Effects of thermal cycling on thermal expansionand mechanical properties of SiC fibre-reinforced reaction-bonded Si3N4 composites

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Thermal expansion curves for SiC fibre-reinforced reaction-bonded Si3N4 matrix composites (SiC/RBSN) and unreinforced RBSN were measured from 25 to 1400 °C in nitrogen and in oxygen. The effects of fibre/matrix bonding and cycling on the thermal expansion curves and room-temperature tensile properties of unidirectional composites were determined. The measured thermal expansion curves were compared with those predicted from composite theory. Predicted thermal expansion curves parallel to the fibre direction were between the measured curves for the strongly- and weakly-bonded composites, but those normal to the fibre direction for both bonding cases were similar to that of the unreinforced RBSN. Thermal cycling in nitrogen for both bonding cases resulted in no net dimensional changes at room temperature and no loss in tensile properties from the as-fabricated condition. In contrast, thermal cycling in oxygen for both composites caused volume expansion primarily due to internal oxidation of RBSN. Cyclic oxidation affected the mechanical properties of the weakly-bonded SiC/RBSN composites the most, resulting in loss of strain capability beyond matrix fracture and catastrophic, brittle fracture. Increased bonding between the SiC fibre and RBSN matrix due to oxidation of the carbon-rich fibre surface coating and an altered residual stress pattern in the composite due to internal oxidation of the matrix are the main reasons for the poor mechanical performance of these composites.

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