January 21, 2015

Airbus’ focus on “thermoplastic” composite materials

While the use of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) has become a mainstay in aircraft production, many are unaware that there is more than one type that can be leveraged. In its continuing role as an innovation and environmental leader, Airbus is working to take maximum benefit of “thermoplastic” CFRP material – which holds several key advantages over the “thermoset”-type CFRP that is more commonly used across the air transport sector, including its 100% recyclability. CFRP materials – both thermoplastic and thermoset – are created when thousands of carbon filament threads are bundled together before being combined with a matrix to form a “composite material.” A ply or layer is made to the specified size and orientation, and then more layers are added until the piece has the necessary properties to support the loads it will carry. The resulting material is composed of approximately 60 per cent fibres and 40% resin. Jean-Florent Lamèthe, an engineer from Airbus’ Materials and Processes team, explained that thermoplastic CFRP has excellent fatigue and damage tolerance properties, along with shorter manufacturing cycles and lower moisture absorption. It can even be welded, which cannot be done with thermoset-type CFRP. The key difference between thermoplastic and thermoset CFRP, according to Lamèthe, is what happens during their individual curing processes. “When you put ‘raw’ thermoset material into an autoclave and ‘cook’ it, there’s a chemical reaction – the actual chemical composition of the material changes,” he said. “With thermoplastic composites, you can melt a finished piece and reshape it and it still has the same chemical composition.”



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