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Plastic Machining Company Sees Increased Use of High Heat Plastics for Aerospace Industries
Gaskets, seals, guides, brackets, spacers, washers, and other support parts are examples of lightweight aerospace components where high-heat plastics can outperform metals, the company says.
PORTLAND, Ore.–Plastic technologies are pushing the previous limits of load-bearing, torque handling, and gear drive capabilities in aerospace applications and leading to increased use of high-heat plastics in aerospace industries, according to a provider of custom plastic machining services. Plastic Machining Company (PMC) said in a press release that specialty grades of plastics with superior heat, chemical, and radiation resistances are able to play a significant role in aerospace industries. These specialty grades feature many of the same desired traits as traditionally used metals: low friction, high strength, and dimensional stability, as well as resistance to heat, impact, and corrosion. Fillers and additives in plastic resins, such as glass or lubricating oils, enhance characteristics specific to an application’s requirements, the company said.
Heat resistant and non-corrosive plastics, such as PEEK, can even be machined to replace metal fasteners and screws. No change is needed in the overall design of existing machined parts, allowing for the direct replacement of OEM components. Gaskets, seals, guides, brackets, spacers, washers, and other support parts are all examples of lightweight aerospace components that can use high-heat plastics that outperform metals by providing thermal and mechanical stability, desirable insulation properties, zero flammability, low outgassing in a vacuum, and resistance to jet fuel and other chemicals.
PEEK and PPS plastic, in particular, first made their way into structural aerospace applications in the mid-1990, when aerospace companies began using them for ribs and spars for undercarriage doors and floor panels in small aircraft. In the 2000s, aerospace giants Airbus and Gulfstream used PPS in thermoplastic skins reinforced with welded ribs, finding a 20 percent saving in weight compared with the previously used aluminum structures.
In commercial flights, one pound equates to as much as one dollar in additional fuel cost, per flight. That number jumps to approximately $10,000 per pound for orbital spaceflights. Even small amounts of weight reduction can lead to massive cost savings over the lifetime of an aircraft, rocket, or satellite. Today, a Boeing 787 aircraft uses as many as 15,000 carbon-fiber filled PPS plastic cleats and clips that secure exterior skins to the aircraft frame. High performance, high heat plastics are also used to provide reinforcement between fuselage frames.
Cast acrylic plastic is used for aircraft cabin windows, fighter canopies, windscreens, wing-tip lenses, outer laminates, and instrument panels for general aviation and military aircraft. Polycarbonate plastics also provide a strong impact-resistant alternative to glass for visors, windshields, and other see-through components.
Kydex, an acrylic-polyvinyl chloride plastic, meets the demanding safety and non-flammability requirements of aircraft interiors and is used for seat parts, bulkheads, monitor shrouds, window shades, tray tables, and overhead bins.
Whether for government space programs, military operations, or aircraft, the choice of plastics over metals in aerospace comes down to a plastic’s ability to outperform their metal counterparts, according to Plastic Machining Company. Plastics can enable safer parts that hold up under more severe conditions, saving companies and governments money over the life of the components through fuel savings and part life, the company said.
Plastic Machining Company (www.plasticmachiningcompany.com) provides plastic machining, semi-finished sheet and rod, custom-designed and OEM parts, and plastic replacements for metal power transmission components. The company's plastic sheet, rod, and parts are crafted from high-performance materials from companies such as Quadrant, Cast Nylons, Ensinger, Poly-Hi Solidur, and are manufactured with precision CNC routers, mills, and lathes.
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