Aerospace thermoplastic composites program flying high

Airbus, Fokker and TenCate have recently signed a contract for the next stage of the Thermoplastic Affordable Primary Aircraft Structure innovation program (TAPAS), in the presence of the French President François Hollande, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp.

The TAPAS program has been running since 2010 and has been hailed as a highly successful tool for project-based innovation partnership.

The TAPAS consortium consists of companies and knowledge institutes in the Dutch aerospace industry working together with Airbus on the development of thermoplastic composite applications for primary structural parts, such as aircraft fuselages, wings and tail sections. Eco-efficiency is an important additional objective.

The partnership between Fokker Aerostructures and TenCate Advanced Composites with Airbus and the other partners started in 2010 and, with the signing of the contract, has now been extended through 2017.

The innovation partners within TAPAS from Dutch SMEs are Airborne Composites, CODET, DTC, KE-Works, KVE and Technobis Fiber Technologies. The Netherlands National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR), Delft University of Technology and the University of Twente are the Dutch knowledge partners in the innovation program and the budget for TAPAS 2 is €24.3 million. The Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs is supporting the ongoing partnership with a loan of €9.5 million.

Thermoplastic composites are a relatively new generation of plastic composite materials, which consist of two components: a thermoplastic matrix and fibers. The matrix melts when heated and can be modeled in any form. These materials are characterized by short cycle times, improved corrosion resistance and a high toughness. Their use also paves the way for less maintenance, possibilities for reuse and significant weight reduction - up to 15 percent compared with traditional aircraft materials. Other benefits include more efficient processing in production, lower costs of structural components and a high level of fire safety.

Their high strength and lightweight contribute to the drive toward sustainable aviation: as the use of these materials enables aircraft weight to continue to drop, fuel consumption is reduced, the range of the aircraft is increased and higher payloads are possible.

The target is to further increase the proportion of thermoplastic composites in current aircraft as well as in the new generation of aircraft and a demonstration tail section made entirely of thermoplastic composite material is being developed under the TAPAS 2 agreement. Already, a thermoplastic fuselage panel has been produced and presented as a demonstrator as part of TAPAS 1.

The Dutch aerospace industry holds a leading position worldwide in lightweight material applications. This position is due partly to the national knowledge infrastructure in the aerospace industry, materials and processes. Partnership with customers, suppliers, universities and knowledge institutes in innovation platforms, supported by active government policy, shows how this structured approach is taking new technology developments to the next level.

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