Why Overcoming the Unique Challenges of CMC Is a Necessity


Composite material manufacturers making ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) face some unique challenges that don’t apply to more traditional composite materials. The industry is working to overcome those unique challenges of cmc with the goal of designing and developing tougher and more resilient composites for a variety of industries.

Companies like Axiom Materials must continue innovating to overcome the challenges. Why? Because the future demands it. As humanity embarks on a new era of space exploration, CMCs will play a critical role. CMCs will also drive the future of power generation, commercial flight, defense, and more.

The Basics of CMCs

CMCs are composite materials formed by combining ceramic fibers with ceramic matrices. They are extremely strong and tough materials designed primarily for high-performance applications at high temperatures. CFM International’s LEAP engine is the perfect example. CMCs allow it to run at temperatures of up to 1,300°C with a third of the density of other materials.

For aerospace applications, composite material manufacturers prefer CMCs because they perform better than more conventional composites. They are lighter, they have a higher fracture toughness, and they offer better thermal shock resistance and brittle failure properties.

The Challenges of CMC Manufacturing

Despite CMC’s desirable properties, manufacturing does have its challenges. It is a type of composite manufacturing that requires a high degree of specialization supported by experienced people with the right knowledge. Do it right and the results are amazing.

Here are some of the challenges composite materials companies face:

  • Production Times – CMC manufacturing tends to require multiple high-temperature thermal cycles to achieve the right properties. Unfortunately, this adds to production time. CMC manufacturing can take quite a bit longer.
  • Fiber Orientation – In additive manufacturing (AM) processes, ceramic fibers can only be oriented in the X-Y plane. This limits the ability to create complex architectures.
  • Quality Control – AM processes also make CMCs prone to excess porosity and surface cracks. This is one of the biggest challenges in CMC manufacturing.
  • Knowledge Gap – CMC manufacturing can be quite complex. Right now, there is a knowledge gap in our industry. We need more people with the knowledge and skills to do it right.

None of this is to say that composite material manufacturers are struggling to produce high quality CMCs. Manufacturers are keeping up. They are producing some fantastic results. Likewise, composite suppliers are still able to meet the CMC demands of their customers. But as we move forward into the future, manufacturers and suppliers need to be able to ramp things up.

Better Manufacturing Processes

At the forefront of overcoming the challenges inherent in CMC manufacturing is a determined focus on developing better manufacturing processes. For example, our industry is constantly looking to design new processes that limit excess silicon formation and volatilization. A better process will ultimately mean less matrix cracking.

We also need better processes that can either reduce or eliminate the need for environmental barrier coatings. Better and more cost-efficient manufacturing will allow us to push the envelope in the search for new and better fibers in matrices.

Pressing Full Ahead

Although CMC manufacturing does have its challenges, those challenges are not slowing our industry down. Composite materials companies and suppliers are pressing full speed ahead to find innovative solutions to every challenge we face. As we find and apply those solutions, CMCs will only get better.

Tomorrow’s CMCs will pave the way for new space exploration. They will open the door to new defense capabilities. They will improve commercial aviation, high performance automotive manufacturing, energy production, and so much more. We cannot wait to see how it all plays out.

As a global leader in CMCs, we are proud to say that we have spent years developing processes and strategies for making the most of CMC manufacturing. At Axiom, it’s all in a day’s work for our team.