“We are ready to take this technology to an OEM’s production program, whether it be urban air mobility, commercial aviation or military customers,” says Young. “We want to take their specific designs and start implementing our intellectual property [i.e., software] so that we can understand how to best manufacture for their optimized airframe design.”
Young says that several OEMS have expressed interest in induction-welded parts, and he expects that they will be flying on demonstrator planes within the next two to three years.
Urban Air Mobility
It’s not only traditional aircraft manufacturers who are interested in thermoplastic composite parts. Companies that are producing Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing vehicles (eVTOLs) also understand their benefits. These urban air mobility vehicles, which will be used to transport people and packages within a range of about 60 miles, need the advantages that thermoplastic parts provide.
“Urban air mobility is going to have even more critical weight requirements than standard aircraft or even rotorcraft. They’re trying to be a repeat use air vehicle, and their operational tempo is fairly high,” says Young. eVTOLs will be powered by batteries, so weight reduction is critical if the aircraft are going to achieve the desired range.
eVTOL producers need production speed as well. “Some of these eVTOL companies are saying that they want to build 4,000 units a year later this decade. You could never get a thermoset autoclave process to hit 4,000 units a year; the required infrastructure would make the economics of an air taxi unpalatable compared to thermoplastic material systems,” says Young.
Thermoplastic composites can solve both problems. “The manufacturing gets faster because we’re doing it with a robotic dynamic assembly versus drill-and-fill operations with fasteners,” he says. Manufacturers will enjoy the double value of both weight and cost savings.
Young notes that acceptance by the eVTOL sector could speed the traditional aerospace industry’s adoption of thermoplastic parts as well. Most OEMs tend to be risk adverse and will be more accepting of thermoplastic technology once it has been proven. Conversely, Young asserts that eVTOL OEMs seem to be focused on speed to market and willing to incorporate a certain level of risk.
“I think the broader industry is going to start accepting that structural thermoplastics is something for the future and not just far-off science,” says Young. “We are really able to marry the design and the manufacturing processes to leverage the benefits and get to where we need to be for cost and weight opportunities in the aerospace industry.”