Arkema also designed Elium® liquid thermoplastic resin, which processes like a thermoset but delivers thermoplastic properties. It has the low viscosity of a thermoset, wets out fiber in a variety of different processing methods and is processed at room temperature like a thermoset. But after cure it retains the properties of a thermoplastic. Dana Swan, business development manager, says the material could be used for automotive parts produced through high pressure RTM, for building, construction and automotive parts manufactured using pultrusion and for boat hulls and decks made through a vacuum infusion process.

A Process of Education

“Thermoplastic composites as a technology is at the beginning of its life-cycle S-curve, with huge application potential,” says Offringa. After several decades of initial development and applications for the automotive industry, he says market acceptance is now strong with most OEMs.

In other industries, however, thermoplastic manufacturers have some work to do to encourage further adoption.  “We see efforts to advance customers’ knowledge about thermoplastic composite materials so that they’ll be able to better design with them to maximize value,” says Wessner.

Another determining factor in growth will be how well the composites industry is able to balance cost and performance. “They want to get the most out of these materials based on common resins in order to avoid higher end – and higher cost – engineering thermoplastics,” Wessner adds.

She expects advances in thermoplastic composite technologies will be made on several fronts: material development, process technologies and design. “There is more proactive and intentional development of systems that will enable manufacturers to take advantage of thermoplastics today, including development of equipment that can combine formed sheets with overmolding via injection or equipment that can accommodate other multi-material, multi-step approaches,” she says.

Ultimately, the inroads that thermoplastic composites make into new markets is likely to depend on how much manufacturers in those industries value thermoplastics’ biggest advantage: increased structural performance at a much lighter weight.

ACMA Expands into Thermoplastics
Due to the rapid growth of thermoplastic composites over the past few years, ACMA has created a new working group under the Composites Growth Initiative (CGI) umbrella dedicated to growing the market for thermoplastic composites in high-volume markets. The group will focus on educating end users and other thermoset composite manufacturers about how thermoplastics can be competitively manufactured. To learn more about this group and how you can participate, email Dan Coughlin at dcoughlin@acmanet.org.