The capabilities of specialized elastomeric tooling (SET), a low-cost and low-energy autoclave alternative for consolidating and curing thermoset and thermoplastic composite parts made of “prepreg” material, are expanded to allow vacuum infusion of dry fiber preforms through a simple demonstration project. In this case, SET was designed to allow vacuum infusion of a flat five-ply, woven carbon fiber preform with epoxy resin, consolidate under uniform pressure in a press, and thermally cure while still under load. As expected, parts made using this process were thinner, showed slight increases in stiffness and strength, and had less surface voids as consolidation pressure was increased. Curing temperature/time has no significant effect on part quality. This expanded SET process was further characterized through a full-factorial set of experiments with replicates and quality metrics measured, such as stiffness, strength, surface roughness, and composite volume fractions. Future work will include the design and fabrication of tooling for a realistic part shape.

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