Composites Today

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Formed carbon composites combined with carbon filled thermoplastics for aircraft parts

Tool Gauge, a U.S. manufacturer of complex, high-value plastic, and metal assemblies for global aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and Victrex (UK), a leader in PEEK- and PAEK- (Polyaryletherketone) based polymer solutions, announced that they will collaborate to develop a new co-molding technology for the aerospace industry. This new technology will use formed carbon composites combined with carbon filled thermoplastics. 

“The aerospace industry continues to increasingly adopt thermoplastic materials as they lower aircraft weight, reduce time and waste from machined metals, and provide sustainable goods for our future,” explains Jim Lee, general manager of Tool Gauge. “As part of this collaborative project with Victrex and UW, we aim at replacing machined aluminum components used in commercial aircrafts that are currently expensive and take months to produce with new thermoplastic composite versions.”

The fabrication of the proposed thermoplastic utilizes hybrid overmolding where thin sheets of carbon fibers are combined with Victrex’s LMPAEK™ polymer, creating a unidirectional tape. This material is then stacked and consolidated into one panel with the application of heat and pressure, with small pieces cut from the panel. Finally, the short-fiber reinforced PEEK compound is injection molded onto the insert. A fusion bond similar to a weld forms between the PEEK compound and LMPAEK™ composite insert as the molten PEEK melts the surface of the insert. As the part cools, the PEEK compound and LMPAEK™ composite solidify as one piece.

The hybrid overmolding process creates a part that is mechanically stronger and stiffer than a part only made with PEEK compound due to the continuous fiber reinforcement used in the composite insert. The hybrid overmolding combines injection molding with thermoforming to create a finished part that is lighter, cheaper, produces less waste, can be produced faster, and has superior fatigue performance. 

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