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13th October 2015, Thornton Cleveleys

Aircraft cabin door of A350 uses primary structural component made from Victrex polymer

Airbus Helicopters is replacing aluminium in a fitting in the aircraft door of the Airbus A350-900 with a high-modulus, carbon fibre-reinforced high-performance polymer.

The bracket, now manufactured from VICTREX PEEK 90HMF40, has been developed by Airbus Helicopters and is in serial production for commercial use after receiving the relevant component qualification.

VICTREX PEEK 90HMF40 in the cabin doors of the A350-900 improves quality and reduces weight and costs by 40%. © Victrex

The successful substitution of metal has resulted in a 40% reduction in weight and costs, according to the manufacturer. The injection-moulded polymer solution replaces the higher cost manufacture of the bracket machined from an aluminium block.

PEEK component

The fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) structure of the A350XWB’s aircraft door uses an outer skin coupled with a bracing structure on the inside.  A fitting, now manufactured from VICTREX PEEK 90HMF40 thermoplastic, connects the outer skin to points on the internal bracing structure. The two components form a box-type structure to exploit the maximum geometrical moment of inertia.

Christian Wolf, Head of Aeroplane Doors Research and Technology, Airbus Helicopters, explained the operation and significance of the PEEK component: “In terms of the standard load case, i.e. the internal cabin pressure, this point-type joint reduces the deformation on the outer skin, thereby maintaining the aerodynamic quality of the aircraft door.”

“All components in the aircraft door are of a singly-redundant design. If a component near the bracket fails, the bracket will provide an alternative path for transferring structural loads and is therefore part of the aircraft’s primary structure.”

Metal replacement

By using the carbon fibre-reinforced high-performance VICTREX PEEK 90HMF40 polymer instead of the aluminium previously used, Airbus Helicopters has manufactured an equivalent component that is said to provide a range of benefits. According to the company, weight and production costs have each been reduced by 40%.

VICTREX PEEK 90HMF40 is a material specified by Airbus. The thermoplastic easily withstands the moisture that continuously accumulates inside aircraft doors, whereas aluminium, which is prone to corrosion, needed a special surface coating to prevent corrosion, the manufacturer reports.

“The suitable material, supplied by Victrex, as well as their expertise and collaboration with their materials experts have contributed to the successful development and component qualification. The expertise gained from the initial use of fibre-reinforced PEEK can be transferred to other components and to other areas of application with similar requirements,” said Wolf.

New developments

In the aerospace business the design and build process, e.g. development in accordance with a given specification, is a possible option for producing structural components. In this process, the developer has additional freedom in matters such as the selection of materials.

“90HMF40 is a special high-performance thermoplastic which is also suitable for load-bearing structural components as now used for the first time in the Airbus A350-900 and therefore in regular airline operations. This first application is certain to be quickly followed by others,” explained Uwe Marburger, Aerospace Business Development Manager at Victrex.

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