Types of Plastics Used in the Aerospace Industry 

Plastics have revolutionized various industries, and the aerospace sector is no exception. With their unique properties and versatile applications, plastics have become indispensable in modern aircraft design and manufacturing. From lightweight components to heat-resistant materials, plastics play a crucial role in enhancing performance, reducing weight, and improving fuel efficiency.

With that in mind, the plastic experts from our thermoforming company, Advanced Plastiform, Inc. are exploring the different types of plastics used in the aerospace industry. Join us as we delve into the plastics’ properties, common applications, as well as the manufacturing techniques used to produce aerospace components.

Understanding the Aerospace Industry

The aerospace industry is a dynamic and ever-evolving field that encompasses the design, development, production, and operation of aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and related technologies. It plays a vital role in shaping our modern world by enabling global connectivity, space exploration, and scientific advancements.

Manufacturing for Aerospace

Aerospace manufacturing is characterized by its unique requirements, driven by the need for lightweight, durable, and high-performance components.

Some of the specialized requirements include:

  • Materials: Aerospace manufacturers work with a variety of advanced materials, such as titanium alloys, carbon fiber composites, and high-temperature resistant metals, to ensure the strength and performance of aircraft and spacecraft.
  • Precision Engineering: Aerospace manufacturing demands precise engineering and tight tolerances to ensure the accuracy and reliability of complex components.
  • Safety Standards: Manufacturers adhere to strict safety standards and regulations, ensuring that components and systems meet or exceed requirements for structural integrity, fire resistance, and crashworthiness.

Polycarbonate (PC)

Polycarbonate (PC) is a thermoplastic polymer known for its exceptional transparency, high impact resistance, and thermal stability. These properties make it a popular choice in various industries, including aerospace manufacturing.

Aircraft Windows

Polycarbonate is widely used in the manufacturing of aircraft windows due to its exceptional clarity, impact resistance, and lightweight nature. It provides passengers and crew with clear visibility and protection against external forces.

Cockpit Instrumentation

PC is utilized in cockpit instrument panels and displays, providing a clear and durable surface for critical flight information and controls.

Safety Equipment

Polycarbonate is employed in the production of safety equipment, such as face shields, helmets, and visors, to offer reliable impact protection and visibility for pilots, crew members, and ground personnel.

Lighting Components

Due to its transparency and resistance to high temperatures, polycarbonate is used in the manufacturing of lighting components, including aircraft interior and exterior lighting fixtures.

Polyetheretherketone (PEEK)

Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) is a high-performance thermoplastic known for its exceptional mechanical properties and resistance to extreme temperatures and chemicals. Its unique combination of properties makes it a highly sought-after material in the aerospace industry.

Engine Components

PEEK is commonly used in the manufacturing of engine components, such as seals, bushings, and thrust washers, due to its high-temperature resistance and excellent mechanical properties. It withstands the extreme conditions and demands of the aerospace engine environment.

Electrical Connectors

PEEK is utilized in the production of electrical connectors and insulators, providing electrical insulation, resistance to high temperatures, and compatibility with a wide range of chemicals.

Structural Components

PEEK finds applications in structural components, including brackets, clips, and fasteners, where its high strength and lightweight properties contribute to the overall structural integrity and weight reduction of aerospace systems.

Aerospace Composites

PEEK can be used as a matrix material in high-performance aerospace composites, providing enhanced strength, stiffness, and thermal stability to the composite structure.

Polyethylene (PE)

Polyethylene (PE) is a versatile thermoplastic known for its excellent chemical resistance, low moisture absorption, and favorable mechanical properties.

Wire and Cable Insulation

Polyethylene is widely used as an insulation material for wires and cables in aerospace applications. Its excellent electrical insulation properties and resistance to moisture make it ideal for protecting electrical wiring from environmental factors, ensuring reliable performance and safety in aircraft systems.

Tubing and Piping

PE is utilized in aerospace for tubing and piping applications, particularly in fluid and fuel transfer systems. Its chemical resistance and low permeability to liquids and gases make it suitable for transporting various fluids, including fuel, hydraulic fluids, and coolants.

Packaging and Protection

Polyethylene is often used in aerospace for packaging and protection purposes. It is employed as a cushioning material to protect delicate components during transportation, preventing damage from impacts or vibration. PE's shock-absorbing properties make it a suitable choice for packaging sensitive electronic equipment, instruments, and other aerospace components.

Polypropylene (PP)

Polypropylene (PP) is a versatile thermoplastic known for its chemical-resistant properties and low density.

Interior Components

Polypropylene is commonly used in the manufacturing of interior components in aerospace applications. Its low weight, durability, and ease of fabrication make it suitable for non-structural elements such as seatbacks, armrests, tray tables, and interior panels. PP can be molded or formed into complex shapes, providing designers with flexibility in creating functional and aesthetically pleasing cabin interiors.

Protective Covers and Housings

PP is utilized for the production of protective covers and housings in aerospace applications. Its impact resistance and ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions make it suitable for shielding and encasing various equipment and components. PP covers and housings provide protection against dust, moisture, and impacts while maintaining lightweight characteristics.

Packaging and Storage

Polypropylene is often employed in aerospace for packaging and storage purposes. Its lightweight nature, chemical resistance, and durability make it suitable for protecting and transporting sensitive aerospace components, instruments, and equipment. PP packaging solutions help ensure the integrity and safety of items during transportation and storage.

Non-Structural Components

Polypropylene is occasionally used for non-structural components that do not require high strength or extreme temperature resistance. These may include small brackets, clips, fasteners, and other non-critical parts where PP's lightweight, cost-effectiveness, and ease of processing provide advantages.

Thermoplastic Composites

Thermoplastic composites are gaining significant attention and utilization in the aerospace industry due to their exceptional strength-to-weight ratio, impact resistance, chemical resistance, and durability.

Composite Structure Components

Thermoplastic composites are used extensively in aerospace for structural components, offering a lightweight alternative to traditional metallic structures. These composites typically consist of continuous fiber reinforcement, such as carbon fiber or glass fiber, embedded within a thermoplastic matrix.

The fibers provide high strength and stiffness, while the thermoplastic matrix contributes to impact resistance and damage tolerance. Structural components made from thermoplastic composites include wing structures, fuselage sections, engine components, and control surfaces.

Reduced Weight and Fuel Efficiency

The lightweight nature of thermoplastic composites allows for weight reduction in aerospace systems, which directly translates into increased fuel efficiency. By replacing heavier metallic parts with thermoplastic composites, aircraft can achieve significant weight savings, resulting in reduced fuel consumption, lower emissions, and improved overall performance.

Enhanced Design Flexibility

Thermoplastic composites offer designers greater flexibility in creating complex shapes and geometries. They can be easily molded and formed into various configurations, enabling the production of streamlined and aerodynamic structures. This flexibility allows for optimized designs that minimize drag, enhance aerodynamic efficiency, and improve overall aircraft performance.

Resistance to Chemicals and Environmental Factors

Thermoplastic composites exhibit excellent resistance to chemicals, moisture, and other environmental factors. This resistance makes them well-suited for aerospace applications where exposure to harsh conditions, such as fuel or hydraulic fluids, is common. The chemical resistance of thermoplastic composites contributes to their long-term durability and reliability in demanding aerospace environments.

Recycling and Sustainability

Thermoplastic composites offer advantages in terms of recyclability and sustainability. Unlike thermoset composites, which are challenging to recycle, thermoplastic composites can be melted and reprocessed multiple times without significant degradation in performance. This property allows for the potential recycling and reusing of thermoplastic composite materials, reducing waste and promoting sustainability in aerospace manufacturing.

Techniques Used for Aerospace Plastic Manufacturing

To manufacture plastic components for aircraft and spacecraft, several specialized techniques are employed.

Vacuum Forming

Vacuum forming is a widely used technique in aerospace plastic manufacturing. It involves heating a plastic sheet until it becomes pliable and then draping it over a mold. A vacuum is applied, pulling the plastic tightly against the mold surface, creating the desired shape.

Vacuum forming is suitable for producing large, low- to medium-volume parts with simple to moderate geometries. It is commonly used for manufacturing interior components, such as seat trays, cabin panels, and protective covers.

Pressure Forming

Pressure forming is a variant of vacuum forming that incorporates the application of positive air pressure during the forming process. The plastic sheet is heated, draped over a mold, and then pressure is applied to force the sheet against the mold surface.

Our pressure forming company uses this technique when parts call for sharper detail and improved surface finish compared to standard vacuum forming. Pressure forming is suitable for producing high-quality, small to medium-sized plastic components with complex geometries. It finds applications in aerospace manufacturing for producing aerodynamic fairings, cowlings, and other streamlined parts.

Twin-Sheet Forming

Twin-sheet forming is a thermoforming technique that involves the simultaneous forming of two plastic sheets. Each sheet is heated and draped over separate molds, and then pressed together to create a strong bond between the two sheets.

This technique enables the creation of hollow, double-walled structures, providing enhanced strength, rigidity, and insulation properties. Twin-sheet forming is commonly used for manufacturing aerospace components such as equipment enclosures, storage compartments, and ductwork.

Injection Molding

Our injection molding company understands this highly precise and efficient technique used in aerospace plastic manufacturing. In the injection molding process, molten plastic is injected into a mold cavity under high pressure. The plastic cools and solidifies, taking the shape of the mold.

Injection molding allows for the production of complex, high-quality, and consistent parts with tight tolerances. It is extensively used for manufacturing aerospace components like structural parts, brackets, connectors, and control panels.

Contact Our Aerospace Plastics Manufacturing Company Today

Are you in need of high-quality aerospace plastics for your manufacturing needs? Contact our aerospace plastics manufacturing company today. Our experts in building plastic components produce top-notch plastics for the aerospace and other industries, including automotive, telecommunications, transportation, healthcare, and more.  Advanced Plastiform is your answer for custom plastic products manufactured in North CarolinaSouth Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, TennesseeGeorgia, and Virginia.

Contact us today by calling  919-404-2080 or filling out the contact form to get started.

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