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A thorough overhaul of thermoplastics

New production processes and welding techniques promise to yield thermoplastic composites that will render aircraft parts lighter and more cost effective than ever before.
A thorough overhaul of thermoplastics
Thermoplastic composite parts are increasingly being used in the aeronautical industry thanks to their light weight, fire resistance, improved welding abilities and low moisture properties. The EU-funded project 'Development and innovation for advanced manufacturing of thermoplastics' (Dinamit) studied how to further improve production processes and end products in this field as well as streamline costs.

In general, these parts are restricted by their simple geometry and inflexible dimensions. They incur high costs due to expensive base materials and their forming consolidation processes. Dinamit looked at how to advance mass production of these composites on aircraft or helicopters by developing flexible, rapid and low-cost assembly and by minimising scraps in parallel.

The project team experimented with newly developed structural resin or polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), as well as a blend of thermoplastic structural matrices and multi-azial thermoplastic fabrics. With respect to forming consolidation, it considered novel vacuum diaphragm forming and fast automated processes to produce larger double curvature structure parts. This could be combined with low-pressure injection as well as improvement of continuous forming and roll-forming technologies for substructure applications.

In addition, Dinamit strived to develop a new in situ welding process associated with an in situ consolidation process, considering as well laser welding to assemble high-performance thermoplastic composite components. Lastly, the team conceived a cost optimisation tool to evaluate production of innovative thermoplastic polymer (TP) materials and processes. If these new approaches are put into practice aircraft costs could go down, emissions would decrease and the industry would benefit in numerous ways.

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