How Aluminum Got Dethroned by Thermoplastics in Aerospace

 

Cup holders. Magazines. Suit cases. Aircraft engines. Here’s a riddle, what do these items all have in common? If you’re an aircraft operator, the answer is obvious: they all add weight, making them a drain on your fuel costs.

 

If weight is one of the main operating costs of an aircraft, then it’s no surprise that airlines want to lose a few pounds. Over the last 35 years, AIP has witnessed firsthand the incredible weight savings that can be gained from using lightweight polymers and composites for aerospace applications.

 

How Airlines “Slim Down” Operating Costs

 

How much can an ounce cost you? Plenty. In the case of United Airlines, removing a single ounce from its in-flight magazine has translated to saving $290,000 a year. Yes, a single ounce can hit an airline with up to six digits in costs.

 

If thinner paper can have such an impact on your bottom line, then you can imagine the significant cost savings that can come from manufacturing lighter aerospace components. What’s the most lightweight solution for aircraft operators today? We have one word for you: plastics.

 

What Makes Plastics the Secret to Aircraft Fuel-Efficiency

 

Aluminum was popular during the “Golden Age of Aviation” because of its strength and durability as well as its lightness when compared to other metals like steel. As a result, many aircraft components have traditionally been metal, from aircraft interiors, to landing gear, aircraft engines and structural components.

 

Now consider the fact that polymer and composite materials can be up to ten times lighter than metal. It’s no wonder that as more thermoplastic materials come on the market and new manufacturing opportunities arise, metal replacement has been seen as one of the best opportunities to reduce airline weight.

 

How big is the impact of switching from aluminum to plastic parts like PEEK and ULTEM in aerospace applications? Operators can earn weight savings of up to 60%. This translates to lower lifetime fuel costs, reduced emissions and extended flight range for operators.

 

“Weighing” the Option of Plastics in Aerospace

 

Weight alone is a massive reason to consider thermoplastics for aerospace, but weight isn’t the only factor at play in material selection.

 

After all, wood is lighter than metal, but there’s a reason we don’t build spruce airframes like the first plane from the Wright brothers: it wouldn’t be safe today to fly a wooden plane! Aerospace components need to be able to survive in corrosive, harsh environments as well as provide resistance to high temperatures.

 

In other words, it’s crucial that your mission-critical components aren’t just lightweight, but also high-performing.

 

At AIP, we carefully apply our decades of material expertise to select the right material for your application’s needs. Remember that your aerospace plastics manufacturer should understand the unique demands of your industry and your application, and have experience machining the material you require.

 

Want to learn more about how AIP reduces costs for aircraft operators?

Read how machined polymer components can take a load off aircraft interiors in our aerospace case study.

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When design engineers need a custom-machined component for a project, many consider metals first for their strength and durability.  However, this is not the case anymore; metals are moving over as polymers and composites become a more sensible alternative for precision-machined, high-strength durable parts.  This is true across many industries, but especially in the aerospace and defense sectors.  In this article, we will explore the benefits of opting for a plastic material for mission-critical aerospace and defense parts.

 

Overall Benefits

 

Machined polymer and composite components are the most cost-effective solution compared to metal.

 

First, machined plastic parts are lighter and, therefore, provide immense advantages over metals by offering lower lifetime freight costs for equipment that is regularly transported or handled over the product’s lifetime. Furthermore, polymers allow lower power motors for moving parts due to lower frictional properties of polymer wear components compared to metals. The low frictional properties preserve the integrity of the part as well, which translates to less maintenance-related downtime. What does this mean for operators?  Equipment remains online longer doing what it’s supposed to do – produce profit and functionality.  Not only are plastics lighter, but they’re also less expensive than many raw metal materials used for parts. Plastics can be produced in faster cycles than metals, which helps keep manufacturing costs down as well.

 

At AIP, we can machine and deliver parts in as little as 10 business days.

 

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Plastics are more resistant to chemicals than their metal counterparts.

 

Without extensive and costly secondary finishes and coatings, metals are easily attacked by many common chemicals. Corrosion due to moisture or even dissimilar metals in close contact is also a major concern with metal components. Polymer and composite materials such as PEEK, Kynar, Teflon, and Polyethylene are impervious to some of the harshest chemicals. This allows for the manufacture and use of precision fluid handling components in the chemical and processing industries.  These parts would otherwise dissolve if they were manufactured from metal materials. Some polymer materials available for machining can withstand temperatures over 700°F (370°C).

 

Plastic parts do not require post-treatment finishing efforts, unlike metal.

 

Polymer and composites are both thermally and electrically insulating. Metallic components require special secondary processing and coating in order to achieve any sort of insulating properties. These secondary processes add cost to metallic components without offering the level of insulation offered by polymer materials. Plastic and composite components are also naturally corrosion resistant and experience no galvanic effects in a dissimilar metal scenario that require sheathing. Additionally, plastic materials are compounded with color before machining, eliminating the need for post-treatment finishing efforts such as painting.

 

Aerospace and Defense benefits graphic
 

 

Benefits to the Aerospace & Defense Sector

 

Polymers bring many advantages to the aerospace and defense industry, particularly in the form of weight-saving capabilities.  Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of precision machined mission-critical components.

 

  • Lightweight: Polymer and composite materials are up to ten times lighter than typical metals. A reduction in the weight of parts can have a huge impact on an aerospace company’s bottom line. For every pound of weight reduced on a plane, the airline can realize up to $15k per year in fuel cost reduction.

 

  • Corrosion-Resistant: Plastic materials handle far better than metals in chemically harsh environments. This increases the lifespan of the aircraft and avoids costly repairs brought about by corroding metal components an in-turn reducing MRO downtime provides for more operational time per aircraft per year.

 

  • Insulating and Radar Absorbent: Polymers are naturally radar-absorbent as well as thermally and electrically insulating.

 

  • Flame & Smoke Resistances: High-performance thermoplastics meet the stringent flame and smoke resistances required for aerospace applications.

 

Aerospace and Defense benefits graphic
 

Other Benefits for Aerospace and Defense

 

  • High Tensile Strength: Several lightweight thermoplastics can match the strength of metals, making them perfect for airplane equipment metal part replacement.

 

  • Flexibility & Impact Resistance: Polymers are resistant to impact damage, making them less prone to denting or cracking the way that metals do.

 

Plastics have a variety of unique attributes which place them above metals in terms of utility, cost-effectiveness and flexibility for precision-machined mission-critical components.  To learn more, search specific plastic materials and their applications per industry with our useful material search function.

 

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With over three decades of experience machining precision plastic and composite parts for the Aerospace & Defense industry, AIP Precision Machining knows that weight and strength are critical for your flight-ready hardware. That’s why we’ve carefully selected, machined, and tested all our thermoplastic materials to various aerospace industry standards. Our lightweight polymers and composites have stable chemical and corrosion resistance, as well as improved strength to weight ratios when compared to exotic alloys and non-ferrous metals. AIP’s polymer and composite materials maintain their properties even at high temperatures.

 

Read more on thermoplastic materials commonly used in the Aerospace & Defense industry for every day to mission-critical applications.

 

 

ULTEM – PEI

 

ULTEM-PEIULTEM has one of the highest dielectric strengths of any thermoplastic material, meaning it works very efficiently as an electrical insulator. Being resistant to both hot water and steam, ULTEM can withstand repeated cycles in a steam autoclave and can operate in high service temperature environments (340F or 170C).  ULTEM also has one of the lowest rates of thermal conductivity, allowing parts machined from ULTEM to act as thermal insulators.  ULTEM is FDA and NSF approved for both food and medical contact and therefore is an excellent choice for aircraft galley equipment such as ovens, microwaves and hot or cold beverage dispensing systems.  UL94 V-O flame rating with very low smoke output makes this material ideal for aircraft interior components.

 

 

CELAZOLE – PBI

 

CELAZOLE - PBICELAZOLE provides the highest mechanical properties of any thermoplastic above 400F (204C) and offers a continuous use operating temperature of 750F (399C). CELAZOLE has outstanding high-temperature mechanical properties for use in aircraft engines and other HOT section areas. This impressive lightweight material retains 100% tensile strength after being submerged in hydraulic fluid at 200°F for thirty days.

 

 

 

 

RYTON – PPS

 

RYTON’s inherent fire retardancy, thermal stability and corrosion resistance makes it perfectly suited for aerospace applications, while its dimensional stability means even the most intricate parts can be molded from RYTON with very tight tolerances.  RYTON is typically used for injection molded parts, however, there is limited availability of extruded rod and plate for machining.

 

 

 

 

VESPEL or DURATRON – PI

 

DURATRON PILike RYTON, VESPEL is dimensionally stable and has fantastic temperature resistance. It can operate uninterrupted from cryogenic temperatures to 550°F, with intermittent to 900°F. Thanks to its resistance to high wear and friction, VESPEL performs with excellence and longevity in severe environments—like those used in aerospace applications. VESPEL is a trademarked material of DuPont and can be provided in direct formed blanks or finished parts directly from DuPont.  AIP provides precision machined components from DuPont manufactured rod and plate stock.  VESPEL is typically used in high temperature and high-speed bearing and wear applications such as stator bushings.

 

 

 

TORLON or DURATRON – PAI

 

TORLONDURATRON PAI’s extremely low coefficient of linear thermal expansion and high creep resistance deliver excellent dimensional stability over its entire service range. DURATRON PAI is an amorphous material with a Tg (glass transition temperature) of 537°F (280°C). DURATRON PAI stock shapes are post-cured using procedures developed jointly by BP Amoco under the TORLON trade name and Quadrant under the DURATRON trade name. A post-curing cycle is sometimes recommended for components fabricated from extruded shapes where optimization of chemical resistance and/or wear performance is required.  TOLRON parts are used in structural, wear and electrical aerospace applications.

 

 

 

TECHTRON – PPS

 

TECHTRONTECHTRON has essentially zero moisture absorption which allows products manufactured from this material to maintain extreme dimensional and density stability. TECHTRON is highly chemical resistant allowing it to operate while submerged in harsh chemicals. It is inherently flame retardant and can be easily machined to close tolerances. It has a broader resistance to chemicals than most high-performing plastics and can work well as an alternative to PEEK at lower temperatures.

 

 

RADEL – PPSU

 

RADELWith high heat and high impact performance, RADEL delivers better impact resistance and chemical resistance than other sulfone based polymers, such as PSU and PEI. Its toughness and long-term hydrolytic stability means it performs well even under autoclave pressure.  RADEL R5500 meets the stringent aircraft flammability requirements of 14CFR Part 25, allowing the aircraft design engineer to provide lightweight, safe and aesthetically pleasing precision components for various aircraft interior layouts.  RADEL can be polished to a mirror finish and is FDA and NSF approved for food and beverage contact.

 

 

 

KEL – F

 

KEL-FKel-F is a winning combination of physical and mechanical properties, non-flammability, chemical resistance, near-zero moisture absorption and of course outstanding electrical properties. This stands out from other thermoplastic fluoropolymers, as only Kel-F has these characteristics in a useful temperature range of -400°F to +400°F. In addition, it has very low outgassing and offers extreme transmissivity for radar and microwave applications. Many aircraft and ground-based random applications use Kel-F.

 

 

PEEK

 

PEEKPEEK can be used continuously to 480°F (250°C) and in hot water or steam without permanent loss in physical properties. For hostile environments, PEEK is a high strength alternative to fluoropolymers. PEEK carries a V-O flammability rating and exhibits very low smoke and toxic gas emission when exposed to flame. PEEK is an increasingly popular replacement for metal in the aerospace industry due to its lightweight nature, mechanical strength, creep and fatigue resistance, as well as its ease in processing. Its exceptional physical and thermal characteristics make it a versatile thermoplastic polymer in many aerospace applications.  AIP has provided flight control, fuel system, interior, engine and aerodynamic related PEEK components for various aircraft OEM and MRO providers worldwide.

 

 

KYNAR – PVDF

 

KYNAR - PVDFAnother example of thermoplastic materials used in aerospace and defense is KYNAR, or PVDF. This polymer has impressive chemical resistance at ambient and elevated temperatures, as well as good thermomechanical and tensile strength. KYNAR is extremely durable due to its weather-ability and toughness even in the most severe environments. In addition to being flame-resistant, KYNAR is easy to machine, too. You can typically find KYNAR components in pipe fitting and various fuel or other fluid-related precision manifolds or connectors.

 

 

 

 

 

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Key Moments in Aircraft & Aerospace Innovation

 

Aviation technology has come a long way to get to where it is today. Over the course of the last century countless test flights, thousands of blueprints, and endless research from passionate minds have propelled the evolution of aircraft and aerospace technologies. Read on to discover how aviation materials have shifted to create a better, safer, and more efficient flight experience.

 

The Pioneers of Aviation

 

For much of human history, we have been fascinated with taking flight. The ancient Greeks contemplated sprouting wings in myths like Icarus and Daedalus – the boy who flew too close to the sun with wax and feather wings. Leonardo Da Vinci sketched flying machines that were way ahead of Renaissance times. It all came to fruition in 1857 when Félix du Temple de la Croix, a French Naval officer, received a patent for a flying machine. By 1874, he had developed a lightweight steam-powered monoplane which flew short distances under its own power after takeoff from a ski-jump.  Finally, in 1903, the Wright Brothers made the first controlled, powered, and sustained flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright Flyer featured a lightweight aluminum engine, wood and steel construction, and a fabric wing warping. According to the U.S. Smithsonian Institution, the Wright brothers accomplished the “world’s first successful flights of a powered heavier-than-air flying machine.”

 

 

Just 12 years later, the first all-metal airplane (Junkers J1), built by Hugo Junkers (1859-1935), took flight in 1915. Previously, aircraft experts believed that airplanes can only fly with light materials such as wood, struts, tension wires, and canvas. Junkers thought differently and believed that heavier materials like metal were necessary to transport passengers and goods.

 

The Golden Age

 

The Roaring 20’s ushered in airplane racing competitions, which led aircraft designers to focus on performance. Innovators, such as Howard Hughes, found that monoplanes (aircraft with one pair of wings) were more aerodynamic in comparison to biplanes, and that frames made with aluminum alloys were capable of withstanding extraordinary pressures and stresses. Due to its lightweight properties, aluminum also made its way into the internal fittings of the aircraft decreasing the weight and allowing for a more fuel-efficient design.

 

In 1925, Henry Ford acquired the Stout Metal Airplane Company, utilizing the all-metal design principles proposed by Hugo Junkers, Ford developed the Ford Trimotor, nicknamed the “Tin Goose.” The “Tin Goose” propelled the race to design safe and reliable engines for airline travel. A few years later, Henry Ford’s Trimotor NC8407 became the first airplane flown by Eastern Air Transport, a leading domestic airline in the 1930s flying routes from New York to Florida. This positioned metal as the primary material for domestic aircraft, and eventually military applications with the onset of WWII.

 

 

Plastic’s Mettle: Wartime Materials Take Flight

 

By the 1930’s, the use of wood became obsolete and all-metal aircrafts were produced for their durability. Imperial Airways, known today as British Airways, made headway in the air travel industry with advertisements of luxury and adventure to cross borders. However, those borders were sealed off with the breakout of WWII. In 1939, Imperial Airways, a private commercial airline, was ordered to operate from a military standpoint at Bristol Airport.  Across the Atlantic, engineers focused their efforts on building aircraft meant specifically for military strategy – strength, durability, agility, and weaponry.  The Boeing P-26 “Peashooter” entered service with the United States Army Air Corps as the first all-metal and low-wing monoplane fighter aircraft. Known for its speed and maneuverability, the small but feisty P-26 formed the core of pursuit squadrons throughout the United States.

 

 

In times of war, there are often significant advancements in material usage, weaponry, and machinery. World War II was no different. Plastics entered the scene during World War II, starting with the replacement of metal parts for rubber parts in U.S. aircraft after Japan limited metal trade with the United States. Following that, plastics of higher grades began to replace electrical insulators and mechanical components such as gears, pulleys, and fasteners. Aircraft manufacturers began to replace aluminum parts with plastics as they were lighter and thus more fuel efficient than aluminum.

 

The Race for Space

 

Lighter and more fuel efficient were the key words following World War II as nations turned their attention to the skies and beyond. The space program in the 1960’s brought together illustrious minds to solve the seemingly impossible feat of being the first country to put mankind on the moon, thus, the great race for space began. Aircraft were now going beyond the sky and NASA scientists knew they were dealing with new territory in aero innovation. They needed a material that could break the Earth’s atmosphere and carry a hefty amount of fuel, while protecting the spacecraft’s crew from extreme temperatures. NASA scientists turned to plastics, specifically Kevlar and nylon. Layers of nylon and other insulators were wrapped under the body of the spacecraft to protect the crew from the extreme temperatures of space. Both of these plastics are still staples in the aerospace industry – keeping the Hubble telescope and many other satellites scanning humanity’s charted and uncharted expanse.

 

 

Plastics of the Future

 

Plastics continue to lead the future of materials in aerospace and aviation industries for their durability, precision, and ingenuity. For example, in 2009, the 787-8 Dreamliner made its first maiden flight, becoming the first aircraft to have wings and fuselage made from carbon-fiber plastics. Besides being lightweight, plastics offered increased safety with their resistance to high impact, and their proven ability to withstand chemically harsh environments. This proved plastics an invaluable material when compared to alternative material choices like glass or metal.

 

 

Starting in the 1970s, plastics began to play a more crucial part in the defense and military industry, especially in stealth aircraft. The U.S. Air Force saw the potential of plastics when they learned that plastics could absorb radar waves. The added benefit of reduced radar signature makes plastics ideal for creating stealthy aircraft. Plastics continue to contribute to innovation in the defense industry, especially with stealth fabrics and other composite materials which can virtually create invisibility to radars in the near future.

 

Aside from plastics becoming increasingly popular for use in the defense and military sector, high grade plastics like PEEK are highly favorable for space travel due to its ability to function in hostile environments, critical in space exploration. Plastics are even being researched for lightweight radiation shielding for the International Space Station and flights to Mars.

 

At AIP, we’re proud to be a continued part of aviation and aerospace advancements and we look forward to engineering solutions for the next frontier. In fact, at the time this article was written, we are AS9100D:2016 certified, which means we meet the high-quality standards of applications in the aerospace industry. In addition, we are also ISO 13485:2016, ISO 9000:2015, FDA audited, and ITAR certified. Above call, we strive to create genuine relationships with our customers to deliver mission critical components with promise. To learn how we can help you, contact us today.

 

Interested to learn more? Read “Plastics in Aerospace: The Secret to Fuel-Efficient Aircraft

 

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AIP Precision Machining is proud to officially be AS9100:2016 certified as part of our dedication to quality in machining for aerospace applications. To share what that means, we’ve put together the following article to explain what AS9100D:2019 certification is and how we achieved it.

 

What is the AS9100D:2016 Standard?

 

AS9100 is a company level certification based on the ISO 9001 quality standard requirements, but with additional requirements based on the needs of the aerospace industry. These satisfy both ISO 9001 quality standards and DOD, NASA and FAA requirements.

 

This certification is based on “Quality Management Systems – Requirements for Aviation, Space and Defense Organizations,” a standard published by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). A third-party certifying body issues AS9100D:2016 certification. Part of this process includes annual or regularly scheduled audits to ensure compliance with the AS9100 standard.

 

AS9100D is meant for any organization that does business in the aerospace sector, including suppliers, contractors and manufacturers, such as AIP. It’s an internationally accepted standard, though different countries use their own numbering conventions.

 

As of this blog, AS9100D:2016 is the most recent version of the AS9100, revising the previous issue, AS9100C.

 

What about this certification helps AIP Precision Machining serve the aerospace market?

 

For the past 36 years, AIP Precision Machining has been supplying mission-critical polymer and composite components to Tier 1 through 3 aerospace OEMs. The latest AS9100D certification was required as a means to help open new “doors” in this marketplace for AIP. We were already the global leader for technical know-how and capability when considering supply options for aerospace like services due to our talented and advanced team. 

 

Similar to a job application, great candidates are many times excluded from opportunities due to lacking minimum accreditations. In our journey to offer our talent and services to new US-based or globally located aerospace OEMs, AS9100 certification allows AIP to showcase our capabilities for this market.

 

“There is no doubt in my mind that AIP is and always had been overly equipped to provide mission-critical precision aerospace components,” said John MacDonald, President of AIP Precision Machining. “It is just that now we have achieved the accreditation to show those who do not know of us that we are capable.”

 

What about AIP Precision Machining allows us to achieve AS9100D:2016 certification?

 

“Anyone who tells you that it is not about the people is wrong,” said MacDonald. “Leadership provided the vision and desire to seek out AS9100D certification, but our awesome team at AIP ran the marathon and got us over the finish line. It is also our team who will maintain and continually enhance those key processes to make us better every day at serving our valued customers.”

 

Want to contact us about aerospace manufacturing?

Get in touch with us online, or see our  AD9100D:2016 certification

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An Informational Brief on Polymer Machining

 

Delrin®, also commonly known as an acetal (polyoxymethylene) homopolymer, is an impact and wear resistant semi-crystalline thermoplastic popular for a broad range of machining applications. To list just a few of its impressive qualities, Delrin offers great stiffness, flexural modulus, and high tensile and impact strength.

Our latest machining guide discusses what goes into machining Delrin and how its considerations differ from other manufacturing options such as metal machining, injection molding, and 3D printing.

How does AIP approach Delrin and its machining process? To start, we’ll explain the difference between machining Delrin, a thermoplastic, and machining thermosets.

 

Machining Thermoplastics vs Thermosets

 

We’ve already said that Delrin is a thermoplastic, but what does that mean exactly?

All polymers can more or less be divided into two categories: thermoplastics and thermosets. The main difference between them is how they react to heat. Thermoplastics like Delrin, for example, melt in the heat, while thermosets remain “set” once they’re formed. Understanding the technical distinction between these types of materials is essential to CNC machining them properly.

What type of thermoplastic is Delrin in particular? Acetal homopolymer is a semicrystalline, engineering thermoplastic.

 

Properties & Grades of Machined Delrin

 

This strong, stiff and hard acetal homopolymer is easy to machine and exhibits dimensional stability and good creep resistance, among several other desirable qualities. Delrin is also known for its superior friction resistance, high tensile strength, and its fatigue, abrasion, solvent and moisture resistance.

The latter quality allows Delrin to significantly outperform other thermoplastics like Nylon in high moisture or submerged environments without losing high-performance in the process. In other words, Delrin can retain its low coefficient of friction and good wear properties in wet environments.

One of the main reasons for Delrin’s popularity is its sheer versatility. The above blend of unique qualities makes Delrin broadly applicable to various industries in the medical, aerospace and energy sectors. For example, you can machine Delrin for medical implants and instruments, or for industrial bearings, rollers, gears, and scraper blades. It is ideal for smaller applications at temperatures below 250 °F (121°C) and can have centerline porosity.

Some of the Delrin grades we regularly machine at AIP include:

 

PTFE-Filled Acetals

 

PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) filled grades of Delrin is ideal where impact strength and wear capability are of the highest importance.

 

Glass-Reinforced Acetals

 

Acetals that are reinforced with glass have a much higher strength and greater heat resistance than other grades of Delrin.

 

FDA-Compliant Acetals

 

There are FDA-compliant grades of Delrin available for use in medical and food-related applications.

 

Machining Delrin

 

Machining Delrin

 

It’s true that Delrin is an easy material to work with in terms of machining. It is a very stable material, which makes precise, tight tolerances easier to achieve for this thermoplastic.

While machining, keep in mind that Delrin is sensitive to heat at or above 250 °F (121°C).

Balance the material removal as best as you can to keep your dimensions stable.

We also suggest non-aromatic, air-based coolants to achieve optimum surface finishes and close tolerances. Coolants have the additional benefit of extending tool life as well.

 

Preventing Contamination

 

Contamination is a serious concern when machining polymer components for technically demanding industries such as medical and life sciences. To ensure the highest level of sanitation down to the sub-molecular level, AIP Precision Machining designs, heat-treats, and machines only plastics, with any sub-manufactured metalwork processed outside our facility.

 

Delrin Machining Guide: Supportive Information

 

General Engineering Materials

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An Informational Brief on Polymer Machining

 

Did you know that PPS (or Polyphenylene sulfide) products offer the broadest resistance to chemicals of any high-performance thermoplastic? It’s no surprise that this makes them a popular choice for industrial applications such as wheel bushings, chemical pumps, and compound clamp rings for semiconductor wafers.

 

What goes into machining this thermoplastic, however, and how does it differ from metal machining, injection molding, or 3D printing?

 

With Machining PPS: A Plastics Guides, AIP provides you with a guide to this material and its machining process. First, let’s start with the basics: thermoplastics vs thermosets.

 

 

Machining Thermoplastics vs Thermosets

 

We’ve already said that PPS is a thermoplastic, but what does that mean exactly?

 

All polymers can more or less be divided into two categories: thermoplastics and thermosets. The main difference between them is how they react to heat. Thermoplastics like PPS, for example, melt in heat, while thermosets remain “set” once they’re formed. Understanding the technical distinction between these types of materials is essential to CNC machining them properly.

 

What type of thermoplastic is PPS in particular? It’s a semi-crystalline, high-performance thermoplastic that has an extremely stable molecular structure. The chemical resistance of PPS is often compared to PEEK  and fluoropolymers.

 

 

Properties & Grades of Machined PPS

 

There’s a lot to like about PPS’s material properties. As we mentioned before, PPS has exceptional chemical resistance that makes its bearing grades especially favorable for the chemical industry or caustic environments. In particular, its resistance to acids, alkalis, ketones, and hydrocarbons lend PPS stellar structural performance in harsh chemicals.

 

Additionally, PPS materials are inert to steam as well as strong bases, fuels and acids. Combine that with a low coefficient of thermal expansion and zero moisture absorption, and you get a material that is ideal for continuous use in corrosive or hostile environments. PPS has replaced stainless steel for a lot of industrial applications for this reason.

 

Most impressively, PPS will not dissolve at temperatures below approximately 200 °C, no matter what solvent is used. In fact, all grades of PPS share UL94 V-0 flammability ratings, without requiring flame retardant additives, resulting in an excellent material for aircraft where flame resistance is paramount.

 

Some grades of PPS that we regularly machine at AIP Precision Machining include Ryton®, Fortron®, TECHTRON®, TECTRON® HPV, TECATRON PVX and TECATRON CMP.

 

 

Machining PPS

 

Annealing PPS

The process of annealing and stress-relieving PPS reduces the likelihood of surface cracks and internal stresses occurring in the material. Post-machining annealing also helps to reduce stresses that could potentially contribute to premature failure. AIP’s special annealing process for PPS is designed to take the specific properties of PPS into account, and we advise anyone working with PPS to hire a manufacturer that understands its unique demands.

 

Machining PPS

PPS is a fantastic material for machining. Its low shrinkage and stable dimensional properties make it easy to machine to incredibly tight, precise tolerances. A unique characteristic of PPS is that when dropped, it sounds just like a piece of metal hitting the floor.

 

PPS, like many other thermoplastics, is notch sensitive, so take care to avoid sharp corners in design. We recommend carbide tipped cutting tools for working with PPS as they provide an ideal speed and surface finish.

 

We also suggest non-aromatic, water-soluble coolants, such as pressurized air and spray mists, to achieve optimum surface finishes and close tolerances. Coolants have the additional benefit of extending tool life as well. No known coolants attack nor degrade PPS.

 

Preventing Contamination

Contamination is a serious concern when machining polymer components for technically demanding industries such as aerospace. To ensure the highest level of sanitation down to the sub-molecular level, AIP Precision Machining designs, heat-treats, and machines only plastics, with any sub-manufactured metalwork processed outside our facility.

 

To learn more, read our article “Three Ways to Ensure Sterilization in Your Plastic Machined Medical Applications.”

 

 

PPS Machining Guide: Supportive Information

Chemical Resistant Materials Guide

Energy Sector Materials Guide

Aerospace Sector Materials Guide

 

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How Aluminum Got Dethroned by Thermoplastics in Aerospace

 

Cup holders. Magazines. Suit cases. Aircraft engines. Here’s a riddle, what do these items all have in common? If you’re an aircraft operator, the answer is obvious: they all add weight, making them a drain on your fuel costs.

 

If weight is one of the main operating costs of an aircraft, then it’s no surprise that airlines want to lose a few pounds. Over the last 35 years, AIP has witnessed firsthand the incredible weight savings that can be gained from using lightweight polymers and composites for aerospace applications.

 

How Airlines “Slim Down” Operating Costs


How much can an ounce cost you? Plenty. In the case of United Airlines, removing a single ounce from its in-flight magazine has translated to saving $290,000 a year. Yes, a single ounce can hit an airline with up to six digits in costs.

 

If thinner paper can have such an impact on your bottom line, then you can imagine the significant cost savings that can come from manufacturing lighter aerospace components. What’s the most lightweight solution for aircraft operators today? We have one word for you: plastics.

 

What Makes Plastics the Secret to Aircraft Fuel-Efficiency


Aluminum was popular during the “Golden Age of Aviation” because of its strength and durability as well as its lightness when compared to other metals like steel. As a result, many aircraft components have traditionally been metal, from aircraft interiors, to landing gear, aircraft engines and structural components.

 

Now consider the fact that polymer and composite materials can be up to ten times lighter than metal. It’s no wonder that as more thermoplastic materials come on the market and new manufacturing opportunities arise, metal replacement has been seen as one of the best opportunities to reduce airline weight.

 

How big is the impact of switching from aluminum to plastic parts like PEEK and ULTEM in aerospace applications? Operators can earn weight savings of up to 60%. This translates to lower lifetime fuel costs, reduced emissions and extended flight range for operators.

 

“Weighing” the Option of Plastics in Aerospace


Weight alone is a massive reason to consider thermoplastics for aerospace, but weight isn’t the only factor at play in material selection.

 

After all, wood is lighter than metal, but there’s a reason we don’t build spruce airframes like the first plane from the Wright brothers: it wouldn’t be safe today to fly a wooden plane! Aerospace components need to be able to survive in corrosive, harsh environments as well as provide resistance to high temperatures.

 

In other words, it’s crucial that your mission-critical components aren’t just lightweight, but also high-performing.

 

At AIP, we carefully apply our decades of material expertise to select the right material for your application’s needs. Remember that your aerospace plastics manufacturer should understand the unique demands of your industry and your application, and have experience machining the material you require.

 

Want to learn more about how AIP reduces costs for aircraft operators?

Read how machined polymer components can take a load off aircraft interiors in our aerospace case study.

 

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An Informational Brief on Polymer Machining

 

AIP Precision Machining has worked with many thermoplastics over the past three decades, including TORLON: a PAI, or polyamide-imide, engineered by Solvay Specialty Polymers.

 

Due to its reliable performance at severe levels of temperature and stress, TORLON is ideal for critical mechanical and structural components of jet engines, automotive transmissions, oil recovery, off-road vehicles and heavy-duty equipment.

 

AIP has over 35 years of experience machining complex components from TORLON and various other thermoplastic materials. We are providing this Machining TORLON Guide as yet another insightful technical brief about our polymer component manufacturing process, and how it differs from that of metal machining, injection molding, or 3D printing.

 

Plastic CNC Machining

Before discussing the process of machining TORLON, it’s important to understand exactly what plastic machining is.

 

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining is a process in the manufacturing sector that involves the use of computers to control machine tools. In the case of plastic machining, this involves the precise removal of layers from a plastic sheet, rod, tube or near net molded blank.

 

The early history of CNC machining is almost as complex as a modern CNC system. The earliest version of computer numerical control (CNC) technology was developed shortly after World War II as a reliable, repeatable way to manufacture more accurate and complex parts for the aircraft industry. Numerical control—the precursor to CNC—was developed by John Parsons as a method of producing integrally stiffened aircraft skins.

 

Parsons, while working at his father’s Traverse City, Michigan-based Parsons Corp., had previously collaborated on the development of a system for producing helicopter rotor blade templates. Using an IBM 602A multiplier to calculate airfoil coordinates, and inputting this data to a Swiss jig borer, it was possible to produce templates from data on punched cards.

 

Parsons’ work lead to numerous Air Force research projects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) starting in 1949. Following extensive research and development, an experimental milling machine was constructed at MIT’s Servomechanisms Laboratory.

 

Due to the many different kinds of polymers and composites, it’s important to have strong technical expertise of polymer materials when machining plastic components; some plastics are brittle, for example, while others cut similarly to metal. The challenge of plastics is their wide range of mechanical and thermal properties which result in varying behavior when machined. Therefore, it’s important to understand the polymer structure and properties of TORLON if you’re machining it.

 

Thermoplastics vs Thermosets

When it comes to polymers, you have two basic types: thermoplastics and thermosets. It’s crucial to know which one you’re working with due to distinct differences between how these two main polymer categories react to chemicals and temperature.

 

Thermoplastics soften when heated and become more fluid as additional heat is applied. The curing process is completely reversible as no chemical bonding takes place. This characteristic allows thermoplastics to be remolded and recycled without negatively affecting the material’s physical properties.

 

They possess the following properties:

• Good Resistance to Creep

• Soluble in Certain Solvents

• Swell in Presence of Certain Solvents

• Allows for Plastic Deformation when Heated

 

Thermosets plastics contain polymers that cross-link together during the curing process to form an irreversible chemical bond. The cross-linking process eliminates the risk of the product re-melting when heat is applied, making thermosets ideal for high-heat applications such as electronics and appliances.

 

They possess the following properties:

• High Resistance to Creep

• Cannot Melt

• Insoluble

• Rarely Swell in Presence of Solvents

 

Phenolic, Bakelite, Vinyl Ester and Epoxy materials would be considered examples of a thermoset, while ULTEM, PEEK, DELRIN and Polycarbonate materials are examples of thermoplastics.

The thermoplastic category of polymers is further categorized into Amorphous and Crystalline polymers per the figure below:

 

Machining Ultem
 

TORLON is considered an amorphous, high-performance thermoplastic. Most amorphous polymers are thermoform capable, translucent and easily bonded with adhesives or solvents.

 

 

Various Grades of Machined TORLON

 

What makes TORLON unique is how it possesses both the incredible performance of thermoset polyimides and the melt-processing advantages of thermoplastics. The compressive strength of (unfilled) TORLON PAI is double that of PEEK and 30% higher than that of ULTEM PEI. In fact, TORLON is considered the highest performing, melt-processible plastic.

 

High-strength grades of TORLON retain their toughness, high strength and high stiffness up to 275°C. This and its impressive wear resistance allow TORLON to endure in hostile thermal, chemical and stress conditions considered too severe for other thermoplastics. TORLON is also resistant to automotive and aviation fluids, making it a favorite of aerospace and automotive engineers.

 

One concern of using TORLON is that its moisture absorption rate is not as low as other high-performance plastics, so special care should be taken when designing components for wet environments.

 

There’s more than one particular type of TORLON PAI you can machine, and each has slightly different properties for perfecting this material’s use in different applications.

 

Here are several grades of TORLON PAI we machine regularly at AIP Precision Machining.

 

TORLON 4203

TORLON 4203 is the unfilled or natural grade of TORLON PAI that outperforms other grades with the best impact resistance and the most elongation. TORLON 4203 PAI can be used for a variety of applications but due to its good electrical properties, it is commonly machined for electronic equipment manufacturing, valve seals, bearings and temperature test sockets.

 

TORLON 4301

TORLON 4301 is a wear-resistant grade of TORLON PAI containing PTFE and graphite. It has high flexural and compressive strength with a low coefficient of friction, as well as good mechanical properties. Typical applications of 4301 are anything that requires strength at high temperature with wear resistance and low friction. This material is useful for parts such as thrust washers, spline liners, valve seats, bushings, bearings and wear rings.

 

TORLON 4XG

TORLON 4XG is a 30% glass-reinforced extruded grade of PAI well suited to higher load structural or electronic applications. When you need a high degree of dimensional control, this grade offers the high-performance you need. Various uses of TORLON 4XG include burn-in sockets, gears, valve plates, impellers, rotors, terminal strips and insulators, among others.

 

TORLON 4XCF

TORLON 4XCF is a 30% carbon-reinforced extruded grade of PAI that has the lowest coefficient of thermal expansion and the most impressive fatigue resistance of all plastic materials. This uncommon grade works well as a replacement for metal applications as well as mission-critical aerospace components, in addition to impellers, shrouds and pistons.

 

 

Machining TORLON

 

Annealing TORLON
TORLON PAI can be received in the form of rods, sheets, tube or film. Stress-relieving before machining through an annealing process is crucial, as it reduces the likelihood that surface cracks and internal stresses will occur from the heat generated. This also helps prevent any warping or distortion of your plastic materials.

 

TORLON additionally benefits from post-machining annealing to reduce any stress that could contribute to premature failure. Extruded TORLON parts, such as those machined from TORLON 4XCF and TORLON 4XG, benefit from an additional cure after machining to further enhance wear resistance; this is unique to PAI. Proper annealing of Torlon can require more than seven days in special ovens at AIP.

 

If the machine shop you are working with does not have a computer controlled annealing oven for plastics, then “head for dee hills” as they are obviously not TORLON machining experts.

 

Machining TORLON

An important consideration to have when machining TORLON PAI is how abrasive it is on tooling. If you’re machining on a short run, carbide tooling can be used, but polycrystalline (PCD) tooling should be considered for lengthier runs, machining for tight tolerance and any time you are working with reinforced grades.

 

Another thing to keep in mind when machining extruded TORLON shapes is that they have a cured outer skin, which is harder than interior sections. The outer skin offers the best wear and chemical resistance. If wear resistance and chemical resistance needs to be optimized, extruded TORLON should be re-cured.

 

TORLON PAI will nearly always require the use of coolants due to its stiffness and hardness. Non-aromatic, water-soluble coolants are most suitable for ideal surface finishes and close tolerances. These include pressurized air and spray mists. Coolants have the additional benefit of extending tool life as well.

 

Many metal shops use petroleum-based coolants, but these types of fluids attack TORLON. Many past experiences have shown parts going to customer without cracks, only to develop cracks over time due to exposure to metal machine shop fluids. Be sure to use a facility like AIP who machines polymers and only polymers.

 

Preventing Contamination

Contamination is a serious concern when machining polymer components for technically demanding industries such as aerospace and medical. To ensure the highest level of sanitation down to the sub-molecular level, AIP Precision Machining designs, heat-treats and machines only plastics, with any sub-manufactured metalwork processed outside our facility.

 

 

TORLON Machining Guide: Supportive Information

Medical Sector Biomaterials Guide

Energy Sector Materials Guide

Aerospace Sector Materials Guide

Amorphous Materials

 

 

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With over two decades of experience machining precision plastic and composite parts for the Aerospace & Defense industry, AIP Precision Machining knows that weight and strength are critical for your flight-ready hardware. That’s why we’ve carefully selected, machined and tested all our thermoplastic materials to various aerospace and defense industry standards. Our lightweight polymers and composites have stable chemical and corrosion resistance, as well as improved strength to weight ratios when compared to exotic alloys and non-ferrous metals. AIP’s polymer and composite materials maintain their properties even at high temperatures.

 

Here are some specific examples of thermoplastic materials commonly used in the Aerospace & Defense industry.

 

ULTEM-PEI

ULTEM – PEI

ULTEM has one of the highest dielectric strengths of any thermoplastic material. This enables ULTEM to work very efficiently as an electrical insulator. Being resistant to both hot water and steam, ULTEM can withstand repeated cycles in a steam autoclave and operate in high service temperature environments (340F or 170C). ULTEM also has one of the lowest rates of thermal conductivity among thermoplastics, allowing machined ULTEM parts to act as thermal insulators. ULTEM is FDA and NSF approved for both food and medical contact, making it an excellent choice for aircraft galley equipment such as ovens, microwaves and hot or cold beverage dispensing systems. Finally, its UL94 V-O flame rating with very low smoke output makes this material ideal for aircraft interior components.

 

 

CELAZOLE - PBI

CELAZOLE – PBI

CELAZOLE provides the highest mechanical properties of any thermoplastic above 400F (204C) and offers a continuous use operating temperature of 750F (399C). This impressive lightweight material has outstanding high-temperature mechanical properties for use in aircraft engines and other HOT section areas. These properties include good fatigue resistance, compressive strength, wear resistance and electrical insulation. After being submerged in hydraulic fluid at 200°F for thirty days, CELAZOLE retains 100% tensile strength.

 

 

RYTON – PPS

RYTON’s inherent fire retardancy, thermal stability, and corrosion resistance make it perfectly suited for aerospace applications, while its dimensional stability means even the most intricate parts can be manufactured from RYTON with very tight tolerances. RYTON is typically used for injection molded parts; however, there is limited availability of extruded rod and plate for machining.

 

 

 

DURATRON PI

VESPEL or DURATRON – PI

Like RYTON, VESPEL is dimensionally stable and has fantastic temperature resistance. It can operate uninterrupted from cryogenic temperatures to 550°F, with intermittent to 900°F. Thanks to its high wear and friction resistance, VESPEL performs with excellence and longevity in severe aerospace environments. VESPEL is a trademark material of DuPont and can be provided in direct formed blanks or finished parts directly from DuPont. AIP has provided precision machined components from DuPont manufactured rod and plate stock. You can typically find VESPEL used in high temperature and high-speed bearing and wear applications, such as stator bushings.

 

 

TORLON

TORLON or DURATRON – PAI

DURATRON PAI’s extremely low coefficient of linear thermal expansion and high creep resistance deliver excellent dimensional stability over its entire service range. PAI is an amorphous material with a Tg (glass transition temperature) of 537°F (280°C). DURATRON PAI stock shapes are post-cured using procedures developed jointly by BP Amoco under the TORLON trade name and Quadrant under the DURATRON trade name. PAI components fabricated from extruded shapes that require optimization of chemical resistance and/or wear performance often receive a post-curing cycle. You can find TORLON parts in structural, wear and electrical aerospace applications.

 

 

TECHTRON

TECHTRON – PPS

TECHTRON has essentially zero moisture absorption, which allows products manufactured from this material to maintain extreme dimensional and density stability. PPS is highly chemical resistant and can operate while submerged in harsh chemicals. Additionally, TECHTRON is inherently flame retardant and can be easily machined to close tolerances. PPS has a broader resistance to chemicals than most high-performing plastics, as well. TECHTRON can work well as an alternative to PEEK at lower temperatures for this reason.

 

 

 

RADEL

RADEL – PPSU

With high heat and high impact performance, RADEL delivers better impact resistance and chemical resistance than other sulfone-based polymers, such as PSU and PEI. Its toughness and long-term hydrolytic stability mean it performs well even under autoclave pressure. Importantly, RADEL R5500 meets the stringent aircraft flammability requirements of 14CFR Part 25. These allow the aircraft design engineer to provide lightweight, safe and aesthetically pleasing precision components for various aircraft interior layouts. RADEL can also be polished to a mirror finish and is FDA and NSF approved for food and beverage contact.

 

 

 

KEL-F

KEL – F

Kel-F is a winning combination of physical and mechanical properties, non-flammability, chemical resistance, near-zero moisture absorption and of course outstanding electrical properties. This stands out from other thermoplastic fluoropolymers, as only Kel-F has these characteristics in a useful temperature range of -400°F to +400°F. In addition, it has very low outgassing and offers extreme transmissivity for radar and microwave applications. Many aircraft and ground-based random applications use Kel-F.

 

 

 

PEEK

PEEK

PEEK can be used continuously in temperatures of 480°F (250°C) and in hot water or steam without permanent loss of physical properties. For hostile environments, PEEK is a high strength alternative to fluoropolymers. PEEK carries a V-O flammability rating and exhibits very low smoke and toxic gas emission when exposed to flame. These aren’t the only reasons that PEEK is an increasingly popular choice for metal replacement in aerospace, however. Many manufacturers prefer PEEK for its lightweight nature, mechanical strength, creep and fatigue resistance, as well as its ease of processing. These and other exceptional physical and thermal characteristics make PEEK a versatile thermoplastic polymer for many aerospace applications. AIP has provided flight control, fuel system, interior, engine and aerodynamic-related PEEK components for various aircraft OEM and MRO providers worldwide.

 

 

KYNAR - PVDF

KYNAR – PVDF

Another example of thermoplastic materials used in aerospace and defense is KYNAR, or PVDF. This polymer has impressive chemical resistance at ambient and elevated temperatures, as well as good thermomechanical and tensile strength. KYNAR is extremely durable due to its weather-ability and toughness even in the most severe environments. In addition to being flame-resistant, KYNAR is easy to machine, too. You can typically find KYNAR components in pipe fitting and various fuel or other fluid related precision manifolds or connectors.

 

 

 

 

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