Thermoplastics: Hot on the Presses

Aerospace manufacturers have the opportunity to drive growth and reshape the industry in 2021 by pursuing technological developments.

Aerospace manufacturers are continually seeking innovative solutions to increase the rate of production of commercial aircrafts that will meet future demand for air travel. Reducing weight and improving efficiency is one of the key goals of aerospace manufacturing. Composites usage in aircraft manufacturing provide cost-effective methods to achieve these goals. One specific composite that offers promise is using thermoplastics as a matrix instead of an epoxy resin that allow for use in a broader range of applications.

Thermoplastic applications growing in size

The growing list of advantages of thermoplastic composites make it a competitive manufacturing option over thermosets and metals in the aerospace market. Thermoplastic part fabrication allows for quicker cycle times and quick and easy assembly through manufacturing flexibility that allow thermoplastics to be molded and welded together into complex designs.

The recyclability of thermoplastics also gives it a competitive edge over thermosets and metals. Recyclable properties have many positive benefits, including environmental sustainability, reduced maintenance costs in the field, and the ability to use end-of-life parts in less demanding environments.

Thermoplastic composites are not a novel material when it comes to fabricating substructural aircraft components, such as clips and brackets. Today attributes like expedited production cycle time, toughness, corrosion resistance, and recyclability have led to larger parts in aerospace manufacturing. Reinforced thermoplastics are now a consideration for manufacturing large structural parts on heavily loaded aerostructures, including fuselage panels, wing boxes, and stringers.

Rolling with advantages

Thermoplastics allow for faster assembly and production, which will undoubtedly be beneficial in the continued development and advancement of commercial aircraft production. Manufacturers commonly receive thermoplastic composites packaged as rolls of tape comprised of unidirectionally aligned carbon fiber that is pre-impregnated with thermoplastic resin.

The most promising thermoplastics composites for modern aerospace applications that require high-volume production are carbon-reinforced polyetheretherketone (PEEK) and polyetherketoneketone (PEKK). These polymers offer reliable performance in high-temperature environments, as well as competitive toughness and chemical solvent resistance.

Read more about the growing use of thermoplastic unidirectional tapes in aerospace industry applications.