In an effort to create compelling, more sustainable solutions for its global
customers, Collins is continuously seeking advancements in
nacelle systems, fan cowls, thrust reversers and other highly engineered
aerospace structural components that are lighter, more efficient and produced at
rapid rates to enable more sustainable flight.
"By shifting to large thermoplastic composite manufacturing, we can leap
forward in all these areas by replacing energy- and labor-intensive assemblies
of thermoset composite and metallic structures with more automated,
out-of-autoclave, weldable structures that result in less energy consumption,
reduced weight and cost, and higher production rates," explained Manten. "And as
an added advantage, thermoplastics are recyclable and more environmentally
These new materials, and their methods of manufacture, have the potential to:
- Reduce manufacturing cycle time by 80 percent;
- Decrease the weight of structures by as much as 50 percent compared to
earlier iterations; and
- Incorporate sustainability improvements resulting in fewer emissions, a
fully recyclable product and lower landfill output.
Shaping a more sustainable future
When you narrow it down,
thermoplastic composite technology plays an important role in energy
efficiency. With traditional aircraft components made of bonded metallics and
thermosets, the manufacturing process requires products to be cured in large
autoclave ovens that consume large amounts of energy to get the necessary amount
of heat and pressure.
In contrast, thermoplastic composites don't require the same chemical
reactions so they can be manufactured via more efficient, out-of-autoclave
processes that greatly reduce energy usage. With thermoplastics, manufacturing
processes can be reduced from hours to minutes while the material is shaped into
its desired geometry. In addition, thermoplastic composites can be incredibly
robust and more resistant to impact and high temperatures.
While thermoplastics manufacturing is quicker and more efficient, it also
provides sustainability benefits because the resulting components are
re-moldable and therefore recyclable – making them more attractive than metallic
and thermoset parts. As fuel efficiency grows in importance for mission
performance, aerospace customers are counting on manufacturers for
lighter-weight products that address specific fuel-consumption metrics.
Thermoplastics can reduce the weight of structural components by up to 50
percent as compared to metallic solutions.
"We're developing key technologies for our customers that not only provide
the results that matter to them, but also have the potential to transform the
way we do business," Manten said. "By enabling their visions, we can better
ensure we reach our own."
New acquisition expands Collins' capabilities
For more than 20 years, DTC developed and manufactured
thermoplastic-composite aerospace parts used as structurally loaded components
in applications including fuselages, doors, wings and flight control surfaces. A
pioneer in this field, DTC has evolved into an industry leader.
As a supplier of thermoplastic composite parts to 20 different aircraft
types, DTC developed strong customer relationships while being highly engaged in
the development of new material and process specifications. Key to its success
was the company's ability to invest in new advanced processing technologies that
were embraced by its customers.
Now that DTC has become part of Collins Aerospace, Collins will leverage this
unique expertise as part of a broader initiative to bring develop a new level of
advanced, in-house thermoplastics capabilities and a distinctive product
portfolio for the benefit of current and future customers.
The thermoplastic technologies in this new toolbox include automated fiber
placement and multiple advanced welding technologies that allow Collins to build
larger, more complex and integrated aerostructures compared to the components
currently fabricated by the former DTC (and current Collins) team in the
"Right now, we're on track to demonstrate a thermoplastic fan cowl by welding
a large, curved frame to a fiber-placed skin in 2022," added Manten.
Providing innovative aerostructures for 80 years