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Syntactic foam sandwich meets demand for light, strong materials

17 July 2015

A team of US researchers reports success in pioneering tests of a layered material comprising a lightweight metal matrix syntactic foam core.

Composite material sandwiches a layer of lightweight metal matrix syntactic foam between two carbon fabric layers (image: NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering)

Conventional metal foams have gas-filled pores within the metal, which reduce weight but pose some drawbacks, such as difficulty in controlling the size and shape of the pores during manufacturing. By contrast, metal matrix syntactic foams incorporate porosity in their foam-like structure by means of hollow particles.

In recent years there has been an upsurge in the use of these materials, mainly because of their compressive strength. However, bending strength was a limitation for many potential applications, notably automotive structures.

Metallic foams have previously been sandwiched between two stiff sheets, which provide increased flexural strength while the foam core allows the material to withstand large deformation and absorb energy. But Nikhil Gupta, a New York University School of Engineering associate professor, and his colleagues are believed to be the first to develop a metal matrix syntactic foam core sandwich composite.

Their study focused on an aluminium alloy filled with hollow alumina particles sandwiched with carbon fabric face-sheets. The researchers discovered that the resulting layered material reduced weight but also increased stiffness and offered high energy absorption. These qualities make the metal matrix syntactic foam sandwich attractive for automotive floor board panels and other applications in which bending properties are important.

"This work could result in a new generation of ships and ground vehicles for both the military and civilian sectors," says Gupta. "Trains can also benefit from the lightweight and high energy absorbing panels made possible by the new sandwich composite."

For this study, Nikhil Gupta worked with the Toledo, Ohio based company, Deep Springs Technology and the US Army Research Laboratory. An article describing their work is published in Materials Science and Engineering: A.

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