The aerospace industry is thriving, as can be noted by the record number of aircraft sales over the past several years, and it is predicted to continue on an upward trajectory into the next decade. Demand for new aircraft is expected to support industrywide growth of approximately 7%. That's an increase of more than 50% by 2021.
As the expansion continues, new materials development is emerging as a clear winner in the search for more cost-effective solutions for keeping fuel costs down as passenger-miles soar. Industry customers are increasingly asking their suppliers to provide lighter, yet stronger composite material alternatives for aircraft components that traditionally have been made from metal. That means that suppliers will need to step up to the plate when it comes to helping their aerospace customers meet new requirements.
One of those cutting edge suppliers, Tri-Mack Plastics Manufacturing Corp. (Bristol, RI), a leading manufacturer of high-performance engineered components, has found the formula for meeting client needs for lower cost, lightweight, high-quality thermoplastic parts and assemblies through a combination of innovative technology, materials expertise and customer collaboration. The 40-year-old company recently hired almost three dozen new employees, opened a new Advanced Composites Center and is already planning to expand its Bristol facilities.
The Advanced Composites Center is dedicated to processing the latest thermoplastic composites (TPCs) that offer Tri-Mack's customers in aerospace and other industries lightweight, robust alternatives to heavier, more traditional materials. Tri-Mack produces hybrid components that combine the performance of TPCs with injection molding to create complex assemblies. Hybrids feature the key advantages of both processes: The outstanding mechanical properties of thermoplastic composites and the low cost of injection molding, explains the company.
"A tremendous amount of development goes into every aerospace project," said Will Kain, Tri-Mack President. "Naturally, at times this strains capacity at the OEM level. We've always viewed our role as that of a valued supply-chain partner, helping our clients complete their projects and meet their weight-savings goals. One key aspect of the Tri-Mack formula is that we've become an extension of our customers' engineering teams. In this partner role, we are helping customers by increasing our facility size and staff, and by adding cutting-edge research and technology."
Tri-Mack recently completed a project to qualify over 200 part numbers for a large aerospace OEM—at an accelerated schedule. By converting the parts from steel to TPC, the company was also able to achieve an average weight savings of 40% for its customer.
Kain explained to PlasticsToday that Tri-Mack started out 40 years ago as a processor of PTFE preformed and machined parts for the aerospace industry. "From there, we branched out into the injection molding of aerospace components and assemblies," he added. "In 2012 we developed our thermoplastic composite cell with automated tape laying, consolidation and forming."
Tri-Mack provides clients with access to an impressive technology lineup. In addition to its Advanced Composites Center, this includes injection and compression molding, precision multi-axis machining, tool making and a robotic injection molding cell, all backed by years of experience. From design for manufacturing to metal-to-plastic conversion, Tri-Mack's main objective is that each part meet the client's exact needs, regardless of the materials involved.
Combining the best of both composites and injection molding allows Tri-Mack to expand on its expertise. "When we were first evaluating thermoplastic composites, we saw the potential to combine our expertise in tool making and processing high-temperature engineering resins with thermoplastic composites," Kain commented to PlasticsToday. "Our focus with these new technologies has been primarily in aerospace or other critical applications," Kain said. "Now, designs can combine the incredible strength of the composite with the intricate details formed by injection molding. This is a natural step in our growth, as it takes full advantage of several of our competencies."
With the company's expansion into thermoplastic composites and the Advanced Composites Center, Tri-Mack is more than a component manufacturer. "We're managing processes, data and aggressive new product introduction schedules," said Kain. "This leads to success for all the parties involved."
Kain added that going forward, Tri-Mack's continuous investment in capital equipment, technology and people "ensures that we will be able to further increase our capacity, as well as offer our customers the very latest manufacturing technologies."
In addition to serving the aerospace industry, Tri-Mack also provides high-performance parts for critical applications in the chemical processing, medical, electronics and industrial equipment markets.