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Plasticell, based in France, has developed a process for the production of lightweight thermoplastic honeycomb structures using Victrex Aptiv film.

The design of Plasticell’s honeycomb provides a solution for aerospace and other industries seeking to reduce weight while maintaining strength and stiffness.

Aptiv thermoplastic honeycomb can be thermoformed into shape in combination with fibre-reinforced Victrex Peek polymer composite skins to create structural parts without the use of adhesives.

Consisting only of Peek polymer, any scrap and end-of-life parts can be fully recycled, providing further advantages over traditional phenolic/aramid fibre and aluminium-based honeycombs.

The process to produce Plasticell’s honeycomb comprises two main steps: forming thin Aptiv film sheets to create semi-hexagonal shapes; and the sequential stacking of sheets and welding with a laser along lines at the contact points to achieve melt bonding.

Core blocks made in this way can be machined to shape before moulding by a variety of processes.

Finished thermoplastic honeycomb structures are produced by press moulding pre-formed and pre-heated composite skins onto the honeycomb in a forming tool.

The combination of the pressure inside the mould and the temperature of the mating surfaces cause the honeycomb core to conform to the mould geometry while ensuring bonding between the core and the skins.

Marc Le Monnier, founder and manager of Plasticell, said: ‘Unlike traditional honeycombs, which are produced with adhesive systems, the Plasticell process uses laser welding to join the Aptiv film layers within the honeycomb matrix.

‘This maintains the performance properties of the base film and this is what makes this solution so ideal,’ he added.

Didier Padey, market development manager in France for Victrex Polymer Solutions, said: ‘The thermoplastic film used for the honeycomb and for the surface skins must fulfil the aircraft industry standards for flame performance, smoke and toxicity, as well as offering mechanical performance and low weight.

‘Victrex Peek polymer not only meets these requirements but also offers excellent chemical resistance, high-temperature performance and hydrolysis resistance and also has excellent wear resistance when compared with other high-performance engineering polymers,’ he added.

The Victrex Peek-based honeycomb is claimed to provide excellent impact resistance; unlike an aluminium or thermosetting honeycomb, Plasticell’s honeycomb will not remain deformed by accidental impacts during the machining or assembly of the part and, as a result of the material’s high-temperature performance – the honeycombs can operate continuously up to 220C (428F) – a thermoformable honeycomb core allows for the production of parts with short cycle times using an autoclave-free process.

There is no size constraint as it is possible to make an endless honeycomb using Plasticell’s manufacturing process.

Part-size limitation is dictated by the hydraulic press platen size.

Flat and curved parts can be made using this process and the flexibility of the thermoplastic honeycomb allows it to be formed into cylindrical shapes.

Parts can be permanently laser marked for product identification and traceability.

‘Our high-performance Victrex Peek polymer-based honeycomb product is an ideal solution for lightweight structures operating in aggressive environments, typical of jet engines for example, generally characterised by one or many of the following factors: extreme variations in temperature and humidity; chemical exposure including kerosene, lubricants and sea water; intense vibrations; and regular maintenance operations, which entail a risk of damage to the honeycomb,’ said Le Monnier.

Victrex will showcase Plasticell’s honeycomb technology at the JEC Composites show in Paris, France, on 13-15 April 2010, in Booth J11.

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