Additive Manufacturing using High Temperature Materials for Aerospace: A Primer and Case Study

Don Yeh | July 27, 2023, 11:16 a.m.

Additive Manufacturing using High Temperature Materials for Aerospace: A Primer and Case Study

Aerospace, being an industry with some of the most highly specialised and demanding requirements, is a space in constant contact with the most cutting-edge technologies. In terms of material sciences, aerospace is in constant demand of stronger, lighter, more specialised materials for high altitude and extra atmospheric applications. For this, cutting-edge, high temperature, extrudable polymers present an exciting new opportunity.

Primarily among these is PEEK (Polyether ether ketone), a thermoplastic polymer with several qualities that make it a standout in aerospace manufacturing. PEEK exhibits exceptional levels of thermal, mechanical and chemical resistance, capable of fulfilling the most demanding of applications traditionally reserved for metals such as aluminium and titanium, or carbon fibres.

The advantages of using polymers such as PEEK are as follows:

  • Weight Reduction: plastics are significantly lighter than equivalent volumes of metals or even carbon fibres, allowing for weight savings in manufactured components.
  • Design Flexibility: additive manufacturing processes allow for complex internal geometries that are otherwise difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional methods of manufacturing. This additional flexibility allows for more optimised component designs.
  • Low Thermal Conductivity: plastics exhibit lower thermal conductivity relative to metals, which can be advantageous in components that require thermal isolation or stability when exposed to extreme variations in temperature.
  • High Chemical Resistance: PEEK exhibits exceptional levels of chemical resistance, making them suitable to environments containing chemical or corrosive elements.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Manufacturing with PEEK is a more cost-effective option than manufacturing with high-performance metals.

The limitations of using polymers such as PEEK are as follows:

  • Mechanical Strength: while modern polymers such as PEEK exhibit levels of mechanical strength comparable to high-performance metals, they still fall short of matching the strength and rigidity of their metallic counterparts. This limits their use in certain high-stress or load-bearing applications.
  • Temperature Limits: despite being operational in a large temperature range, polymers may not be suitable for components that experience extremely high temperatures such as satellite re-entry.
  • Long-term Stability: over longer periods of exposure to high-stress environments, polymers such as PEEK may degrade or change properties.
  • Manufacturing Difficulty: many thermoplastics, including PEEK, are difficult to manufacture with, let alone to the quality aerospace requires. This is an area where PrintGig continues to make great strides in.

PEEK is only one of many different high-temperature thermoplastics available, each with their own property advantages and limitations, many of which PrintGig works with. From other general aerospace materials such as PEI, to the chemically unreactive PPS.

PrintGig has partnered with an aerospace satellite development company as their manufacturing solution for specialised satellite components using PEEK. With specific material requirements, our customer needed the properties offered by PEEK to complete their project. PrintGig was able to leverage all the advantages of PEEK to provide components with the needed quality our customer demanded.

Looking to manufacture using high-end thermoplastic polymers? Contact PrintGig today to see how we can service you.