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Novel recycling methods for helicopter parts

Recycling strategies used in the manufacturing of high-performance helicopter structures have economic and environmental drawbacks. An EU initiative has looked into a promising technique for recycling.

Industrial Technologies

Thermoplastic composite materials (TPCs) are potentially highly recyclable when compared to more popular methods that use thermosets. What is more, they promise unlimited storage life, robustness and chemical resistibility, resulting in lower manufacturing costs, reduced weight and positive environmental impact. The EU-funded DISACOP (Disassembly of eco-designed helicopter demonstrators) project aimed to explore the potential of recycling helicopter parts through the fusion bonding of TPCs. Existing methods do not allow for recycling, repairing and reusing manufactured parts. By contrast, DISACOP's innovative recycling strategy assembles components and disassembles integral parts of structures via fusion bonding techniques. Single elements can be detached from the main structure and reused on a repaired component. Bolts and rivets that assemble current aerospace structures are no longer needed, saving on both costs and weight. Excess waste is avoided by separating damaged components from intact components of a TPC structure. In addition, the local heating procedure uses up minimal energy and the joining and separation of TPCs do not give off any toxic substances. Work began with the mapping of various heating methods for the fusion bonding of TPCs. Initial tests were carried out to demonstrate the debonding procedure, leading to the most suitable method for the disassembly of TPC structures. This method's heating mechanism was then fully studied. Tests on available coupons and subcomponents were performed to understand the effects of the procedure on real joints. The technology was further developed based on requirements beginning at coupon level. Project partners then applied the developed component separation scenario on demonstrators. They were able to identify a method to locally apply heat and to debond the assemblies. DISACOP demonstrated the relative advantages of TPCs over their established alternatives. The recyclability and reusability of manufactured parts by disassembly is now a reality. Aerospace manufacturers and suppliers as well as society stand to benefit from the economic and environmental gains.

Keywords

Recycling, helicopter parts, thermoplastic composite materials, disassembly, fusion bonding

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