Saxion’s TPAC: a world-first with recycled aircraft parts

An aircraft part was successfully made from recycled materials for the first time in aviation history, and it was flown with success. The part is an access panel, in the tail section of a rotorcraft (helicopter). It is a world-first, accomplished by students and researchers from Saxion’s ThermoPlastic composites Application Centre (TPAC).

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In short

  • Researchers from Saxion’s ThermoPlastic composites Application Centre (TPAC) developed a recycled part for a rotorcraft.
  • The recycled access panel has many advantages, especially for the environment.
Recycled access panel

A new technological application made it possible to develop new parts by cutting waste from an existing part of the same helicopter. This particular example is about a recycled access panel: an access hatch in the tail of a rotorcraft (a large type of helicopter), made from thermoplastic carbon fibre composite. Carbon fibre is as strong as steel, but it has an advantage: it is a lot lighter than aluminium. That is why this material is widely used in the aviation industry. Aluminium is easy to recycle, while carbon fibre composite has been difficult to recycle so far (cumbersome, loss of strength).

 

However, researchers and students from the ThermoPlastic composites Application Centre (TPAC) have developed a way to recycle this material and turn it into high-quality material, in a collaboration with GKN Aerospace, the ThermoPlastic composites Research Centre (TPRC) and other partners. 

 

They developed a new process for recycling cutting waste. The cutting waste goes through a shredder and is then melted at high temperatures, in a machine developed for this specific purpose. The melted materials are then pressed into a mould, resulting in a new access panel. 

Many advantages

The recycled access panel has many advantages, especially for the environment. The recycled component is 9% lighter and a lot more sustainable, because it is made of recycled materials. The production also causes less CO2 emissions because the component is a lot lighter. 

 

A calculation shows that this process can save up to two-thirds of the costs, compared to the development of a completely new access panel. The production time is also shorter, and it is cheaper.

 

This development does not only provide great added value to the aviation industry; it can also be used in other industries, such as the car industry.

World-first

This project was started by the TPAC, TPRC and other partners over 3.5 years ago. Researchers, students and GKN Aerospace worked together on this project. The panels were delivered to GKN Aerospace’s American client in June 2019, after which they just had to wait and see what would happen. An American company set up a period of extensive test flights after the delivery. They have now announced that they are flying with the recycled parts, which means we can finally proudly present this world first.  

 

Date: 3 September 2020

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