Thermoplastic Composites: Growing Uses in Developing Markets and Advanced Engineering

Mountain Bike Jump

Thermoplastics are increasingly used across growing composites applications and markets due to their many advantageous attributes over thermosets and other materials. Thermoplastics offer superior mechanical properties, excellent toughness and impact resistance, temperature and corrosion resistance, weight reduction, and inherent recyclability.

From large, high-volume applications to emerging market uses, the composites industry continues to see an influx in the consumption of thermoplastics as part of composites manufacturing processes. With countless materials, products, and processes to navigate, composites manufacturers can find a valued partner in Composites One and our Advanced Composite Team in meeting composites manufacturing goals.

For composites manufacturers who are riding the innovation wave and transitioning from thermoset to thermoplastics, Composites One allows customers to take advantage of the value-added processing benefits available with thermoplastics. Manufacturers across major industries are achieving:

  • Reduction of per-part cost
  • Rapid processing with no cure required
  • Near net-shape processing
  • Longer or no shelf life on materials
  • Automation capabilities
  • Thick part processing and benefiting from less scrap
  • Re-processability and the processing option of welding or fusion bond

At Composites One, our Advanced Composites Team works closely with manufacturing customers to understand their unique needs and production goals and to determine the most efficient way to reach their goals through objective material selection. As a material-agnostic distributor that represents several industry-leading manufacturers and suppliers, Composites One always recommends the best product for the job, regardless of the material supplier. For customers, there is confidence in knowing their distribution and service partner is material agnostic and leads customers objectively in recommending products, processes, equipment, tooling, and other processing considerations.

Thermoplastics in Commodity and Advanced Engineering Products

Brian Bower, Product Manager, Reinforcements, at Composites One, describes two major categories where thermoplastic materials are accelerating in use: 1) in commodity-based applications in large volumes and 2) in advanced engineering applications in developing markets.

In the commodity space, the toughness, recyclability, and repeatability of thermoplastics make the materials ideal for high-volume use. An example is the transportation industry, where 18-wheel trailers have wind deflectors that are predominantly made of a glass-reinforced thermoplastic across the industry. Thermoplastics are also replacing wood as a basic material in trucks and trailers, allowing for increased production rates.

Other high-volume commodity-based applications for thermoplastics include piping, trucking, shipping containers, wall-building construction, and RVs. The traditional RV market is moving toward thermoplastics for sandwich construction panels where it can replace wood and make advanced sandwich wall systems that are more lightweight and rot-resistant. Many panels are using a combination of a glass thermoplastic with a core material on the inside of the panel for integrity and maintaining a thermoset sheath on the outside for cosmetic quality.

On the advanced engineering side, growing applications include automotive parts, sports and leisure equipment and gear, and medical and aerospace applications. In Aerospace, the evolution of thermoplastics is meeting OEM needs for increased rate production and cost and weight reduction. According to Bower, “Anywhere a thermoset prepreg is used today you could in theory use a thermoplastic composite to reduce cycle time.”

In sports and leisure, mountain bikes are moving from an A-frame that was traditionally made of metal toward thermoplastics that can incur wear and tear and extreme temperature differences. Bike companies and gun manufacturers are just a few of the industries moving toward fiber-reinforced thermoplastics with various reinforcements depending on the application.

“While the pandemic slowed the evolution of thermoplastics the last few years, this year we’re getting back involved and people are interested again,” said Bower. “I believe it will continue to grow, especially with products in the advanced engineering segment.”

Of the Composites One Advanced Composites Team, Bower says, “It is unique; an Advanced Composites Application Manager can go in and sit with a customer and say, ‘What are you trying to make? Let’s talk through what you’re trying to do and how we get you there.’ And we don’t care if you use glass, carbon, aramid – we just want to help you get to your production goals.”

In addition to the technical guidance, training, and support customers receive from Composites One, 44 regional distribution centers across North America offer a major benefit by allowing customers to locally source the amount of product and materials they need, without needing to commit to purchasing very large quantities unnecessarily.

At Composites One, we strive to be innovative and dependable and to deliver results for our customers. Our Advanced Composites Team offers expert knowledge of composites materials, along with the experience that comes from being the leader in providing materials management and logistics solutions for demanding markets. In Aerospace, Marine, Wind Energy, and beyond, our industry-leading distribution model and Technical Team are ready to support manufacturers that are using composites to design the innovations of tomorrow.