Composites supplier Hexcel and chemicals company Arkema are to establish a jointly owned laboratory in France to develop carbon thermoplastics for the aerospace sector.
The facility, located in Les Avenieres, east of Lyon, will open in April and concentrate on developing pre-impregnated carbonfibre thermoplastic tapes, Hexcel says.
An initial "industrial pilot line" will be set up over the coming weeks and will start to supply thermoplastic tape to aerospace manufacturers for evaluation from the third quarter of 2019, the US supplier says.
Aircraft manufacturers believe that moving from the use of conventional thermoset composites – which assume their final shape through curing, typically in an autoclave – to thermoplastics could allow faster production cycles than is possible with current materials.
Although thermoplastics also require curing under heat, the time required is much shorter than for thermoset materials, and an autoclave is not necessarily required.
In addition, it is possible to melt the resin in thermoplastics by applying heat and welding components together with a structurally reliable joint.
More than 50% of the A350's airframe is made from composite material
The laboratory is a result of a strategic partnership, established by Hexcel and Arkema in 2018, to develop thermoplastics for aerospace applications.
Separately, Hexcel is working with French start-up Lavoisier Composites to use composite waste material for the production of other goods.
The Lyon-based company developed a material dubbed "Carbonium", which is "sourced entirely from carbon composite by-products generated by the French aerospace sector", says Hexcel, noting that the material has been used in the production of luxury watches.