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13th March 2018, Thornton Cleveleys

Thermoplastics to drive aerospace build rates

Victrex, an innovative leader in high-performance polymer products, has exhibited its latest solutions at last week’s JEC World in Paris, where the adoption of thermoplastic composites in aerospace applications proved a major theme.

The aircraft industry has forecast that over 35,000 new aircraft will be required within the next 20 years. Meeting this kind of escalating demand calls for new approaches and new technologies. As a consequence, thermoplastic composites are expected to play an increasingly important role in accelerating future aircraft construction. They offer multiple advantages, including very short production times and low overall costs, compared to their thermoset counterparts, which today are in frequent use.

Thermoplastic composites based on Victrex PAEK solutions are poised to close a gap for new major aircraft programmes, the company believes. © Victrex

Jakob Sigurdsson, Victrex CEO, considers Victrex well positioned to help accelerate the conversion from thermosets to thermoplastics. The company is partnering with aerospace OEMs and research centres, in particular around its Victrex AE 250 composites product family and related technology, enabling aircraft manufacturers to drive high throughput, while still meeting safety, quality and environmental requirements.

Joint venture

Last year, Victrex announced it was investing in a joint venture, TxV AeroComposites, with long-standing development partner TriMack Manufacturing, to build the necessary supply chain. The partners remain convinced that this is an essential step in accelerating the adoption of thermoplastics and innovative manufacturing techniques that aim to speed up aircraft production and promote fast time-to-market and fast time-to-revenue.

With investment in new state of the art facilities TxV sets the course to deliver composite parts at the rate and pace needed for commercial aerospace. The acquisition of fibre specialist Zyex and participation in the Thermoplastic Composite Research Center (TPRC) are also in line with Victrex's long-term objective of enabling enhanced efficiency within the aerospace industry.

“Developing new polyketone composite solutions for the aerospace industry is a time-consuming undertaking and an inevitable part of the development curve prior to widespread industry adoption,” commented Mr Sigurdsson. “Victrex has proven in the past, across different industries, that by leading the way with pioneering Victrex PAEK-based innovation we can deliver real benefits to our customers and our markets, by speeding up manufacturing time and offering real performance advances. Today, our composite solutions are also gaining ground in the oil-and-gas industry, and also have early commercialisation within the medical device space.”

Supply chain and capacity

“Supply chain and capacity are important criteria for increasing the amount of thermoplastic composites in future aircraft programmes. When using high-performance polymers, the initial costs for thermoplastic composites may be much higher. However, when we consider total costs, the equation immediately looks much different,” said Tim Herr, Director Aerospace at Victrex.

For example, the Victrex/TriMack joint venture TxV Aero Composites will offer a range of composites from custom laminates to pre-formed composite inserts for hybrid moulding processes, as well as finished composite parts and complete over-moulded hybrid composite components and assemblies. They are based on the recently introduced lower-temperature processing Victrex AE 250 composites product family that enables a unique hybrid moulding process and combines the strength of continuously-reinforced thermoplastic composites with the design flexibility and demonstrated performance of Victrex PEEK injection-moulding polymers.

“These innovative products can deliver weight savings of up to 60% over conventional metallic solutions, contributing to cuts in fuel consumption and thus emissions, delivering both cost and environmental benefits, while offering continuous manufacturing processes and cycle times measured in minutes versus hours for thermoset alternatives,” concluded Mr Herr.

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