GLEICH, Friedrich
    90403 Nürnberg (DE)
  • ASRAR, Jawed
    Englewood, CO 80111 (US)

(74)Representative: Dörr, Klaus 
Dörr IP Nordring 29
65719 Hofheim
65719 Hofheim (DE)


(56)References cited: : 
EP-A1- 2 030 769
WO-A1-95/00310
EP-A2- 3 141 576
FR-A3- 2 645 070
  
  • Stuart M Lee: "Centrifugal casting" In: "Dictionary of composites materials technology", 1 January 1989 (1989-01-01), Technomic, USA, XP055423146, ISBN: 978-0-87762-600-8 page 27, * the whole document *
  
Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


Description

BACKGROUND



[0001] The use of fiber-reinforced composites is growing in popularity with applications in transportation, consumer goods, wind energy, and infrastructure. Some of the many reasons for choosing composites over traditional materials such as metals, wood, or non-reinforced plastics include reduced weight, corrosion resistance, and improved mechanical strength. Within the field of fiber-reinforced polymeric composites, thermoplastics are increasingly being used in place of thermosets as the matrix resin due to better durability, recyclability, thermoformability, improved throughput, lower material cost, and lower manufacturing cost. In this context, FR-A-2,645,070 and EP-A-3,141,576 disclose state of the art fiber reinforced composite materials.

[0002] Thermoplastic liquid molding with low viscosity monomers or oligomers has shown great potential as the technology for the mass production of thermoplastic composites. Compared to traditional thermoset molding of epoxy and polyurethane, thermoplastic liquid molding with monomers or oligomers provides various advantages such as short cycle times and superior properties of the resulting thermoplastic composites, including greater toughness and impact strength, weldability, and recyclability. One example of thermoplastic liquid molding is rotational molding, which is also known as rotomolding or rotational casting.

BRIEF SUMMARY



[0003] The embodiments described herein provide reinforced rotationally casted thermoplastic products and methods of forming the same. According to one embodiment, a reinforced thermoplastic product includes a cylindrical shaped main body formed via centrifugal casting a reactive thermoplastic resin within a mold. The reactive thermoplastic resin comprises monomer or oligomer that may polymerize in-situ to form a thermoplastic polymer. The cylindrical shaped main body has a hollow interior and a wall that is formed via polymerization of the reactive thermoplastic resin. The wall has an inner diameter and an outer diameter that define a wall thickness measured radially between the inner and outer diameter. A pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet is positioned within the wall of the cylindrical shaped main body. The pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet extends at least partially along an axial length of the cylindrical shaped main body and extends circumferentially around the cylindrical shaped main body and thereby forms a reinforcing layer within the wall of the cylindrical shaped main body. The pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet includes a plurality of fiber bundles that are oriented along a first direction and a second direction and a polymerized thermoplastic material that is saturated within the pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet so that the polymerized thermoplastic material fully impregnates each fiber bundle of the plurality of fiber bundles. In some instances, the second direction of the fiber bundles has an angled orientation relative to the first direction.

[0004] According to yet another embodiment, a method of reinforcing a thermoplastic product includes positioning a fabric reinforcing sheet within a centrifugal casting mold so that the fabric reinforcing sheet extends longitudinally along at least a portion of the centrifugal casting mold and circumferentially around an axis of the centrifugal casting mold. The method also includes injecting a reactive thermoplastic resin within the centrifugal casting mold so that the reactive thermoplastic resin is centrifugally forced outward within the mold into contact with the fabric reinforcing sheet and an inside wall of the centrifugal casting mold. The method further includes polymerizing the reactive thermoplastic resin so that the reactive thermoplastic resin solidifies with the fabric reinforcing sheet disposed within a cylindrical wall of the thermoplastic product and circumferentially around an axis of the thermoplastic product. The fabric reinforcing sheet typically includes a plurality of first fiber bundles that are oriented along a first direction and a polymerized thermoplastic material that is impregnated within the plurality of fiber bundles.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



[0005] The present technology is described in conjunction with the appended figures:

Fig. 1 illustrates a thermoplastic prepreg that may be used in the processes and products described herein.

Fig. 2 illustrates an embodiment of a centrifugal casting system.

Fig. 3 illustrates a centrifugally casted polymer product formed according to conventional processes.

Fig. 4 illustrates an embodiment of a reinforced polymer product formed in accordance with the processes described herein.

Fig. 5 illustrates a cross sectional image of a centrifugally casted component including a thermoplastic prepreg disposed within a wall of the casted component.

Fig. 6 illustrates a scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image of a centrifugally casted component.



[0006] In the appended figures, similar components and/or features may have the same numerical reference label. Further, various components of the same type may be distinguished by following the reference label by a letter that distinguishes among the similar components and/or features. If only the first numerical reference label is used in the specification, the description is applicable to any one of the similar components and/or features having the same first numerical reference label irrespective of the letter suffix.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION



[0007] The embodiments described herein relate to thermoplastic prepreg products, and specifically use thermoplastic prepreg products or products that employ such prepregs. In some embodiments, the prepreg products may be fully impregnated with thermoplastic materials. The fully impregnated prepreg products are made using reactive thermoplastic resin materials, specifically monomers or oligomers. In an exemplary embodiment, the reactive thermoplastic resin material may be caprolactam. In other embodiments, the prepreg products may be partially impregnated with the thermoplastic material.

[0008] A specific use of the thermoplastic prepregs is rotational or centrifugal casting or molding (hereinafter rotational molding). Rotational molding is a casting technique that is typically used to form cylindrical products. The process may employ various materials such as metal, glass, concrete, and polymer materials. Various thermoplastic and thermoset materials are often used in rotational molding to form various products, including storage tanks, containers, crates, pallets, litter bins, road cones, bollards, floats, buoys, kayaks, canoes, boats, planters, and toys. For example, rotational molding with a liquid caprolactam resin has been used to produce Nylon-6 parts for a wide variety of applications.

[0009] Conventional rotationally molded thermoplastic and thermoset materials do not include a fiber reinforcement material, due to the nature of rotational molding process where the liquid resin material is in rotational motion during the molding process. The rotational motion of the resin material renders the fixation of a fiber reinforcement material within a mold extremely difficult, if not impossible. The use of the thermoplastic prepregs herein allows the fiber reinforcement to be positioned within the rotational mold and to maintain an orientation within the mold during the rotational molding process. As such, in contrast to conventional products, the rotationally molded products that are formed by employing the thermoplastic prepregs are reinforced with a fiber material.

[0010] The thermoplastic prepregs employed herein are "fabric-based" meaning that the prepregs include a fabric reinforcement material, such as those described below. In an exemplary embodiment, the thermoplastic prepregs are fully impregnated with the thermoplastic material, although partially impregnated prepregs may also be used. In some embodiments, these thermoplastic prepregs can be produced through impregnation of the fabric materials with low viscosity monomers or oligomers, followed by in-situ polymerization to form a thermoplastic matrix. Exemplary methods of producing fully impregnated thermoplastic prepregs are further described in U.S. Patent Application No. 14/088,034, filed November 22, 2013, entitled "Fiber-Containing Prepregs and Methods and Systems of Making"; U.S. Patent Application No. 14/794,634, filed July 8, 2015, entitled "System for Producing a Fully Impregnated Thermoplastic Prepreg"; U.S. Patent Application No. 14/845,007, filed September 3, 2015, entitled "System for Producing a Fully Impregnated Thermoplastic Prepreg"; U.S. Patent Application No. 14/880,307, filed October 12, 2015, entitled "System for Producing a Fully Impregnated Thermoplastic Prepreg"; and U.S. Patent No. 9,186,852, entitled "Fiber-Containing Prepregs and Methods and Systems of Making".

[0011] In other embodiments, the thermoplastic prepregs can be produced through the use of a thermoplastic polymer powder material that is positioned and impregnated within the fabric, or through the use of a thermoplastic polymer film that is positioned atop the fabric material and impregnated within the fabric under heat and pressure. Exemplary methods of producing such thermoplastic prepregs are further described in U.S. Patent Application No. 13/915,023, filed June 11, 2013, entitled "Sized Glass Fibers for Fiber-Containing Composite Articles and Methods of Making Them".

Fabric Based Thermoplastic Prepregs



[0012] Referring now to Fig. 1, illustrated is an example of a thermoplastic prepreg 100 that may be used in the various processes described herein. In an exemplary embodiment, the thermoplastic prepreg 100 may be fully impregnated with the thermoplastic material. For example, a nylon-6 prepreg may be produced through the impregnation of a reinforcement fabric with molten caprolactam followed by in-situ polymerization of the caprolactam.

[0013] The thermoplastic prepreg 100 (also referred to as a fabric-based thermoplastic prepreg) may include a plurality of fibers, rovings, or fiber bundles (hereinafter fiber bundles or rovings). The rovings may contain continuous glass fibers or other fibers. In some embodiments, the rovings may be woven together. In other embodiments, the rovings may be held together via stitching, or the fibers may be entangled, intermeshed, or formed in a randomly oriented configuration. In embodiments that employ stitching, the stitching threads that are used may be polymeric fibers or other fibers. In yet other embodiments, the rovings may be oriented in a roughly parallel direction. In such embodiments, the thermoplastic prepreg 100 may have a unidirectional fiber orientation.

[0014] The term roving or fiber bundle as used herein refers to a bundle of fibers that are positioned adjacent one another to form a rope, thread, or cord like component. A common type of fiber that is used in the rovings is glass fibers, although various other fibers could be used, includes carbon fibers, basalt fibers, metal fibers, ceramic fiber, natural fibers, synthetic organic fibers such as aramid fibers, and other inorganic fibers.

[0015] In some embodiments, the rovings may be oriented along a first direction and along a second direction, with the second direction angled relative to the first direction. For example, the second direction may be angled relative to the first direction by 45 degrees, 90 degrees, and the like. The woven materials are materials that are produced by weaving multiple roving strands together. The roving strands are commonly woven so that a first plurality of strands extend in a first direction (e.g., weft direction) and a second plurality of strands extend in a second direction that is typically orthogonal to the first direction (e.g., warp direction). The first plurality of strands are roughly parallel with one another as are the second plurality of strands. Various weaves may be used to form the thermoplastic prepregs 100 described herein, including: plain weaves, twill weaves, satin weaves, multi-axial weaves, or stitching. The thermoplastic prepregs 100 may contain any kind of woven fabric or multi-axial fiber material. In some instances, the thermoplastic prepreg 100 may contain chopped fiber mats. The thermoplastic prepreg 100 may be a hybrid from different types of fibers, including a hybrid of glass fibers and carbon fibers. For ease in describing the embodiments herein, the embodiments will generally refer to the use of glass fibers, although it should be realized that various other fiber types may be used.

[0016] The thermoplastic prepreg 100 includes a thermoplastic polymer material that is at least partially saturated or impregnated within the fabric material so that at least some of the fiber bundles are impregnated with the thermoplastic material. In some embodiments, the thermoplastic prepreg 100 may be fully impregnated with the thermoplastic polymer material. For example, thermoplastic prepregs that are manufactured according to the disclosures of the '034, '634, '007, and/or '307 application and/or the '852 patent may be used, which are fully impregnated with a thermoplastic polymer material. In such embodiments, the thermoplastic polymer material fully impregnates each fiber bundle of the thermoplastic prepreg 100.

[0017] Fig. 1 illustrates a roll of the thermoplastic prepreg 100. The thermoplastic prepreg 100 may have a high content of reinforcing fibers. When the thermoplastic prepreg 100 is subjected to a heating and/or pressure process, the thermoplastic polymer in the prepreg melts or softens to allow the thermoplastic prepreg to be molded or formed into a composite part and/or to allow the prepreg to be bonded with other thermoplastic materials.

[0018] Since the thermoplastic prepreg 100 is based on fabrics (often woven fabrics), the fiber distribution and orientation desired can be pre-built into the fabric design. Accordingly, the thermoplastic prepregs 100 provide significantly higher design freedom and can be used to produce reinforced thermoplastic composite parts that are not attainable through conventional processes. A specific example of this advantage is provided in applications where longitudinal strength is needed. In such applications, the thermoplastic prepreg 100 can be formed from fabrics with a required amount of fibers oriented along a longitudinal, or axial, direction of the desired end product.

[0019] An additional benefit is that the sizing of the fibers may be tailored for the in-situ polymerization of reactive monomers or oligomers to impart strong chemical bonding between the reinforcing fibers and the thermoplastic resin matrix. As such, a significant improvement in the composite property can be achieved.

Centrifugal Casting/Rotational Molding



[0020] Referring to Fig. 2, illustrated is an embodiment of a centrifugal casting system 200 where a material, such as a reactive thermoplastic resin material, is spun within a mold 202 and cast radially outward and cured into a shape, such as a pipe or other generally cylindrical object. In addition to the mold 202, the system 200 includes a container 204 or tank within which the resin material is contained. In the instant system, the container may be filled with a reactive thermoplastic resin (e.g., caprolactam). The container 204 is fluidly connected to the mold 202 in order to allow the material to be delivered to an interior of the mold 202. The mold is rotationally mounted within the system 200 and is configured to be rotationally driven via one or more drive mechanism 206, which may include rollers, bearings, gears, and the like. A motor device 208 is used to supply the rotational input to the drive mechanism 206. The system 200 may include one or more additional stabilizer component 210, such as one or more rollers positioned opposite the drive mechanism 206.

[0021] The material that is injected into the mold 202 is cast radially outward and into contact with an inner surface of the mold 202 due to centrifugal forces. The material is cured or polymerized within the mold 202 to form the polymerized end product 220. The polymerized end product 220 has an exterior surface that matches or corresponds to the interior surface of the mold 202. Examples of products that are formed via rotational molding or centrifugal casting include: storage tanks, containers, crates, pallets, litter bins, road cones, bollards, floats, buoys, kayaks, canoes, boats, planters, and toys.

[0022] A thermoplastic prepreg 222 is positioned within the mold 202 during the casting. The thermoplastic prepreg 222 is positioned within the mold 202 such that the thermoplastic prepreg 222 is disposed within the radial wall of the polymerized end product 220. The thermoplastic prepreg 222 is often disposed within the mold 202 so that the thermoplastic prepreg 222 is adjacent to the inner wall of the mold 202. As such, the thermoplastic prepreg 222 is often disposed at or near the outer wall of the polymerized end product 220. In other instances, the thermoplastic prepreg 222 may be positioned inwardly of the inner wall of the mold 202 so that the thermoplastic prepreg 222 at or adjacent to an inner wall of the polymerized end product 220. The thermoplastic prepreg 222 may be disposed essentially anywhere within the wall of the polymerized end product 220.

[0023] As illustrated in Fig. 3, in conventional centrifugally casted polymer products 300, a fiber or fabric mat 304 (hereinafter fabric mat 304) cannot be disposed in a desired position within a wall of a casted polymer product 302. This is due to conventional fabric materials being too soft and flexible. Conventional fabric materials are "dry", meaning that the materials are not impregnated by, or otherwise include, a thermoplastic material. Rather, the conventional fabric materials are similar to typical cloth materials that include the woven fibers and essentially nothing else. These materials are not able to remain in position within the mold during the centrifugal casting processes. Rather, these fabric materials bunch up within the mold during the casting processes. As such, when conventional fabric materials are employed in centrifugal casting, the fabric mat 304 is bunched up and/or isolated within the casted polymer product 302. As such, the casted polymer product 302 is not effectively reinforced by the fabric mat 304 and/or the reinforcement is non-uniform.

[0024] Referring now to Fig. 4, illustrated is an embodiment of a reinforced polymer product 400, which may be made of a thermoplastic material. The reinforced polymer product 400 has a cylindrical shaped main body 402 that is formed via centrifugal or rotational casting of a reactive thermoplastic resin within a mold. The cylindrical shaped main body 402 has a hollow interior and a wall 404 that is formed from in-situ polymerization of the reactive thermoplastic resin. The wall 404 has an inner diameter and an outer diameter that define a wall thickness measured radially between the inner and outer diameter. The reactive thermoplastic resin comprises low viscosity prepolymerized material suitable for the centrifugal casting process. An exemplary type of reactive thermoplastic resin includes materials that are composed mainly of precursor monomers and/or oligomers, such as caprolactam, laurolactam, methyl methacrylate (MMA), cyclic butylene terephthalate (CBT), prepolymer of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), cyclic alkenes, and the like.

[0025] A fabric reinforcing sheet or thermoplastic prepreg 406 (also referred to herein as a pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet) is positioned within the wall 404 of the cylindrical shaped main body 402. In contrast to the fabric sheet of Fig. 3, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 can be used in the rotational molds because the cured or polymerized thermoplastic material in the prepreg 406 provides rigidity and stiffness that allows the fabric reinforcing sheet to withstand the molding processes. As such, the fabric material does not bunch up within the rotational mold and instead remains relatively uniformly positioned within the rotational mold and within the resulting molded product.

[0026] As described herein, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 includes a plurality of fiber bundles. In some instances, the fiber bundles may be oriented along a first direction and a second direction with the second direction having an angled orientation relative to the first direction. In a specific embodiment, the first direction may be aligned with an axis of the cylindrical shaped main body 402 and/or the second direction may be aligned circumferentially around the main body 402. Other fiber orientations are likewise possible including a 30 degree, 45 degree, or 60 degree diagonal orientation of the fibers circumferentially along the main body 402.

[0027] The thermoplastic prepreg 406 also includes a polymerized thermoplastic material that is impregnated within the plurality of fiber bundles. In a specific embodiment, the polymerized thermoplastic material is saturated within the thermoplastic prepreg 406 and fully impregnates each fiber bundle, or most fiber bundles, of the plurality of fiber bundles. For example, Fig. 6 illustrates a scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image of a cross section of a centrifugally casted component 600. The image shows cross-section of fiber bundles in a prepreg 604, or fabric reinforcing sheet, that is seamlessly integrated or disposed within a thick wall 602 of the centrifugally casted component 600. The image illustrates that the fiber bundles of the prepreg 604 are fully impregnated or wetted by the polymerized thermoplastic material. Stated differently, the image demonstrates that the prepreg 604 is substantially free of "dry fibers", or fibers that are not wetted or impregnated by the thermoplastic material.

[0028] In other embodiments, the thermoplastic material may partially impregnate the plurality of fiber bundles. In some embodiments, the process of polymerizing the reactive thermoplastic resin may be performed at a temperature which is below the melting temperature of the polymerized thermoplastic material in the prepreg. For example, the anionic polymerization of caprolactam can be carried out at a temperature below the melting point of polyamide-6. In such instances, the caprolactam will polymerize without causing melting of the polyamide-6, which is coated on, and impregnated within, the fiber bundles in a polyamide-6 prepreg. Therefore the rigidity of the thermoplastic prepreg is kept during the centrifugal casting, and the prepreg will not be bunched up like the conventional fabrics.

[0029] Even though the reactive thermoplastic resin may not impregnate the fiber bundles in the thermoplastic prepreg, a seamless bond is created between the polymerized thermoplastic material of the prepreg 406 and the polymerized reactive thermoplastic resin that is used in the centrifugal casting process. The seamless bonding is typically due to the use of the same thermoplastic resin in the prepreg 406 and centrifugal casting. For example, Fig. 5 illustrates a cross sectional image of a centrifugally casted component 500 that includes a thick wall 502 and a prepreg 504 or fabric reinforcing sheet. The image demonstrates that the centrifugally casted component 500 is free of an interface between the pregreg's polymerized thermoplastic material and the component wall's polymerized reactive thermoplastic resin that is centrifugally casted into contact with the prepreg 504. Rather, a seamless transition occurs between these two polymerize materials, which demonstrates the effective bonding of the materials. In contrast to the embodiments herein, the formation of an interface or boundary represents an area where the two materials may delaminate.

[0030] The thermoplastic prepreg 406 extends at least partially along an axial or longitudinal length of the cylindrical shaped main body 402 and also extends circumferentially around the cylindrical shaped main body 402. The thermoplastic prepreg 406 typically extends fully or entirely circumferentially around the main body 402 as illustrated, although in some instances the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may extend only partially around the main body 402 depending on the required application, or any other reason. The thermoplastic prepreg 406 forms a reinforcing layer of fabric or fiber material within the wall 404 of the cylindrical shaped main body 402.

[0031] As illustrated in Fig. 4, there is no significant bunching of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 (i.e., fabric reinforcing sheet) within the wall 404 of the cylindrical shaped main body 402. For example, in contrast to Fig. 3, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 does not include folded sections within the wall 404 and/or around the periphery of the main body 402. In some instances, a single layer of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may be disposed within the wall 404 of the cylindrical shaped main body 402 while in other instances, the multiple layers of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may be disposed within the wall 404.

[0032] As illustrated in Fig. 4, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may be disposed substantially or roughly concentrically within the wall 404 of the main body 402. Stated differently, an axis of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may be aligned or concentric with an axis of the main body 402. In other instances, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may be disposed within the wall so as to have a non-concentric arrangement.

[0033] The thermoplastic prepreg 406 may also be disposed radially inward from the outer wall or surface of the cylindrical shaped main body 402. Specifically, the wall 404 has an inner wall or surface that is defined by a first radius r1 and an outer wall or surface that is defined by a second radius r2. The thermoplastic prepreg 406 is disposed within the wall 404 and has a radius r3. The radius r3 of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may be equivalent with either r1 or r2, such that the thermoplastic prepreg 406 is essentially disposed on the inner or outer surface of the main body 402, respectively, or the radius r3 may be between r1 or r2 so that the thermoplastic prepreg 406 is disposed within the wall 404 between the inner and outer wall surfaces.

[0034] In some instances, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 is positioned within the wall 404 so that the thermoplastic prepreg 406 is axially shorter than a length of the cylindrical shaped main body 402. For example, the main body 402 may have an axial or longitudinal length L1, and the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may have an axial or longitudinal length L2 that is shorter than the length L1 of the main body 402. Because the thermoplastic prepreg's length L2 is shorter than the main body's length L1, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 is disposed within the main body 402 so that at least one axial end or edge of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 is positioned axially inward of an axial end or edge of the main body 402. In some embodiments, both axial ends of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 are positioned axially inward of the respective axial ends of the main body 402.

[0035] This axial shorter arrangement of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 is achieved by positioning the thermoplastic prepreg 406 within the rotational mold with one or both axial ends of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 positioned axially inward of the axial ends of the mold. Stated differently, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may be positioned within the mold so that a gap or clearance exists between one or more lateral edges of the prepreg component and the mold. This axial shorter configuration may aid in forming the reinforced polymer product 400 by allowing the resin material to flow axially around the thermoplastic prepreg 406. For example, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may function as a barrier that impedes or prevents the radial flow or movement of the resin material within the mold. With the thermoplastic prepreg 406 positioned within the mold so that one or both axial ends are axially inward of the mold ends, the resin material is able to flow around the axial ends of the thermoplastic prepreg 406 and behind the thermoplastic prepreg 406.

[0036] In some embodiments, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may include one or more sections that aid in the radial flow of the resin material within the mold. For example, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may include one or more holes (not shown) that allow the resin material to flow through the thermoplastic prepreg 406 during rotational molding. In embodiments that employ sections that aid in radial flow of the resin material through the thermoplastic prepreg 406, the thermoplastic prepreg 406 may be positioned within the mold and the resulting reinforced polymer product 400 with the opposing axial ends roughly aligned with the opposing ends of the mold and the resulting reinforced polymer product 400.

[0037] Although the main body 402 is illustrated in Fig. 4 as having a smooth cylindrical inner and/or outer wall configuration, it should be realized that in many embodiments the inner and/or outer wall of the main body 402 will include various non-cylindrical or smooth configurations. For example, the inner and/or outer wall may include various projections, teeth, flanges, ribs, recesses, and the like. In addition, the opposing axial ends of the main body 402 may include flanges, ribs, teeth, and the like that aid in coupling adjacent sections of tubing and/or serve various other purposes.

[0038] In an exemplary embodiment, a fully-impregnated polyamide-6 prepreg may be used as a reinforcement component in a caprolactam rotational molding process. The resulting product is a reinforced polyamide-6 part. In a liquid molding process with caprolactam, the molding temperature is typically the polymerization temperature of caprolactam (e.g., 160°C), which is well below the melting temperature of the polyamide-6 material in the prepreg. As a result, the net shape of the prepreg is preserved during the molding process, which ensures that the desired fiber orientation and fiber distribution in the molded parts is maintained.

[0039] The full impregnation of the reinforcing fibers in the polyamide-6 prepreg also eliminates the need for additional resin impregnation during the molding process. The full impregnation of the thermoplastic prepreg further ensures the molded part is free of, or otherwise does not include, dry fibers (i.e., fibers which are not wetted or contacted by the thermoplastic material), which may cause degradation in mechanical properties of the molded part. An additional advantage of using polyamide-6 prepreg as the reinforcement for thermoplastic liquid molding of caprolactam is the seamless integration of polyamide-6 in the prepreg and the in-situ polymerized polyamide-6 from liquid molding as illustrated in Fig. 6.

Exemplary Methods



[0040] Illustrated is a method 700 of reinforcing a thermoplastic product.



[0041] At block 710, a fabric reinforcing sheet is positioned within a mold. In some instances, the mold may be a mold associated with a resin injection process, such as a mold used in resin transfer molding. In other instances, the mold may be a centrifugal casting mold. In the centrifugal casting example, the fabric reinforcing sheet may be positioned within the mold so that the fabric reinforcing sheet extends longitudinally along at least a portion of the centrifugal casting mold and circumferentially around an axis of the centrifugal casting mold.

[0042] In either instance, the fabric reinforcing sheet may include a plurality of first fiber bundles that are oriented along a first direction and a polymerized thermoplastic material that is partially or fully impregnated within the plurality of fiber bundles. In some instances, the fabric reinforcing sheet may also include a plurality of second fiber bundles that are oriented along a second direction having an angled orientation relative to the first direction. The polymerized thermoplastic material may be partially or fully impregnated within the plurality of second fiber bundles.

[0043] At block 720, a reactive thermoplastic resin is injected within the mold. In the resin injection embodiments, the reactive thermoplastic resin may be injected atop the fabric reinforcing sheet. In the centrifugal casting embodiments, the reactive thermoplastic resin may be injected so that the reactive thermoplastic resin is centrifugally forced outward within the mold into contact with the fabric reinforcing sheet and an inside wall of the centrifugal casting mold. In either embodiment, the reactive thermoplastic resin may include caprolactam, laurolactam, methyl methacrylate (MMA), cyclic butylene terephthalate (CBT), prepolymer of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), cyclic alkenes, or some combination thereof.

[0044] At block 730, the reactive thermoplastic resin is in-situ polymerized so that the polymerized reactive thermoplastic resin solidifies within the mold. In the centrifugal casting embodiments, the polymerized reactive thermoplastic resin is solidified with the fabric reinforcing sheet disposed within a cylindrical wall of the thermoplastic product and circumferentially around an axis of the thermoplastic product. In either embodiment, the polymerization of the reactive thermoplastic resin may be performed at a temperature below the melting point of the fabric reinforcing sheet's thermoplastic material. For example, the anionic polymerization of caprolactam can be carried out at a temperature below the melting point of polyamide-6. As such, the fabric reinforcing sheet's thermoplastic material may experience minimal or no substantial softening or melting of the thermoplastic material.

[0045] In the centrifugal casting embodiments, the fabric reinforcing sheet may be positioned within the centrifugal casting mold so that a gap exists between opposing axial ends of the fabric reinforcing sheet and opposing axial ends of the centrifugal casting mold. The gap may enable flow of the reactive thermoplastic resin around the opposing axial ends of the fabric reinforcing sheet. The fabric reinforcing sheet may also be disposed radially inward from an outer wall of the thermoplastic product.

[0046] Where a range of values is provided, it is understood that each intervening value, to the tenth of the unit of the lower limit unless the context clearly dictates otherwise, between the upper and lower limits of that range is also specifically disclosed. Each smaller range between any stated value or intervening value in a stated range and any other stated or intervening value in that stated range is encompassed. The upper and lower limits of these smaller ranges may independently be included or excluded in the range, and each range where either, neither or both limits are included in the smaller ranges is also encompassed within the invention, subject to any specifically excluded limit in the stated range. Where the stated range includes one or both of the limits, ranges excluding either or both of those included limits are also included.

[0047] As used herein and in the appended claims, the singular forms "a", "an", and "the" include plural referents unless the context clearly dictates otherwise. Thus, for example, reference to "a process" includes a plurality of such processes and reference to "the device" includes reference to one or more devices and equivalents thereof known to those skilled in the art, and so forth.

[0048] Also, the words "comprise," "comprising," "include," "including," and "includes" when used in this specification and in the following claims are intended to specify the presence of stated features, integers, components, or steps, but they do not preclude the presence or addition of one or more other features, integers, components, steps, acts, or groups.


Claims

1. A reinforced thermoplastic product comprising:

(i) a cylindrical shaped main body (402) formed via centrifugal casting a reactive thermoplastic resin within a mold, the cylindrical shaped main body having a hollow interior and a wall (404) that is formed via polymerization of the reactive thermoplastic resin, the wall having an inner diameter and an outer diameter that define a wall thickness measured radially between the inner and outer diameter; and

(ii) a pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet (406) positioned within the wall (404) of the cylindrical shaped main body (402), the pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet (406) extending at least partially along an axial length of the cylindrical shaped main body (402) and extending circumferentially around the cylindrical shaped main body (402) so as to form a reinforcing layer within the wall (404) of the cylindrical shaped main body (402), the pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet (406) including:

- a plurality of fiber bundles that are oriented along a first direction and a second direction, the second direction having an angled orientation relative to the first direction; and

- a polymerized thermoplastic material that is saturated within the pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet such that the polymerized thermoplastic material fully impregnates each fiber bundle of the plurality of fiber bundles.


 
2. The reinforced thermoplastic product as claimed in claim 1, wherein there is no significant bunching of the pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet within the wall of the cylindrical shaped main body.
 
3. The reinforced thermoplastic product as claimed in claim 1 or 2, wherein a single layer of the pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet is disposed within the wall of the cylindrical shaped main body.
 
4. The reinforced thermoplastic product as claimed in claim 1 or 2, wherein multiple layers of the pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet are disposed within the wall of the cylindrical shaped main body.
 
5. The reinforced thermoplastic product as claimed in one or more of claims 1 to 4, wherein the reactive thermoplastic resin comprises caprolactam, laurolactam, methyl methacrylate (MMA), cyclic butylene terephthalate (CBT), prepolymer of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), or cyclic alkenes.
 
6. The reinforced thermoplastic product as claimed in one or more of claims 1 to 5, wherein the first direction of the fiber bundles is aligned with the axis of the cylindrical shaped main body.
 
7. The reinforced thermoplastic product as claimed in one or more of claims 1 to 6, wherein the pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet is disposed radially inward from the outer wall of the cylindrical shaped main body.
 
8. The reinforced thermoplastic product as claimed in one or more of claims 1 to 7, wherein the pre-impregnated fabric reinforcing sheet is shorter axially than the cylindrical shaped main body.
 
9. A method of reinforcing a thermoplastic product comprising:

(i) positioning a fabric reinforcing sheet within a centrifugal casting mold so that the fabric reinforcing sheet extends longitudinally along at least a portion of the centrifugal casting mold and circumferentially around an axis of the centrifugal casting mold, the fabric reinforcing sheet including:

- a plurality of first fiber bundles that are oriented along a first direction; and

- a polymerized thermoplastic material that is impregnated within the plurality of fiber bundles;

(ii) injecting a reactive thermoplastic resin within the centrifugal casting mold so that the reactive thermoplastic resin is centrifugally forced outward within the mold into contact with the fabric reinforcing sheet and an inside wall of the centrifugal casting mold; and

(iii) polymerizing the reactive thermoplastic resin so that the polymerized reactive thermoplastic resin solidifies with the fabric reinforcing sheet disposed within a wall of the thermoplastic product and circumferentially around an axis of the thermoplastic product.


 
10. The method as claimed in claim 9, wherein the fabric reinforcing sheet is positioned within the centrifugal casting mold so that a gap exists between opposing axial ends of the fabric reinforcing sheet and opposing axial ends of the centrifugal casting mold, the gap enabling flow of the reactive thermoplastic resin around the opposing axial ends of the fabric reinforcing sheet.
 
11. The method as claimed in claim 9 or 10, wherein the reactive thermoplastic resin comprises caprolactam, laurolactam, methyl methacrylate (MMA), cyclic butylene terephthalate (CBT), prepolymer of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), or cyclic alkenes.
 
12. The method as claimed in one or more of claims 9 to 11, wherein the fabric reinforcing sheet is disposed radially inward from an outer wall of the thermoplastic product.
 
13. The method as claimed in one or more of claims 9 to 12, wherein the fabric reinforcing sheet further comprises a plurality of second fiber bundles that are oriented along a second direction having an angled orientation relative to the first direction, and wherein the polymerized thermoplastic material is impregnated within the plurality of second fiber bundles.
 


Ansprüche

1. Verstärktes thermoplastisches Produkt, umfassend:

(i) einen zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörper (402), der durch Schleudergießen eines reaktiven thermoplastischen Harzes innerhalb einer Form gebildet wird, wobei der zylindrisch geformte Hauptkörper einen hohlen Innenraum und eine Wand (404) aufweist, die durch Polymerisation des reaktiven thermoplastischen Harzes gebildet wird, wobei die Wand einen Innendurchmesser und einen Außendurchmesser aufweist, die eine Wandstärke definieren, welche radial zwischen dem Innen- und Außendurchmesser gemessen wird; und

(ii) eine vorimprägnierte Gewebeverstärkungsfolie (406), die innerhalb der Wand (404) des zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörpers (402) angeordnet ist, wobei sich die vorimprägnierte Gewebeverstärkungsfolie (406) zumindest teilweise entlang einer axialen Länge des zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörpers (402) erstreckt und sich in Umfangsrichtung um den zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörper (402) erstreckt, um eine Verstärkungsschicht innerhalb der Wand (404) des zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörpers (402) zu bilden, wobei die vorimprägnierte Gewebeverstärkungsfolie (406) Folgendes umfasst:

- eine Vielzahl von Faserbündeln, die entlang einer ersten Richtung und einer zweiten Richtung ausgerichtet sind, wobei die zweite Richtung relativ zur ersten Richtung eine abgewinkelte Ausrichtung aufweist; und

- ein polymerisiertes thermoplastisches Material, das in der vorimprägnierten Gewebeverstärkungsfolie gesättigt ist, derart, dass das polymerisierte thermoplastische Material jedes Faserbündel der Vielzahl von Faserbündeln vollständig imprägniert.


 
2. Verstärktes thermoplastisches Produkt nach Anspruch 1, wobei keine signifikante Bündelung der vorimprägnierten Gewebeverstärkungsfolie innerhalb der Wand des zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörpers vorliegt.
 
3. Verstärktes thermoplastisches Produkt nach Anspruch 1 oder 2, wobei innerhalb der Wand des zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörpers eine einzelne Schicht der vorimprägnierten Gewebeverstärkungsfolie angeordnet ist.
 
4. Verstärktes thermoplastisches Produkt nach Anspruch 1 oder 2, wobei innerhalb der Wand des zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörpers mehrere Schichten der vorimprägnierten Gewebeverstärkungsfolie angeordnet sind.
 
5. Verstärktes thermoplastisches Produkt nach einem oder mehreren der Ansprüche 1 bis 4, wobei das reaktive thermoplastische Harz Caprolactam, Laurolactam, Methylmethacrylat (MMA), cyclisches Butylenterephthalat (CBT), ein Präpolymer von thermoplastischem Polyurethan (TPU) oder cyclische Alkene umfasst.
 
6. Verstärktes thermoplastisches Produkt nach einem oder mehreren der Ansprüche 1 bis 5, wobei die erste Richtung der Faserbündel zur Achse des zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörpers ausgerichtet ist.
 
7. Verstärktes thermoplastisches Produkt nach einem oder mehreren der Ansprüche 1 bis 6, wobei die vorimprägnierte Gewebeverstärkungsfolie radial von der Außenwand des zylindrisch geformten Hauptkörpers nach innen angeordnet ist.
 
8. Verstärktes thermoplastisches Produkt nach einem oder mehreren der Ansprüche 1 bis 7, wobei die vorimprägnierte Gewebeverstärkungsfolie axial kürzer ist als der zylindrisch geformte Hauptkörper.
 
9. Verfahren zum Verstärken eines thermoplastischen Produkts, umfassend:

(i) Positionieren einer Gewebeverstärkungsfolie innerhalb einer Schleudergussform, derart, dass sich die Gewebeverstärkungsfolie in Längsrichtung entlang mindestens eines Abschnitts der Schleudergussform und in Umfangsrichtung um eine Achse der Schleudergussform erstreckt, wobei die Gewebeverstärkungsfolie Folgendes umfasst:

- eine Vielzahl von ersten Faserbündeln, die entlang einer ersten Richtung ausgerichtet sind; und

- ein polymerisiertes thermoplastisches Material, das innerhalb der Vielzahl von Faserbündeln imprägniert ist;

(ii) Einspritzen eines reaktiven thermoplastischen Harzes in die Schleudergussform, derart, dass das reaktive thermoplastische Harz innerhalb der Form zentrifugal nach außen gedrückt wird, um mit der Gewebeverstärkungsfolie und einer Innenwand der Schleudergussform in Kontakt zu kommen; und

(iii) Polymerisieren des reaktiven thermoplastischen Harzes, derart, dass sich das polymerisierte reaktive thermoplastische Harz mit der Gewebeverstärkungsfolie, die in einer Wand des thermoplastischen Produkts und in Umfangsrichtung um eine Achse des thermoplastischen Produkts angeordnet ist, verfestigt.


 
10. Verfahren nach Anspruch 9, wobei die Gewebeverstärkungsfolie innerhalb der Schleudergussform derart angeordnet ist, dass ein Spalt zwischen gegenüberliegenden axialen Enden der Gewebeverstärkungsfolie und gegenüberliegenden axialen Enden der Schleudergussform besteht, wobei der Spalt das Fließen des reaktives thermoplastisches Harz um die gegenüberliegenden axialen Enden der Gewebeverstärkungsfolie ermöglicht.
 
11. Verfahren nach Anspruch 9 oder 10 wobei das reaktive thermoplastische Harz Caprolactam, Laurolactam, Methylmethacrylat (MMA), cyclisches Butylenterephthalat (CBT), ein Präpolymer von thermoplastischem Polyurethan (TPU) oder cyclische Alkene umfasst.
 
12. Verfahren nach einem oder mehreren der Ansprüche 9 bis 11, wobei die Gewebeverstärkungsfolie radial von einer Außenwand des thermoplastischen Produkts nach innen angeordnet ist.
 
13. Verfahren nach einem oder mehreren der Ansprüche 9 bis 12, wobei die Gewebeverstärkungsfolie ferner eine Vielzahl von zweiten Faserbündeln umfasst, die entlang einer zweiten Richtung mit einer abgewinkelten Ausrichtung relativ zur ersten Richtung ausgerichtet sind, und wobei das polymerisierte thermoplastische Material innerhalb der Vielzahl von zweiten Faserbündeln imprägniert ist.
 


Revendications

1. Produit thermoplastique renforcé comprenant:

(i) un corps principal de forme cylindrique (402) formé par coulée centrifuge d'une résine thermoplastique réactive dans un moule, le corps principal de forme cylindrique ayant un intérieur creux et une paroi (404) qui est formée par la polymérisation de la résine thermoplastique réactive, la paroi ayant un diamètre intérieur et un diamètre extérieur qui définit une épaisseur de paroi mesurée radialement entre le diamètre intérieur et extérieur; et

(ii) une feuille de renfort en tissu pré-impregné (406) positionnée dans la paroi (404) du corps principal de forme cylindrique (402), la feuille de renfort en tissu pré-impregné (406) s'étendant au moins partiellement le long d'une longueur axiale du corps principal de forme cylindrique (402) et s'étendant sur circonférence autour le corps principal de forme cylindrique (402) pour former une couche de renfort dans la paroi (404) du corps principal de forme cylindrique (402), la feuille de renfort en tissu pré-impregné (406) incluant:

- une pluralité de premiers faisceaux de fibres qui sont orientés le long d'une première direction et d'une seconde direction, la seconde direction ayant une orientation inclinée relative à la première direction; et

- un matériau thermoplastique polymérisé qui est saturé dans la feuille de renfort en tissu pré-impregné de sorte que le matériau thermoplastique polymérisé fait imprégner complètement chaque faisceau de fibres de la pluralité de faisceaux de fibres.


 
2. Produit thermoplastique renforcé selon la revendication 1, où il n'y a pas de groupage significatif de la feuille de renfort en tissu pré-impregné dans la paroi du corps principal de forme cylindrique.
 
3. Produit thermoplastique renforcé selon la revendication 1 ou 2, où une seule couche de la feuille de renfort en tissu pré-impregné est disposée dans la paroi du corps principal de forme cylindrique.
 
4. Produit thermoplastique renforcé selon la revendication 1 ou 2, où des couches multiples de la feuille de renfort en tissu pré-impregné sont disposées dans la paroi du corps principal de forme cylindrique.
 
5. Produit thermoplastique renforcé selon l'une ou plusieurs des revendications 1 à 4, où la résine thermoplastique réactive comprend du caprolactame, du laurolactame, du méthacrylate de méthyle (MMA), du téréphtalate de butylène cyclique (CBT), du prépolymère de polyuréthane thermoplastique (TPU), ou des alcènes cycliques.
 
6. Produit thermoplastique renforcé selon l'une ou plusieurs des revendications 1 à 5, où la première direction des faisceaux de fibres est alignée avec l'axe du corps principal de forme cylindrique.
 
7. Produit thermoplastique renforcé selon l'une ou plusieurs des revendications 1 à 6, où la feuille de renfort en tissu pré-impregné est disposée radialement vers l'intérieur de la paroi extérieure du corps principal de forme cylindrique.
 
8. Produit thermoplastique renforcé selon l'une ou plusieurs des revendications 1 à 7, où la feuille de renfort en tissu pré-impregné est plus courte axialement que le corps principal de forme cylindrique.
 
9. Procédé de renforcement un produit thermoplastique comprenant:

(i) positionner une feuille de renfort en tissu dans un moule de coulée centrifuge de sorte que la feuille de renfort en tissu s'étend longitudinalement le long d'au moins une partie du moule de coulée centrifuge et sur circonférence autour un axe du moule de coulée centrifuge, la feuille de renfort en tissu incluant:

- une pluralité de premiers faisceaux de fibres qui sont orientés le long d'une première direction; et

- un matériau thermoplastique polymérisé qui est imprégné dans la pluralité de faisceaux de fibres;

(ii) injecter une résine thermoplastique réactive dans le moule de coulée centrifuge de sorte que la résine thermoplastique réactive soit forcée par centrifugation vers l'extérieur dans le moule en contact avec la feuille de renfort en tissu et une paroi intérieure du moule de coulée centrifuge; et

(iii) polymériser la résine thermoplastique réactive de sorte que la résine thermoplastique réactive polymérisée se solidifie avec la feuille de renfort en tissu disposée dans une paroi du produit thermoplastique et sur circonférence autour un axe du produit thermoplastique.


 
10. Procédé selon la revendication 9, où la feuille de renfort en tissu est positionnée dans le moule de coulée centrifuge de sorte qu'il existe un espace entre les extrémités axiales opposées de la feuille de renfort en tissu et les extrémités axiales opposées du moule de coulée centrifuge, l'espace permettant l'écoulement de la résine thermoplastique réactive autour les extrémités axiales opposées de la feuille de renfort en tissu.
 
11. Procédé selon la revendication 9 ou 10, où la résine thermoplastique réactive comprend du caprolactame, du laurolactame, du méthacrylate de méthyle (MMA), du téréphtalate de butylène cyclique (CBT), du prépolymère de polyuréthane thermoplastique (TPU), ou des alcènes cycliques.
 
12. Procédé selon l'une ou plusieurs des revendications 9 à 11, où la feuille de renfort en tissu est disposée radialement vers l'intérieur d'une paroi extérieure du produit thermolastique.
 
13. Procédé selon l'une ou plusieurs des revendications 9 à 12, où la feuille de renfort en tissu comprend de plus une pluralité de seconds faisceaux de fibres qui sont orientés le long d'une seconde direction ayant une orientation inclinée rélative à la première direction, et où le matériau thermoplastique polymérisé est imprégné dans la pluralité de seconds faisceaux de fibres.
 




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Cited references

REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

Patent documents cited in the description