Hexcel and Arkema complete first aeronautical structure made of thermoplastic composites

Hexcel and Arkema have achieved a groundbreaking milestone in aeronautical structures with the realization of a first thermoplastic composite structure demonstrator.

This achievement stems from the strategic partnership between Hexcel and Arkema. The high-performance thermoplastic composite structure was designed and manufactured using HexPly thermoplastic tapes. These aerospace-grade materials are developed from Arkema’s Kepstan PEKK resin and Hexcel HexTow AS7 and IM7 carbon fibers.

The demonstrator project was carried out as part of the collaborative project known as HAICoPAS (Highly Automatized Integrated Composites for Performing Adaptable Structures). The primary goal of HAICoPAS is to optimize the design and production process for unidirectional composite tapes made from high-performance thermoplastic resins and continuous carbon fibers. The project also aims to develop a more efficient tape placement technology and a novel continuous and dynamic in-situ welding (ISW) assembly system with real-time quality control. Ultimately, the objective is to produce composite parts that can replace metallic materials (such as steel, aluminum, and titanium) in aircraft structures, achieving both cost competitiveness and high production rates.

The partners have successfully overcome the technological barriers identified at the beginning of the project, including the development, implementation, and characterization of carbon/thermoplastic (C/PEKK) tapes; the creation of an automated deposition process for consolidation outside of autoclaves; and the establishment of the ISW welding technology for assembly.

The definition of elementary parts intended to form the assembled components of the HAICoPAS demonstrator was carried out in close collaboration with an industrial advisory committee comprising Airbus, Safran, Daher, Hutchinson, and ATC.

The HAICoPAS project is a collaborative initiative led by Hexcel and Arkema, along with their industrial partners (Ingecal, Coriolis Composites, Pinette Emidecau Industries (PEI), and Institut de Soudure). Additionally, a consortium of university laboratories, spearheaded by CNRS and comprising the PIMM (CNRS - Arts et Métiers ParisTech - Cnam) and LTEN (CNRS - Université de Nantes), played a crucial role in this endeavor. The Structuring R&D Project for Competitiveness (PSPC) received support from Bpifrance as part of the Investment for the Future Program and was endorsed by the Polymeris competitiveness cluster.