Features

Each process typically makes a different type of aerospace part and requires different prepreg materials, which must be specially formatted to fit the process. The AFP/ATL process, for example, is used to produce large parts and typically calls for precision slit tape on wound spools or pads. The tape is cut to narrow widths ranging from 1/8 to 1+ inch. This allows highly accurate placement when making finished parts. The compression molding process calls for prepreg in the form of precision chopped flakes, while continuous compression molding (CCM) requires precision biasply material on wound spools or pads. The biasply material is also used in the automated press/thermoforming process.

Further innovations are taking place at the final aircraft assembly stage. New techniques are being developed to reduce labor and the need for fasteners. Thermoplastic parts can potentially be assembled using thermal welding with standalone tooling or by consolidation, which welds components together without changing dimensional tolerances. These assembly methods can replace the use of adhesives or metallic fasteners in some applications, reducing overall weight.

More Flexible Manufacturing

The advances in thermoplastic manufacturing and processing allow aircraft manufacturers and suppliers to take advantage of thermoplastic materials’ unique properties. One benefit is greater manufacturing flexibility and efficiency. The fact that thermoplastics can be stored at room temperature and have unlimited shelf life reduces waste and allows for more flexible production activities.

The ability to recycle thermoplastics supports environmental and sustainability efforts. The materials can be remelted and molded into new forms, allowing mistakes to be corrected and repairs to be made at the factory. In the long term, it will be possible to repair damaged thermoplastic parts while airplanes are still in the field, reducing maintenance costs. At the end of a thermoplastic part’s useful life, the part can potentially be melted down and repurposed for a less demanding application.

Partnering

Aerospace manufacturers who decide on thermoplastic solutions should seek assurance of a consistent, high-quality source of supply. This calls for due diligence when selecting thermoplastic prepreg suppliers and converters. Ideally, they will have extensive experience in producing aerospace-grade materials and be well-versed in achieving high-precision tolerances down to thousandths of an inch. Moreover, the company that formats your thermoplastic materials should have broad-based capabilities and experience in creative formatting solutions for diverse, innovative processing methods, including, but not limited to, the four mentioned earlier: AFP/ATL, CCM, compression molding and automated press/thermoforming.

This article was written by Grand Hou, Director of Research and Technology Advanced Composite, Web Industries, Inc. (Marlborough, MA). For more information, Click Here.