Thermoplastic composite materials are praised as a new generation of composite materials which have many applications in a wide range of industries. Since they are manufactured by bonding two or more materials of different physical and chemical properties, the composite materials take the advantages of the best characteristics of their component materials. During the production process, they are heated and cooled repeatedly to enhance the materials’ strength and damage tolerance. The process abolishes the use of autoclave, internal consolidation and debunking, which eventually leads to cost-savings for manufactures.
Traditionally, thermoplastic composite materials were thought of as expensive materials which were difficult to work with, required high maintenance cost, and needed expensive special tooling to reinforce. However, that was in the past; nowadays, with the development of innovative technologies and thermoplastic composite materials manufacturing procedures, the materials have been improved dramatically in term of their heat tolerance, toughness, flexibility, chemical resistance, and product lifespan in addition to their cost and ease of production. They are used in many different industries these days.
The aerospace industry is one of the industries that can potentially benefit the most from this extremely light-weight and durable material. Thermoplastic composites have been experimented with for several years to make some exterior components for some commercial aircrafts, and they are proving to bring many benefits. For example, they reduce the vehicle weight, enhance its flexibility and help to save fuels. As compared to the conventional thermoset composite materials, thermoplastics, despite being more expensive, are superior because they are tougher, more resistant against chemicals and heat, easier to repair and recycle, and have a much longer life span. In the coming future, thermoplastic composite materials will be utilized to make more parts of the aircraft such as passenger seat frames to make it light and become more economical.
Recently, various industries including health care, energy, and manufacturing have increased their use of ionizing radiation. It is a well-known fact that prolonged and intensive exposure to radiation can cause great harm to human health and the environment. Therefore, radiation shielding equipment and materials are in high demand. In the past, lead was the most widely-used radiation shielding material because it was cheap, abundant, and able to absorb almost all kinds of radiation. However, because of health concerns, the government regulates and significantly curbs the use of lead. Thermoplastic composite materials have risen to prominence as a superior lead-substitute, which are equally effective in providing protection against radiation. Moreover, they are also more environmental-friendly than lead and strictly comply with regulatory requirements.
The initial intended usage for thermoplastic composite materials was for construction, enriching the pools of high-quality materials used for complicated building structures. The advantages of these materials are they are of low density, high strength and stiffness, and light-weight. They are used to make various construction items such as roof light, domes, pipelines, doors, windows, floorings, and sanitary ware. The only disadvantages of this material are that it is quite expensive to produce, and in some cases, it has high electrical conductivity.
In short, thermoplastic composite materials have many applications in many industries. As technology progresses, hopefully more applications will be discovered, and those innovations will continue to find their way into newer applications and industries.