What’s So Great About Thermoplastics in Aerospace?
There’s plenty of space for exploration when it comes to thermoplastic applications in the aerospace industry. Thermoset technologies have been traditionally used for composites in aerospace, and now the industry is taking note of the benefits that its counterpart thermoplastics may provide in a wider range of applications.
For many of the same reasons that industries worldwide have adopted composites in general—strength-to-weight ratio, corrosion resistance, cost efficiency, and increased production rates—the aerospace segment is ripe to explore the ever-expanding capabilities of thermoplastic composites in its own market.
Globally, thermoplastics are meeting the demand for weight reduction and fuel efficiency to drive down fuel cost and emissions, which can be achieved with carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers. Thermoplastics are a suitable option in composites manufacturing because of its time- and cost-efficient nature of production. Aerospace Manufacturing Magazine explains the simplified process of thermoplastics production as compared to thermoset, “Effectively, the polymer is simply melted and set to create prepreg material, for example, which can then be remelted and set to form parts in a multitude of ways.”
Market growth is moving in one direction
Specifically, the market for thermoplastic unidirectional tape, a combination of glass or carbon fibers in a thermoplastic resin, is expected to grow over the next few years, in large part attributed to the increased use of composites by aerospace companies. The main driver for this growth is the reduced production times that are helping aerospace companies meet the demand for aircraft production. Thermoplastic unidirectional tapes have already proven their value in aircraft parts such as clips, brackets, tailplanes, and wings.
While the opportunity for thermoplastics use in aerospace is vast, manufacturers are met with supply-demand challenges for carbon fiber given its wide adoption in industries globally. Additionally, the favorable characteristics of thermoset that have made it a traditional go-to material in composites production still capture some of the potential markets where thermoplastics may otherwise be a primary choice for aerospace applications.
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