In March 2017, NLR presented a large composite ‘pylon upper spar’, a structure to which the engine of an aircraft is affixed. It is the first time that an institute has succeeded in automatically manufacturing such a long and thick composite aircraft part made of thermoplastic. The aircraft pylon is 6 metres long and 28 millimetres thick. Using a pylon upper spar made of composite instead of steel, allows aircraft manufacturers to reduce production costs and weight, and thus save on fuel consumption of aircraft. The pylon upper spar is expected to go into production around 2025.
The manufacturing of a composite pylon upper spar is more sustainable than making a structure that contains steel. The cutting leaves little residual material, and what does remain is recyclable. The pylon upper spar itself can also be completely shredded and reused at the end of its service life. The technique devised by NLR is also suitable for other aircraft parts, such as wing spars, stabiliser spars and floor beams, and there are also applications outside the aviation sector.
Thermoplastic composites are advanced materials offering weight savings compared with traditional aircraft materials, together with benefits that include more efficient processing in production, lower costs of structural components and a high level of fire safety. These composites have high strength, light weight and contribute to the drive towards sustainable aviation, because the use of these materials allows constant reductions in aircraft weight to be achieved. As a result fuel consumption is reduced, the range of the aircraft is increased and higher payloads are possible. The target is to further increase the proportion of thermoplastic composites in current aircraft as well as in the new generation of aircraft.