Thermoplastic continuous fiber composites (TPCs) are a type of material often used for manufacturing structures. These materials are lightweight, impact-resistant, and easily molded into different shapes. Thermoplastic composites can be made from many different types of plastics and can be modified for a variety of applications. In this article, you’ll learn about the latest innovations in thermoplastic composites and what factors are influencing the growth of thermoplastic composites.
When a molded thermoplastic composite part completes its life cycle, e.g., when a next-generation Gulfstream airplane fuselage reaches its life limit, it can be chopped up, put into a hopper, and injection molded into something else with little loss of properties. In contrast, with thermoset composite recycling, you end up with a chemical mess after fiber extraction and loss of the matrix in reuse. In comparison, both thermoplastic and thermoset prepregs can be recycled, but the former is fully recyclable, uses less energy to recycle, and has the potential for no scrap. We have written in detail about our blog "Sustainable Manufacturing: Why Natural Fiber/Thermoplastic Composites"
Benefits to the End-User
They benefit from the following advantages of thermoplastic material:
Thermoplastic prepregs do not require refrigeration. It is not uncommon for a medium-sized thermoset pre-processing plant to maintain large freezers plus long-term electricity costs. All that cost goes away with thermoplastics; Just stash them in a bag and they'll last until you need them.
Thermoplastic prepregs typically have 5-10 years of shelf life, providing a low risk of reaching the expiration date if kept in a dry environment.
According to Leach, efficiencies in processing “offer an opportunity to reduce costs today.” The composites industry consensus is that out-of-autoclave (OOA) thermoplastic processes, in comparison to thermosets, offer cost savings in excess of 30%. Poised for a larger usage role in commercial aircraft, there are several additional benefits to using Thermoplastic composites that make them appealing for use throughout the aerospace industry.
Repairability / Self-healing
Self-healing materials derived from thermoplastic polymer composites exhibit special properties. They offer distinct advantages over traditional polymers that have a monotonous chain structure and are self-healing (without human intervention) induced by thermal (fatigue) and mechanical means. (fracture, corrosion) with its intrinsic property of nature-inspired self-healing. This increases the life and safety of the material with less maintenance.
Furthermore, this could be an exciting area of research for the development of competitive materials with biomimetic properties that have the potential to include electronics, energy, armor, and space applications.
Ease of production
Thermoplastic composites raw materials i.e. filaments and tapes are easily available in the market. These raw materials can be fed into either a continuous fiber 3d printer or into an Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) machine to digitally produce structural parts. The automation and process digitization enables tailored design for specific applications with minimal human intervention. Especially with the AFP process the layer-to-layer bonding with less than 1% void, eliminating the post-curing.
Thermoplastic continuous fiber composites are a type of material often used for manufacturing structures. These materials are lightweight, impact-resistant, and easily molded into different shapes. §In contrast, with thermoset composite recycling, you end up with a chemical mess after fiber extraction and loss of the matrix in reuse. In comparison, thermoplastics are fully recyclable and use less energy to recycle. TPC offers the distinct advantages of being self-healing induced by thermal (fatigue) and mechanical means.
Thermoplastic composites raw materials i.e. filaments and tapes are easily available in the market. These raw materials can be fed into either a continuous fiber 3d printer or into an Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) machine to digitally produce structural parts.
Addcomposites is the provider of the Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) ecosystem - including the Fiber Placement System (AFP-XS), 3D Simulation and Programming Software (AddPath), and Robotic Cells (AddCell). With the leasing program for the AFP system (AFPnext), composites manufacturers can work with thermosets, thermoplastics, dry fiber placement, or in combination with 3D Printers on a monthly basis.