Tri-Mack’s proprietary manufacturing process for lightweight TPC enclosures can accommodate different materials and achieve a range of sizes and depths. (Image courtesy Tri-Mack Plastics Manufacturing)

The durable parts are reported to be made by a low-cost manufacturing process that can create ‘smart composites’ by embedding EMI shielding

October 11, 2022

BRISTOL, R.I.—Tri-Mack Plastics Manufacturing Corporation recently unveiled its latest product-development achievement: lightweight, high-strength enclosures made from just eight plies of unidirectional carbon-fiber reinforced thermoplastic composite (TPC) tape. The enclosures are only 40 thousandths of an inch (0.040-inch) thick, according to a releaser from Tri-Mack, a manufacturer of high-performance thermoplastic parts.

The new enclosures are said to demonstrate Tri-Mack’s expertise in the production of large, thin covers with deep draws using unidirectional tape. The company said that its thermoplastic composite process produces parts in minutes, rather than the hours typically required for thermosets.

Tri-Mack can make the enclosures in a range of cover sizes and materials, using a production process consisting of automated tape laying, consolidation, and stamp forming. The company said it has been developing proprietary methodologies for the automated layup and molding of lightweight thermoplastic composites for over a decade.

“We see these new TPC covers meeting rising demand for strong, lightweight enclosures that can shield functional components in aircraft, drones, and a variety of other industrial uses,” said Tom Kneath, vice president for sales and marketing at Tri-Mack, in a statement. “Where strength and durability are priorities in addition to the lightest weight, continuous-fiber TPCs are the material of choice. It is less brittle than thermosets, delivers ten times the strength of injection-molded parts, and, with our enclosure, provides a 30 percent weight reduction versus 6061 aluminum.”

Tri-Mack stamp forms TPC enclosures in minutes using tooling designed and made in-house. The enclosure shown is mounted on a shuttle after stamp forming in the mold. (Image courtesy Tri-Mack Plastics Manufacturing)

The new enclosures are not limited to carbon fiber. They can be produced using glass fiber, and with different base resins as well, including PAEK, PEEK and PEI, providing a variety of customizable properties and solutions, the company said in the release.

According to Tri-Mack, the manufacturing process that it uses to make the enclosures allows for added functionality, creating “smart composites” by embedding EMI shielding, or adding localized reinforcement through tailored layups.

“We can add electrically conductive layers into our process to enable EMI shielding performance at a fraction of the weight of metal,” said Tri-Mack Sales Engineer Max McCabe, in a statement. “This also eliminates the plating and painting process steps of typical EMI solutions used on composite parts.”

Electrical conductivity and shielding effectiveness can be tailored to end-use using a wide variety of durable composite materials, McCabe noted, further broadening potential applications across aerospace, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), undersea applications, and electric vehicles (EVs).

Tri-Mack Process Engineering Manager Ben Lamm, leader of the new enclosure project, said that it was a definite technical challenge to form the large, deep covers out of TPC.

“With unidirectional materials, you’re stacking plies that are oriented in different directions throughout the part,” Lamm said in the release. “Making complex shapes this way requires individual plies to slip against each other as you are forming. Getting them to move the way you want to produce a consistent, wrinkle-free part requires strategic layup and tool design, as well as subtleties in material handling during processing.”

This level of manufacturing expertise is said to come naturally to the 48-year-old company.

“Tri-Mack has been working in the lightweight composites space for decades and has comprehensive, in-house capabilities,” said Kneath. “We make injection-molded housings that require EMI shielding and thin-wall TPC enclosures that replace metal using assembled pieces and fasteners. Our goal was to build this functionality into a single part and show the industry how light-weighting can improve product performance through fuel efficiency, battery range, or increased payload.”

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