The first part of this paper characterizes the effect of tooling and process parameters such as the length of distribution media used in vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) of composite laminates. To achieve this goal, a number of 6-ply, woven carbon fiber/epoxy laminates are fabricated by using various lengths of distribution media. The spatial variations of mechanical properties of these laminates are characterized using a three-point bending fixture. It is shown that for relatively thinner laminates, extending the distribution media degrades the flexural properties by as much as 14%, possibly due to air pockets entrapped during through-the-thickness impregnation of the fibrous fabric. In the second part, a minimum distribution media length is used to investigate the mechanical property and microstructure changes due to multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWNTs) dispersed in the composite laminates. In addition, effects of different nanotube functionalization and morphology are characterized via scanning electron microscopy and optical microscopy. To achieve adequate nanotube dispersion in the epoxy resin, both tip sonication and mechanical mixing have been used. The effect of sonication time on the dispersion of nanotubes is reported by monitoring the temporal changes in the nanotube cluster size. Even at volume fractions less than 1%, almost 10% improvements in flexural properties is observed. Extensive void formations are reported for laminates containing MWNTs, possibly preventing greater improvements in mechanical properties.

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