Based on the headlines, it may seem like aircraft construction is racing toward plastic composites, with little hope left for aluminum. Well, don’t tell that to the aluminum guys. As reported here previously, Alcoa has been developing new alloys, composites and designs. There’s another to report now: scientists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have received a patent for a fiber metal laminate (FML) called CentrAl reinforced aluminum. The structure includes aluminum alloys, adhesives and poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide threads. It has better tensile strength than alloys, and also boasts good metal fatigue and damage tolerance characteristics. And get this: a wing made from the composite would be one-fifth lighter than a wing made from plastic composites. The new composite has thicker laminate layers than the Glare used in the Airbus A380. The Air Force may use the material to replace wing sections in C130s. Development partners are Alcoa and GTM Advanced Structures.
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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