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Processing of Thermoset Composites

Processing of thermosets is completely different to that for the other two polymer types, with the filler having to be added to the pre-polymerized monomer, rather than the polymer itself. This means they are added to a relatively low viscosity, often liquid, phase, where the high shear that helps dispersion in other polymer types is missing. On the other hand, the processing causes less damage to the filler particles, which means that thermosets are more able to use fillers such as mica, wollastonite, and glass fibers. It is also easier to incorporate hard fillers, such as crystalline silicas, and temperature-sensitive ones like cellulosics, than it is with other polymers. Thermoset polymers are also able to tolerate larger particle size fillers and higher addition levels.

In addition, most thermosets are quite polar, which means that they can wet and interact well with many types of fillers, especially minerals like carbonates. This reduces the need for surface-modifying species, but dispersants and coupling agents may still be utilized, especially with siliceous fillers. Coupling agents are also often used to help property retention under adverse environmental conditions rather than to improve initial properties.

The addition of particulates can significantly increase pre-cure resin viscosity making molding difficult and special methods have to be adopted when very high

Table 1 The main filled thermoset composites in commercial use


Main particulate fillers used in thermosets and primary purpose


Unsaturated polyester resin (UPR)

Natural CaCO3 - cost saving and processing

Aluminum hydroxide (ATH) - flame retardancy and aesthetics (solid surfaces)

Talc - stiffness without glass fiber

Addition levels can be quite high and particulates are often used in conjunction with glass fibers

Urea and melamine formaldehyde

Wood flour - cost saving


Alumina, magnesia, natural aluminosilicates - improved thermal conductivity

crystalline silicas - abrasion resistance

Thermal conductivity is an important requirement in some applications


Wood flour

Natural CaCO3 - cost saving and processing

ATH - flame retardancy Crystalline silicas - abrasion resistance


Aluminum hydroxide - flame retardancy and aesthetics (solid surfaces)

Crystalline silicas - abrasion resistance

Where used, this is often at high levels


Aluminum hydroxide and expandable graphite - flame retardancy

loadings are desired. High filler addition levels are often required when using aluminum hydroxide for flame-retardant purposes, with 150-300 phr (parts per hundred resin) often being required. Two approaches are used to control viscosity: use of special dispersing agents and particle size manipulation to maximize packing.

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