Arnt Offringa, director of R&D at GKN Aerospace Fokker, says that the recyclability of thermoplastics is a driver for its increasing use in the European automotive industry. But Aubert questions if there will be sufficient infrastructure in place in the near future to support recyclability and if there will be markets for the use of recycled materials.

“It will be interesting in the future to see how many OEMs, consumers and Tier 1 suppliers have started to take advantage of the recyclability of thermoplastics,” he says. Although people say they like the recyclability feature they are not purchasing thermoplastic components because of it; recycling is still in the development and demonstration phase. “They are buying thermoplastics because they have high performance and there is some kind of cost advantage, either right away or eventually,” says Offringa.

If recyclability isn’t enough, some companies may be interested in trying out certain types of thermoplastics because they are not based on styrene. “Thermoplastics have the potential to eliminate VOCs in the manufacturing process,” observes Lyons.

Faster Cycle Times for Automotive

By volume, automotive and commercial vehicles are the largest users of CFRTs, with the most typical composition being nylon and continuous glass fiber, according to Wessner.

One reason for OEMs’ interest is thermoplastic composites’ cycle times, which are shorter than those for thermosets. Some research projects at IACMI-The Composites Institute are looking for ways to cut those cycle times even more.

“Cycle times are a big driver for energy efficient production,” says Uday Vaidya, IACMI’s chief technology officer. “The goal of IACMI production is to look at 90 seconds or less for cycle times. Thermoplastics lend themselves to faster curing anyway, and they can be shaped through processes like fiber injection molding and high-speed stamping, as well as compression molding of both discontinuous and continuous fiber.”

For one project, DuPont is supplying the thermoplastic resin and Fibertech is coating fibers with that resin and then weaving them into a very flexible fabric. Purdue University is modeling the material, simulating how the fabric drapes and how much it can stretch before it breaks.

PolyOne-thermoforming-polystrand-079

PolyOne uses this trial part, shaped like a vehicle body, to demonstrate how Polystrand tapes can be added to a thermoformed sheet before thermoforming to selectively reinforce specific areas. Photo Credit: PolyOne

“If you’re trying to make a door panel or something similar for a car, this fabric has the conformability to be draped to that shape, and with the thermoplastic resin in it, it can be very quickly heated and cured,” Vaidya says. “It makes it possible to produce thick and complex parts with cycle times that are very short in duration.”