In an effort to improve our composite resin technology, we have been developing some new systems that we have been using with much success in our Mold and Casting Shop. One of the new developments is an epoxy system for vacuum infusion.
The vacuum infusion process is an advanced composite fabrication process where a composite structure is laid up dry with all the fibers and core materials needed to complete the part. The composite is then subjected to vacuum, and once the fabricator is happy with the setup while under vacuum, resin is then infused, or drawn in. This process gives the fabricator all the time he, or she, needs to make any adjustments to the part before it is subjected to resin; while normally once one starts a project by doing a wet layup and/or vacuum bagging process, the fabricator cannot stop the process and has little room for error and corrections. The vacuum infusion process also allows for a stronger part, as just the right amount of resin is drawn in and dispersed evenly throughout the part. Thus soft spots and resin rich areas are eliminated.
To test the new epoxy infusion system, we made a new hatch cover for the sailboat, Skidmarks (Skidmarks is part of the T-10 one design class of sailboats, which is currently the largest keelboat race fleet in Chicago). Considering the boat is 26 years old and recently just had a massive deck restoration, we replaced the original wooden hatch cover with a fashionable carbon fiber hatch cover.
Why did we choose to build a composite? Composites have been around for decades. Using this technology, the physical characteristics of almost any part or building component can be engineered. When compared to wood, steel, high density plastics and other building materials, composites out perform for strength, light-weight, energy efficiency, low maintenance and long service life. In this case we built a carbon-fiber composite hatch cover simply because it is a stylish improvement.
- Using the dimensions of the hatch, we made a mock-up template of the hatch cover to cut and layout the composite materials.
- We then set the composite materials, along with a decal of the team’s logo, on a sheet of polycarbonate. After that, the part was vacuum bagged and the resin was infused and hardened.
- The final product was then removed and trimmed of excess fiber.
- The new hatch fits the style of the boat. And as the crew’s motto goes, “Sail fast and leave a mark!”