Thermoplastic composites have spent the last 15 years steadily working their way into a variety of commercial aerospace applications, most notably and visibly on the wing leading edge of the Airbus A380 superjumbo commercial aircraft. This structure, fabricated by Fokker Aerostructures (Hoogeveen, The Netherlands), seemed to herald a new era of thermoplastics composites use in large aircraft, but this material was not applied in the same way on the next two major aircraft programs — the A350 XWB and the Boeing 787.
This does not mean, however, that thermoplastic composites' time has come and gone. Indeed, optimism is high as research and development efforts pursue materials and processes for the potential application of thermoplastic composites in a variety of primary aircraft structure.
One such technology is being investigated by aerospace entities concentrated in Spain, in a series of research projects funded by Airbus Defense and Space (ADS, Getafe). The Fundacion para la Investigacion, Desarrollo y Aplicaciones de Materiales Compuestos (FIDAMC), located near Getafe, has demonstrated that carbon fiber/thermoplastic wing structure can be directly manufactured via automation without autoclave consolidation, reducing processing steps and ultimately, part cost. Its latest research vehicle, called OUTCOME (OUT of autoclave COMpositE wing), aims to eventually ground test and then fly a thermoplastic composite wing structure, says Fernando Rodríguez-Lence, FIDAMC’s senior composites expert. Click here for a full report on FIDAMC's efforts.
Rodríguez-Lence will provide an update on FIDAMC's thermoplastic composites efforts at CW's Carbon Fiber conference, Nov. 9-11 in Scottsdale, Arizona. His presentation, titled "Thermoplastic Wing: Open Door for Application of PEEK/Carbon Fiber in the Aerospace Industry," provides an overview of several research projects aimed at developing the automated lamination and in-situ co-consolidation method, and includes a review of automated methods to lay PEEK prepreg from the first AFP head, developed in cooperation with MTorres, and installed six years ago at FIDAMC.
Click here for the full Carbon Fiber agenda, and to register.
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The project’s goal is to reduce product development and certification timelines by 30 percent for composite aircraft.