Plans by Airbus to use an aluminum alloy skeleton for the A350 have been abandoned due to customer pressure. It’s now reported that Airbus will use advanced composites for the frame, echoing the strategy used in Boeing’s much-heralded Dreamliner. Customers pushed Airbus to the all-composite approach because of perceptions there would be maintenance problems in mating composites and aluminum in the manner Airbus planned. The shift is a blow to technical officials at Alcoa, who had developed innovative new designs. The new aluminum concepts, particularly an interesting wing box concept, are still very much in play for the next generation of single-aisle aircraft.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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