(New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

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Re: (New?) Carbon Fiber Panel Construction Technique

Postby StrongFeather » Sat Apr 13, 2019 8:30 pm

UPDATE TIME...
Sorry it's been so long. I've been churnin' and burnin', making panels for several weeks now and didn't really have much to say. In the mold right now is the last 60" piece, which means the bulk of the wall panels are done, leaving the roof (which will be the most challenging) and the 8 small panels that will go above and below the 4 (2 cabin and 2 v-nose) doors - oh, and the doors themselves. Still a lot of panel making left, but at least I'll be able to work on something else soon.

REFLECTION...
This technique is time consuming, a lot of work, and yes, it's expensive. I'm glad that I'm doing it and I believe the juice will be worth the squeeze in the end, but would I do it again? Probably not unless I could dramatically reduce the number of panels needed to make a trailer.

:beer:
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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby Atomic77 » Tue Apr 16, 2019 3:39 pm

StrongFeather wrote:UPDATE TIME...
Sorry it's been so long. I've been churnin' and burnin', making panels for several weeks now and didn't really have much to say. In the mold right now is the last 60" piece, which means the bulk of the wall panels are done, leaving the roof (which will be the most challenging) and the 8 small panels that will go above and below the 4 (2 cabin and 2 v-nose) doors - oh, and the doors themselves. Still a lot of panel making left, but at least I'll be able to work on something else soon.

REFLECTION...
This technique is time consuming, a lot of work, and yes, it's expensive. I'm glad that I'm doing it and I believe the juice will be worth the squeeze in the end, but would I do it again? Probably not unless I could dramatically reduce the number of panels needed to make a trailer.


Steve
Good times in the lay-up shop! Hopefully it will all be worth it in the end. Since you have an understanding of the process, I'll share a couple pix from the race shop. I think you can relate! Keep up the good work!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

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Image

Michael

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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby StrongFeather » Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:18 am

That’s pretty awesome, Michael. Here’s a bigger view of my shop...
http://wpcore.wpe.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-c ... 00x225.jpg

Seriously though, working on high-end, high-performance parts like that (on someone else’s dime) would be really cool. Not to mention the engine, controls and all the other mechanical stuff on the boat.

Steve


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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby Atomic77 » Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:20 am

StrongFeather wrote:That’s pretty awesome, Michael. Here’s a bigger view of my shop...
http://wpcore.wpe.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-c ... 00x225.jpg

Seriously though, working on high-end, high-performance parts like that (on someone else’s dime) would be really cool. Not to mention the engine, controls and all the other mechanical stuff on the boat.

Steve


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Always better with someone else's money!! Nice shop!

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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby StrongFeather » Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:33 am

Unfortunately the shop picture was a joke. But the scale of the layup on a turbine blade is enormous.


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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby Atomic77 » Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:38 am

StrongFeather wrote:Unfortunately the shop picture was a joke. But the scale of the layup on a turbine blade is enormous.


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Yes it's insane really. We had a bag once that was over 20' and that was crazy. Just measuring out all the epoxy was a challenge

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Re: (New?) Carbon Fiber Panel Construction Technique

Postby Aguyfromohio » Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:18 am

StrongFeather wrote:UPDATE TIME...


...REFLECTION...
This technique is time consuming, a lot of work, and yes, it's expensive. I'm glad that I'm doing it and I believe the juice will be worth the squeeze in the end, but would I do it again? Probably not unless I could dramatically reduce the number of panels needed to make a trailer.

:beer:
Steve


I had a similar experience with structural insulated panels. I've worked for decades in manufacturing including one project in the RV industry. When we understand the techniques people use in a manufacturing plant, it's very tempting to try to use them in our home built projects. It's pretty hard to make even small amounts of tools and jigs and fixtures, and the small space of a home shop is an obstacle. The simpler and older craftsman techniques of stick build are much easier to get done working alone in a small home shop.

For weight and strength people around here love to say "think airplane, not tank".
A similar idea for building methods might say "think Amish hand crafted, not factory manufactured"
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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby StrongFeather » Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:16 pm

I totally agree. The other mantra that I see around here on occasion says something like “you’ll regret money that you don’t spend today but you’ll never regret the money that you do spend”, e.g. pay a little more for a 2500watt generator and you won’t regret it, but buy the 2000watt generator and you’ll kick yourself every time the air conditioner turns on. I think the same goes for labor/effort.

Although this has turned out to be more work (and money) then I anticipated, I’m loving it (most of the time) and I quickly forget the labor that I’m putting into the panels. I’m the kind of guy that always needs a project, and I tend to do crazy things like build an in ground pool on my own, and turn our air conditioner into a pool heater on my own, etc... I’m really looking forward to starting wall assembly, hopefully this weekend. It will be a welcome change of pace.

Cheers!
Steve


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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby mkeogh » Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:56 pm

StrongFeather wrote:
Turned out to be more work (and money) then I anticipated...


With my projects I usually find this to be the case, maybe I'm a bit too optimistic. I'm kicking around the idea of fab'ing up panels like you.
Just wondering, is there any specific step that is most time consuming... like reconfiguring molds, preparing molds for release, etc.? Any tips for how to go faster... like standardizing panel sizes, a slightly different layup and release process, etc.? Also, what makes it more expensive than you anticipated? Is it material costs or equipment investment, etc.?

Thanks for sharing your progress. I'll be following your build for sure!

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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby Xanthoman » Thu Apr 18, 2019 12:27 am

Michael's work is obviously in an oven and follows the prescriptive cycling temperatures. Michael, what size is that beauty? Steve, are you doing room-temp cures? I can't imagine (well I can...but...) you built an oven for the panels. I'm excited for the next phase. Hope the last panels keep going well!
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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby Atomic77 » Thu Apr 18, 2019 7:56 am

Xanthoman wrote:Michael's work is obviously in an oven and follows the prescriptive cycling temperatures. Michael, what size is that beauty? Steve, are you doing room-temp cures? I can't imagine (well I can...but...) you built an oven for the panels. I'm excited for the next phase. Hope the last panels keep going well!
16' Wide and 30' Long. 3000hp

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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby StrongFeather » Thu Apr 18, 2019 11:11 pm

Atomic77 wrote:3000hp

:shock: Awesome!!! I'm a total gear head at heart, so I love hp and machines in general.

Xanthoman wrote:Steve, are you doing room-temp cures? I can't imagine (well I can...but...) you built an oven for the panels. I'm excited for the next phase. Hope the last panels keep going well!

I briefly considered building an oven until I found a concrete curing blanket sitting in a corner at work. I think it's 1000watts and heats up to around 140°F, which is perfect. The epoxy can be cured at 165°F for 4 hours for an accelerated cure, or 24 hours at room temp, so the blanket really does save a lot of time. It's 20' long, so my mold (glass) lays on top of it and after I infuse, I just throw the other half over the top. It has really worked great through the cold winter days/nights, otherwise it would take a few days to cure at those temperatures. I have a rotary timer that shuts it off when I'm sleeping. Very happy with this setup, but I'm glad I didn't have to buy the blanket - I think it's about $1,000.

mkeogh wrote:With my projects I usually find this to be the case, maybe I'm a bit too optimistic. I'm kicking around the idea of fab'ing up panels like you.
Just wondering, is there any specific step that is most time consuming... like reconfiguring molds, preparing molds for release, etc.? Any tips for how to go faster... like standardizing panel sizes, a slightly different layup and release process, etc.? Also, what makes it more expensive than you anticipated? Is it material costs or equipment investment, etc.?

The answers to your questions can be pretty complicated, M, so I'll try to answer them all as simply as I can. The bulk of the extra cost for the panels has been in the resin. I calculated that the project would take 4-5 gallons and purchased 6 gallons to start (1 gallon was specifically for prototyping and excess). I ended up ordering another 5 gallons later, which should be more than enough to get me through the entire project. Calculating the resin that will be consumed by the part (the panel) is relatively easy - calculating the waste that is consumed by the peel ply, flow media, tubing, etc... not so easy, especially for a rookie like me. And at ~$100 per gallon, the cost adds up fast. There's a good chance that I'll run short on other things as I get closer to the finish line, so I'm anticipating another order before I finish. My "big" initial order was around $2,000, not including the resin, so I'm over $3,000 into the panels alone. That number will probably make some people faint, but it's not about the money for me. I wanted the challenge and I wanted to do something nobody else has done before.

Making things quicker and cheaper can be summed up in one simple answer: make fewer, larger panels, rather than more, smaller panels. So how, you ask? Well, the limiting factor is the fabric width. Most suppliers sell CF in 50" wide rolls, but you can find it 60" wide. It takes about 9" of extra fabric to wrap up and over the frame (both sides), so if you use 60" fabric, and your walls are 51" tall, and you have a long enough piece of glass, and long enough aluminum mold frame material, you could make your side walls in one piece. That wasn't an option for me because my camper has to sleep 5 and is 60" tall. Having standard panel sizes would speed things up a little, e.g. 3, 3' panels for a 9' long trailer, but re configuring the mold really isn't that time consuming in the grand scheme of things. You could, however, make the walls first and then cut out the door openings after the fact and use manufactured doors to speed things up a little. I'm making my own doors, which means I have to make 8 extra panels (4 headers and 4 footers) plus 2 cabin doors, 2 v-nose doors and the rear hatch.

Not only does each panel take about 1 day to make, it also uses consumables, which increases cost. Consider the MTI tubing and gum tape, which are both used around the perimeter of the mold. If you make 1, 4'x4' panel, you have 16' of perimeter (and you can make the panel in a day), but if you make 4, 2'x2' panels, you'll double the perimeter consumables for the same square footage and quadruple the time needed to make them. You'll also use more of everything else (bagging film, flow media, CF fabric, resin...). So, making more, larger panels vs. fewer, smaller panels is the key to saving time and cost.

Another way to save some time and money would be to skip the clear coat and hope that the "UV stable" epoxy won't eventually turn chalky. I wouldn't recommend that. The other option would be to spray the entire trailer after it's built.

Random thoughts...
60" cloth in my case wold have only created more waste in my case, so I went with 50" cloth. I also splurged for a process called Web-Lock, which I believe is a proprietary process from Composite Envision. If you've ever worked with CF, or even FG, you know how unstable the cloth is if you stretch or pull it, or if it snags. With Web-Lock, you can stretch the hell out of it and it goes right back to it's original pattern. I'm so glad that I spent the extra $$ on it.

Another option that would probably work and would be considerably cheaper and faster would be to just get a sheet of glass to make CF plates (or buy them) and just epoxy your framework onto the plates.

One thing that I do to speed up the process is to pre-cut pieces for the next panel(s) while the current panel is curing. This doesn't work as well during the week because by the time I get to the point that the part is curing, I'm ready to wind down for the night.

If I haven't said so already, I'm using AdTech Marine 820 epoxy.

And the last random thought for the night... The 9 inches of extra fabric to wrap around the frame... 1" up the outside, 1/2" across the top, 1" down the inside, and 2" minimum back towards the middle of the panel = 4.5"... double that for the other side. A picture would explain it a lot better, but since this is just a random thought, I guess you'll have to imagine it for yourself.

Please feel free to ask more questions.

:beer:
Steve
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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby mkeogh » Sun Apr 21, 2019 10:45 pm

That's a treasure trove of information, thanks for answering my questions in such detail! I'm sure I'll have more on this topic or in your build journal.

I imagine I'll take a similar approach to my build - not necessarily the same exact type of build, but it'll be in keeping with the spirit of pioneering, exploring, likely spending too much money but doing something cool and satisfying (and quality, can't skimp on materials or workmanship.)

Didn't realize epoxy was so expensive! I work for a construction chemicals company... I might have to check into discounts or snag some old product that's going to waste anyways

Cheers,
M

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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby TomMaj » Mon Apr 22, 2019 3:13 pm

WOW I just read the whole thread... Amazing.

As someone who had done plenty of composite work for the Navy and NASA, I salute you !

No way would I do this if I'm not getting paid... I lost track of how many days I had to leave work early because the itch was so bad. Even with Tyvek coveralls and masks.

Just one note/ question. Why are you limiting yourself to the width of the fabric? Is it for looks only ?
The lab I work for has done lots of strength testing and you really don't lose any strength in overlapping/splicing fabric. Some of the layups we've done were 22 layers of cf cloth with many overlap splices and different weave angles.

Again- my hat's off to you!

Tom
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Re: (New?) Composite Panel Construction Technique

Postby StrongFeather » Mon Apr 22, 2019 6:50 pm

Thanks, Tom, and welcome to the conversation.

I find that things are so much more fun when you’re the one writing the check.

What part of the process causes you to itch? I have yet to experience any skin irritations. Back aches and sore fingers, certainly, but thankfully no itching.

It really is funny how quickly the memories of churning out panels goes away. I finished up the last of the wall pieces (minus the doors) on Saturday and I’m sitting here thinking it really wasn’t that bad.

Yes, the reason for the width limitation is purely cosmetic. One could certainly spray a gelcoat into the mold, instead of a clear, and overlap the fabric for a larger panel. It would save a ton of time and money. I just don’t think I would have been happy with that, personally. You could even get creative and spray a clear, lay in some cut vinyl graphics, then gelcoat, and then layup your cloth. I think that would be pretty cool.


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