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Plastic Positivity – Aerospace and Rail Focus

For the fourth part of our #PlasticPositivity campaign we’re taking a look at the benefits of plastics within the Aerospace and Rail industries.

Air and rail travel have a great deal in common, they’re both passenger or cargo carrying vehicles that move very quickly and are prone to static and dynamic stresses during transit. They have long, intense journeys and both have a huge risk of fire hazards, so structures need to be engineered to avoid this. On top of the engineering requirements, comfort and aesthetics are important for passengers, and ever increasing fuel costs mean light weighting is critical. Engineered plastics offer fantastic benefits for both these industries, and this article takes a look into some of the advantages plastics have for these industries.

Plastics for Rail

Plastics are used for a large range of Rail applications within trams, commuter and regional trains, subways and freight trains. Plastic is often used for external claddings & panelling as well as internal applications including seat shells, air ducts, window pillar cladding and door mechanism covers. Not forgetting technical applications such as guide rails, cable clamps, and signal & control covers.

Utilising engineered plastics for these applications gives the following benefits and properties:

Fire Protection
Fire protection is essential in the rail industry, the European standard EN 45545 governs the requirements for fire protection within train vehicles considering the various hazard classes (Hazard Level: HL1… HL3).
Many high engineered plastics have characteristics to ensure the material meets the EN 45545 standards, which means the spread of fire can be contained or delayed for as long as possible.

Lightweight & High Efficiency
As discussed in our previous article about the Automotive industry, the need for light weight, plastic components to support the development of efficient, vehicles is more important than ever, and plastics offers advantages over conventional materials such as metal.

Plastic has been playing an important role with light weighting in the rail industry for several years already, for example static load-bearing components such as external panelling for public transportation that are manufactured from glass fibre-reinforced plastics have a density of only 1.85g/cm³, which saves about a third of the weight compared to aluminium at 2.7g/cm³.

Weather Resistance
Plastics have very high corrosion resistance and are weather resistant to sunlight, rain and snow which makes them the perfect material choice for permanent outdoor use.

Aesthetics and Comfort for Passengers
Plastic material has a huge array of properties including thermal, acoustic, and electrical insulation. It also has a very high-quality appearance and tactile surface which provides a pleasant environment and a high level of comfort for passengers.

Plastics for Aerospace

It was not until World War II that plastic components were installed in airplanes. Due to the war-time shortage of industrial materials, engineers looked to plastics to replace rubber components in planes. One of the first applications for aerospace plastic components was as a lining for fuel tanks. Over time, high performance engineered plastics have been developed which have replaced many metal components.

Aeroplanes travel at 10,000m flight altitude, nearly 1,000 km/h speed with an outdoor temperature of -50 °C. They must be very light-weight, fuel-efficient, but at the same time mechanically stable and perfectly safe. Engineered thermoplastics and composites are perfect for these demanding conditions as they have a large range of properties and benefits.

As with rail, plastics are used for a large range of aerospace applications within passenger aircrafts, freight plans, rockets, and satellites. They are often seen being used as housing within fuel systems, and for interior applications such as air ducts, cabin partitions and overhead luggage compartments. Not forgetting structural applications include wing ribs and spars and exterior components such as fuel tank covers, landing gear hubcaps, and pylon fairings.

Properties of high-performance plastics for Aerospace applications:
High thermal and mechanical stability
Inherent flame resistance
Low degree of thermal expansion
High chemical resistance even at raised temperatures
Low level of outgassing in vacuum
Good electrical insulation

Airplane in hanger

Advantages of high-performance plastics for Aerospace applications:
Lighter than aluminium
High mechanical stability
They meet strict flame, smoke and toxicity regulations
Many plastic materials are self-lubricating, which eliminates the need to introduce grease and petroleum-based lubricants that could pose fire or explosion hazards.
Transparent plastics have higher impact resistance than glass, which increases safety.

Carbon-fibre composites have often been the leading option of the aerospace sector, however, reinforced polymers have changed the way that many types of aerospace applications have been designed.

Plastics such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polyether ether ketone (PEEK) and polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) are currently used for a wide variety of applications within the aerospace and rail industries. PEEK is an advanced, high-temperature engineering polymer that features excellent mechanical properties, chemical resistance, thermal stability and flame retardancy. The high strength and light weight of new grades of PEEK, such as HT-23, make it a competitive alternative to aluminium.

It is easy to see the fantastic benefits that plastics, especially highly engineered plastics have for the transport industry. Engineers within rail and aerospace have their work cut out ensuring components meet demanding requirements and without these plastics the modern world of transport would not be where it is today.

Why not give RP Technologies a call on 0121 550 5868 to discuss the benefits of plastics in transport and see how we might be able to advise with your project. We have a wealth of experience with high engineering materials that are common within these industries and are highly experienced with prototype & low volume production projects that require aluminium tooling and plastic injection moulding.

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