Tri-Mack Plastics Manufacturing Corp. has developed a new process for producing very lightweight, high-strength enclosures using just eight plies of unidirectional carbon-fiber reinforced thermoplastic composite (TPC) tape that measure only 0.040-in. thick. Introduced at last month’s CAMX show, the enclosures were made using Tri-Mack’s process of automated tape laying, consolidation, and stamp forming, which can produce parts in minutes, rather than the hours that are typically required for thermosets, the company shared in a news release.
Process Engineering Manager Ben Lamm, leader of the new enclosure project, said that it was a technical challenge to form the large, deep covers out of TPC. “With unidirectional materials you’re stacking plies that are oriented in different directions throughout the part,” he explained in the release. “Making complex shapes this way requires individual plies to slip against each other as you are forming. Getting them to move the way you want to produce a consistent, wrinkle-free part requires strategic layup and tool design, as well as subtleties in material handling during processing.”
Tom Kneath, vice president for sales and marketing, believes the new TPC covers could meet demand for strong, lightweight enclosures that can shield functional components in aircraft, drones, and other industrial uses. “Where strength and durability are priorities in addition to the lightest weight, continuous-fiber TPCs are the material of choice. It is less brittle than thermosets, delivers ten times the strength of injection-molded parts and, with our enclosure, provides a 30% weight reduction versus 6061 aluminum,” he said in the release.
The new enclosures can also be produced using glass fiber and with different base resins as well, including PAEK, PEEK and PEI, providing a variety of customizable properties and solutions. Another benefit of the new enclosure’s manufacturing process is that it allows for added functionality, creating “smart composites” by embedding EMI shielding, or adding localized reinforcement through tailored layups, the company said.
“We can add electrically conductive layers into our process to enable EMI shielding performance at a fraction of the weight of metal,” said sales engineer Max McCabe in the statement, noting that this also eliminates the plating and painting process steps of typical EMI solutions used on composite parts.
Electrical conductivity and shielding effectiveness can be tailored to end-use using a wide variety of durable composite materials, McCabe noted, further broadening potential applications across aerospace, unmanned air vehicles, undersea applications, and electric vehicles.