Many people think of mundane applications when it comes to plastic products – food packaging and construction may be the first things that come to mind for many plastics consumers. Despite this conception, many of the most innovative uses of plastic today are occurring in the transportation sector.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most valuable market for plastics in the transportation sector is in automobile manufacturing. The automotive plastics industry is expected to attain a value exceeding $68 billion USD by 2025. Plastics help manufacturers design and produce vehicles that are 25-75% lighter. The use of plastics in motor vehicles allows manufacturers to take advantage of the unique material properties of plastics, which include a combination of stiffness, hardness, and toughness, exceptional optical properties, and the ability to be manufactured more cheaply than equivalent metals.
Many of these same attributes have led some to predict that the use of plastics in the aerospace sector, which has already been increasing for decades, is set to experience rapid growth in the coming years. According to a recent study conducted by the consulting company Global Market Insights, Inc., the value of the aerospace plastics industry is expected to increase from its current value of about $45 million USD to over $75 million USD by 2025. The report, described in an article published in Aerospace Manufacturing, an industry journal, provides several insights into the causes of this projected growth.
The most important factor predicted to lead to this growth is rising fuel costs and the accompanying incentives to make aircraft more efficient. As is the case with cars, the high strength-to-weight ratios made possible by plastics have the potential to produce lighter aircraft which require less fuel than current models while providing an even greater degree of resilience.
The second reason is that traditional materials are expensive to use in aerospace applications because they must be specially treated or replaced frequently in order to withstand the fluctuating temperature and humidity conditions experienced by aircraft. Modern plastics also have a greater ability to resist high-altitude UV radiation than many traditional materials.
Finally, the maturation of 3d printing technology is expected to make plastic a more desirable construction material for the aerospace industry, as production processes that would once have required frequent, and expensive, retooling can now be streamlined using 3d printing technologies.
Given the many benefits of plastics materials and manufacturing techniques, it seems it will only be a matter of time before we start seeing more high-tech plastics materials used in the aerospace sector.