Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer Helps Aircraft Manufacturers Save Weight

Weight reduction for both fuel and systems cost savings remains a long-haul strategy for the airline industry, and has opened up another major development opportunity for SABIC Innovative Plastics and its customers. The company has created a new high-performance compound based on aerospace carbon fiber technology coupled with Ultem* polyetherimide (PEI) resin, creating a space-age solution to replace heavier airline-grade die-cast and machined aluminum for aircraft interior components, slashing weight by up to 50 percent.

Vaupell, a global contract manufacturer of custom injection-molded components and assemblies with 60 years of experience, is working with SABIC Innovative Plastics to validate the new Ultem resin materials in aircraft tray table arm components.

Vaupell’s Tray Table Arms Made Using SABIC Innovative Plastics’ New Carbon-Fiber-Filled Ultem* Resin

Vaupell’s concept parts showcase the 50 percent weight savings and up to 40 percent improved strength of carbon-fiber-filled Ultem resin vs. die cast aluminum, and demonstrate how the company develops advanced, property-rich, sustainable materials to give aircraft customers a powerful competitive edge.

“Our new carbon-fiber-filled Ultem resin family is a great example of our strategy to further expand our premier technologies to solve our aircraft customers’ toughest challenges while giving them tremendous opportunities to grow their businesses,” said Cathleen Hess, global product director, SABIC Innovative Plastics. “Relationships with industry leaders such as Vaupell ensure that these materials meet the specific requirements of our customers and deliver measurable value. We’re taking another technological leap forward with these innovative new carbon-fiber-filled Ultem resins, to help global OEMs usher in a new era of cost-effective and lighter weight aircraft design.”

“Working closely with SABIC Innovative Plastics, we immediately saw the potential of carbon-fiber-filled Ultem resin to replace aluminum in interior aircraft applications,” said Mike Hamm, vice president, Sales, Vaupell. “It’s an outstanding product that delivers top performance and compliance with ever-tightening global standards for critical interior applications. Carbon-fiber-filled Ultem resin is a true industry game changing material that not only slashes part weight for greater fuel savings, but also offers a balance of other high-performance properties to meet aircraft industry demand for the best materials on the market for next-generation planes.”

Redefining Over Two Decades of Exceptional High-Performance

Building upon Ultem resin’s proven capabilities for aircraft interiors, carbon-fiber-filled Ultem resin complies with FAA flammability FAR 25.853, smoke density and heat release requirements for OSU 65/65. In addition to tray table arms, potential applications for the new carbon-fiber-filled Ultem grades include armrests, footrests and galley items such as coffee maker chassis. Vaupell will conduct further load capability testing and fatigue testing later this year.

SABIC Innovative Plastics has developed a family of carbon-fiber-filled Ultem resin technologies with varying fiber content to address specific demands for top-end performance properties. This initiative is the result of close collaboration between the company’s LNP* specialty compound and Ultem resin technology teams to deliver a solution that helps airlines meet the critical need to reduce weight, with the added bonus of up to 40 percent improved strength performance vs. aluminum. Aerospace grade carbon fibers provide outstanding tensile strength of 38.3 PSI vs. die cast aluminum grade 2024-0 (27 PSI) and machined (tempered) aluminum grade 7075-0 (33.1 PSI). Continuous long fibers provide exceptional stiffness and impact resistance.

The Ultem resin materials deliver better tensile performance and have approximately 50 percent lower specific gravity (SG) than aircraft-grade aluminum (2024-0: 2.78 SG; 7075-0: 2.81 SG; carbon-fiber-filled Ultem resin: 1.44 SG).

In addition to reducing the weight of aluminum, carbon-fiber-filled Ultem resin grades avoid the need for machining and other secondary processes, streamlining production and driving down total system costs. They also enable part consolidation to reduce points of failure and expand design freedom vs. metal. In processing, these resins provide double the flow, accelerating productivity and enabling thin-wall molded parts for even greater weight savings.

Injection molding is just one of the processing choices for these new Ultem resins; they are also suitable for extrusion into panels for galley storage and similar applications. Components can be powder coated, painted or plated.


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