More uses for extremely strong lightweight TPCs
Thermoplastic composites (TPCs) are lightweight materials that are very strong. This makes them interesting to the automotive, aviation and aerospace branch. Alligator Plastics participates in research on TPCs, and especially its use in an injection-molded product. This use might even be broader than the automotive, aviation and aerospace branch alone.
A composite is a plastic enforced with fibers. We know composites as the strong lightweight parts of a racing car, racing bike or tennis racket. These composites are usually fiber mats made of carbon, kevlar or aramid, that are compounded by a thermosetting plastic like epoxy. The downside is that the final products often have to be produced manually and this is partly why this technique is so expensive. What’s more, thermosets work based on one chemical reaction and can practically no longer be recycled afterwards.
There’s a new technique to produce a composite with a thermoplastic: the so-called TPC. The fibers are compounded using a thermoplastic (heatable) plastic. Using this technique, a composite is made in the shape of a thin plastic tape with a core of endless fibers. The tape can then be processed in multiple layers and directions into a final form. The tape can be recycled, because the thermoplastic plastic in the composite can be reheated.
Thermoplastic composites are strong and just as light as composites with thermosets, but have two important advantages. They can be made more cheaply, faster and, as such, serially and they can be integrated into an injection-molded product. As such, a slayer of TPC can be integrated into the plastic end product, while the product has all the advantages of injection molding such as finishing and formability. Diverse manufacturers and institutes, including Alligator Plastics, have started collaborating a few years ago to research new TPC techniques together. One thing is already clear: several new uses can be conceived for strong, light TPCs.
‘Being able to integrate a TPC into an injection molded product offers many new possibilities’, Jordi Torres, project leader of Alligator Plastic, says. ‘You can overmold TPC with another plastic, so you can make more complex product shapes with the typical injection molded details like holes, ribs and other features. You can also partially apply TPCs to an end product, for example, only in the place where a product needs to be reinforced. What’s more, the advantages don’t just apply to the automotive, aviation and aerospace branch. I can perfectly imagine that a medical prosthetic is partly made from TPCs in injection molded parts to make the prosthetic lighter and stronger. And then there’s the production advantages: fast and serial production against much lower costs than when using thermosets,’ Jordi states.
The research project is initiated by the Brighthands Materials Center at the Chemelot Campus in Limburg. Every participate contributes their own specialism. Jordi: ‘At Alligator Plastic, we mostly focus on keeping the TPC tape in place during the injection molding process, the bonding of the tape and the injection molded plastic, the strains that occur in the final product and dimensional and shape stability. For more complex product shapes, we research the pre-forms of the TPC layer, for example by means of vacuum forming, so we can better apply the injection molded plastic to the TPC. According to Jordi, there are still plenty of challenges to perfect the technique: ‘We’re at the beginning of this innovation. So there are plenty of challenges, but it offers many new opportunities and new possibilities for partnerships. What also applies to this innovation: we love to collaborate with partners and clients. So do you have a great idea for TPCs in your product? Let us know!’
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