Tech Talk: Thermoplastics
Interview with an industry expert.
Thermoplastics are a hot topic in the automotive industry due to the focus on recyclability of materials. As this is a relatively new topic, I reached out to an industry expert based in Limburg, Belgium, to find out about thermoplastics and how they can benefit FSAE/Formula Student teams.
Q: What is your background?
A: I’ve worked in the field of thermoplastic composites for over 10 years for a company that specialises in filament winding of any thermoplastic combined with any type of fiber. My involvement has mainly been hands-on research and development of different kind of composite structures. Because there is so little literature on the topic of thermoplastics the only way we could develop was with trial and error.
Q: What are thermoplastics?
A: Put simply, they are a plastic you shape using heat.
This means that you apply heat, shape the plastic and then cool it down. No other treatment is needed (such as oven curing). After the initial shaping process, you can reheat and reshape it, which is a big benefit when compared to thermosets.
Another benefit is the recyclability, making thermoplastics more eco-friendly. As you can hear, I`m a big fan of thermoplastics compared to thermosets. (Laughs)
Q: How did you come into contact with the FSAE/Formula Student competition?
A: Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the competition when I was studying otherwise I would have definitely wanted to compete.
The first time I saw a FSAE car was in a local article about the Belgian Formula Electric team, after which I applied to be a volunteer at the Formula Student competition in Silverstone and I’ve been a massive fan ever since.
Q: What strikes you most about the FSAE/Formula Student cars?
A: Obviously the aero packages which, depending on budget, look very impressive. Besides the aero packages of course there’s the monocoque, which is a beautiful piece of engineering.
I am always incredibly impressed by how the students overcome the various technical hurdles they encounter and the innovative ways they use different materials.
Q: What would you like to say to the students reading this interview?
A: The one thing I keep hearing when I speak to the students is that they build a carbon fiber structure. It’s always just a focus on the carbon fiber itself and never about the matrix material used. The feeling I get is that the focus is very much on using carbon fiber but a composite is not just carbon fiber, there is a matrix and that matrix material is incredibly important.
Of course I would like to see and support a team starting to use thermoplastics. Bioplastics such as PA 410 are being used in the automotive industry already and in some applications are better than steel or other plastics, while being 70% bio-renewable… it`s made from beans!
I believe that with the right approach, thermoplastics can be more cost efficient, whilst allowing for more design options. However- as I’ve experienced- it will require a lot of trial and error, which costs a lot of time, but maybe with the right partner or sponsor a team could get there…
Author: Beth Lily Georgiou