With increasing interest in the use of natural fibres, quality characterization is now needed to provide benchmarks and uniform standards in order to use the abundance of natural fibre products in niche and higher value markets. Natural fibres are inexpensive, biodegradable and easily recyclable, leave no waste, and are readily available throughout Canada.
Dr. Hayder Salem, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Mechanical Engineering at UBC, along with Professor James Olson, P.Eng. in collaboration with the Composites Innovation Centre Manitoba Inc. (CIC) have designed and built a proprietary instrument that will be used for testing different mechanical and physical properties of natural fibres used in composite material applications in industries such as the automotive, aviation and manufacturing industries.
The project is focused on providing more accurate, consistent and high throughput data in comparison to the current manual testing approaches that are available. Because this unique instrument is automated, it is much faster, it allows for repeat testing of samples, and provides excellent and uniform results and data. Currently the team is using flax, hemp, jute and kenaf natural fibres that they source from the Canadian prairies.
The first prototype was built at the Pulp and Paper Centre and is capable of measuring the diameter for different types of natural fibres and complies with ASTM standards for testing flax fibres. A sample can be tested in less than one minute because a special mechanism was designed to comb the fibres and prepare them for optical imaging by a high-resolution camera.
The next step is to further develop the instrument so that it is capable of testing other natural fiber physical properties such as fibre colors, fineness, length and strength, as well shive and dust contents. Once complete, the team hopes the unique instrument will provide uniform standards various industries can rely on.
The Composites Innovation Centre Manitoba Inc. (CIC) is a not-for-profit corporation that supports and stimulates economic growth through innovative research, development and the application of composite materials and technologies for manufacturing industries. Physical property tests can help clients make the right choice when selecting new processes and improving existing ones. Composite fabrication success demands knowledge of key physical properties and CIC provides complete testing services to ensure parts will perform as they are intended to.