COMAC is the main organization that is facilitating the building of large passenger aircraft in China. The company is mandated with the overall planning and development of trunk liner and regional jet programs, as well as the industrialization of civil aircraft. It is building the new C919 jet, which will use aluminum-lithium alloys and composites in its airframe structures.
COMAC also recently signed a long-term collaboration agreement with Bombardier. Initially, the companies will collaborate on four projects that recognize the similarities between the C919 and Bombardier's CSeries family of commercial airliners. One of the projects is developing standards and specifications for the use of aluminum-lithium in aircraft.
Several different companies and organizations jointly own COMAC, including the Aluminum Corporation of China, also known as China Aluminum Corp. (CHINALCO or CHINCO). CHINALCO has reportedly announced the third generation of its 540mm aluminum-lithium alloy for use in large aircraft.
The company has spent several years in R&D working on aluminum alloys for China's aerospace industry. The new alloy represents a breakthrough for China, and for its aerospace industry, since the production of aluminum-lithium has long been dominated by suppliers in other countries, the company's senior managers said.
Interesting development and and another example of China's manufacturing and development muscle reaching into every important industry segment. Does this partnership spell more aircraft production to serve the Chinese commercial aircraft market or does it portend China playing a bigger role in providing aircraft for the global commercial aircraft industry at large, or both?
Good story, Ann. I agree with Beth, this is an interesting development. On the surface, it looks like a good move to involve China in U.S. industry. I would imagine Boeing will be very, very careful with its IP. This could be a good step toward maturity for China's airline industry.
Excellent point, TJ. While China can definitely bring a lot to the table and collaborative efforts are inherently good for industry, there are definite red flags that require close attention. Intellectual property in the aerospace sector certainly has longer legs than IP in the fast-paced world of consumer electronics so it's an issue that requires viligence as part of the partnership terms.
I agree with you TJ, China's dismal record on IP rights makes all this sound like it may be good for Boeing in the short term and not so good for the US in the long term, whether this becomes a new source of cheaper aircraft for Boeing or not.
Cheaper source of manufacturing, maybe, but what about quality issues. Given the track record regarding poor quality for simple things like children's toys and food products, I'm not so sure I'd want to get on an aircraft produced in a factory that isn't governed by the same viligent standards that the U.S. and other countries uphold.
Beth, I'm completely with you on this and have the same concerns. I've often heard it said that China can manufacture really good quality products or really low-quality products, depending on what they are asked to do and how much they are paid. That's true in general of contract manufacturing. However, for things like airplanes and baby's formula I think there's a lot of cause for concern with how strictly, and consistently, quality standards are enforced.
Beth, that's a really, good question that no one is answering. The partnership appears to be aimed at the first possibility: growing the commercial Chinese aircraft market. What Boeing will get out of this is not clear--it may or may not be a cheaper source of aircraft production. That would make a lot of sense--and take away more US jobs.
Ann, it seems that like in other areas Chinese government wants an upper hand in avionic sector too. That could be the one reason for Chinese companies for a joint venture in R&D and major investments. anyway they have a major stake in Hardware and associated areas
I have to admit that I'm also a little leery of sharing technology with a government and society that has such a horrible history of ignoring intellectual property and copyright laws. Both consumer and semiconductor sectors are flooded with pirated goods and I shudder to think that these same companies will be manufacturing aircraft and avionics with the blessing of Boeing. This is one of the few industries where the US still has a strong presence, and I hate to think that we would give away the keys to the kingdom for a little instant profit.
The world doesn't revolve around the United States. China is a huge and growing market, and aerospace companies would be foolish to ignore it. There is also a tremendous amount of talent in Chinese universities and research institutions, not to mention money for research. Boeing and Bombardier are engaging in these partnerships because they clearly think it is in their commercial interest to do so.
A lot of people seem to be saying that the Chinese only know how to copy, not how to innovate; that the quality of Chinese products is always inferior; that the Chinese are avaricious and can't be trusted, etc.
Besides being completely unfair generalizations, these are also the same things which people in Britain and Germany said about the U.S. in the 1800s.
Research into how to make commercial aircraft more fuel efficient, develop improved lightweight aluminum alloys, etc. is a good thing, no matter what country it takes place in.
In my opinion your statement is very purist. It is nice and dandy to have partners in other parts of the world, however do not forget who these partners are. Not all are our friends in heart. With all the problems of Chinese stealing secrets from numerous coutries, serious drive to increase and make stronger their military, air force and navy, does california really need to buy steel from them. Can't we find scientists in US to work on lighter and more durable Aluminum. Don't we have refinaries that can produce it?!
We need to stop looking for fast savings by moving abroad, and should start supporting our own industries.Not always the basic commercial interest should take over the decision process.
I do feel that we are loosing our knowhow and industrial power to other countries, and it is not smart.
@sensorpro: Aluminum isbeing produced in the U.S., and scientists in the U.S.are working on developing lighter and stronger aluminum alloys. In fact, Chinese scientists in the U.S. are working on developing lighter and stronger aluminum alloys. Particularly when it comes to research, I don't think innovation in one country is an impediment to innovation in another country. It's not a zero-sum game.
My point had nothing to do with who works on Aluminum or anything else for that affect. We are too open with out technology. What I'm saying is that our govenment created over 15% unemployment, basically crippled NASA, has engineers working in landscaping, while California purchases Billions of steel from China. Parts of planes are made in China and Korea. Eight or six solar power companies are chapter 11 due to missmanagement, fraud and due to unreasonably low panel prices from China.
And now we are "happy" that 787 will be partially made or developed in China.
Did I miss anything?!
Take that money and hire our guys and develop it inhouse. Am I wrong ?
@sensorpro: The article doesn't say that the 787 will be partially made or developed in China. The article mentions that one of the areas of collaboration is lightweight alloys, and the 787 is given as an example of a Boeing aircraft where lightweight alloys are used.
By all means, let's have more R&D in the U.S. But that doesn't mean that companies shouldn't do R&D in China also. It's entirely possible that some of the technologies developed at the Boeing-COMAC center may eventually create jobs in the U.S.
That's a good point, Dave. A collaboration with China doesn't necessarily mean there will be negative blow-back in the U.S. A U.S. company like Boeing could be the beneficiary of R&D from China. I would imagzine there is some significant gain or Beoing would not have entered into the deal.
@Dave Plamer: The main reason to do this type of thing in China is to get preference for our compnaies, like Boeing, in China. If a company like Boeing, with its vast number of engineers and scientists, needs R&D help, then we are in trouble. Perhaps we are made stronger in the long run becuase of our flexibilty as a country, but we often suffer dislocations in the short run.
I am a little leary of materials from China. I talked to one guy who got ball bearings from China (through a distributor) which were not hard enough. They wore out quickly. This lost him at least one customer. In another instance, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has $1.1 Billion worth of trains that they cannot use. They were built by Bombardier who got some of the structural steel from China. It does not meet spec. In fact, it is dangereous. Fortunately it was found in acceptance testing, not operation. I have seen lots of other examples recently. That is why I would be leary of having Chinese materials in an airliner.
@naperlou: I agree that the main motivation for Boeing and Bombardier to do this is to help them sell aircraft in China. What's wrong with that? As I pointed out, this may help create jobs in the U.S. and Canada.
As to R&D, I don't think anyone would argue that U.S. doctors are somehow impeded in looking for a cure for cancer if Chinese doctors are also looking for one. Why should it be any different when it comes to trying to find ways to make air transportation more fuel efficient?
When it comes to Chinese materials, I've definitely seen off-spec materials from China. But I've also seen off-spec materials from the U.S. If you buy the cheapest materials you can find, no matter what country they come from, you shouldn't expect the highest quality. The bottom of the barrel is the bottom of the barrel. But it would be a faulty generalization to say that all Chinese materials are low-quality. It would be more correct to say that you get what you pay for.
Dave, I agree that the world doesn't revolve around the US anymore--that's getting truer all the time. But that said, for those of us in the US, we do have valid concerns about keeping our IP under our control. We also have valid concerns about Chinese manufacturing quality-- not just what they can do but what they do do--and shipping yet more of our jobs overseas, especially high-paid ones. Like sensor pro, I am very wary of so-called global collaboration: companies like Boeing may benefit from it, but citizens--aka workers--in the US so far have not.
@Ann: I'm with you when it comes to companies sending manufacturing jobs to China in order to take advantage of low labor costs. And I agree that the practices of many Chinese companies are deplorable -- although maybe not too different from the practices of many U.S. companies during our own period of rapid industrialization in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But this article is not really about that.
Bombardier seems to see its collaboration with COMAC as a way to generate orders for its CSeries aircraft, which so far it has had a hard time selling. If Bombardier is successful in getting the CSeries into the Chinese domestic air travel market, this would almost certainly create jobs in Quebec and Northern Ireland, where the CSeries is built. It would presumably also create jobs in Pennsylvania and Indiana, where Alcoa makes the aluminum-lithium alloys which are used in the CSeries.
I suspect that Boeing has similar goals in its collaboration with COMAC, although their collaboration seems to be more focused on basic research.
Clearly, companies are in business to make money, not to advance national interests. (Which, in Bombardier's case, would be Canadian interests, not U.S. interests). But, in this case, I think advancing knowledge and technology is in everyone's interest.
Dave, I agree that advancing knowledge and technology is in the interests of all, at least in theory. I think it stops being in everyone's interest when we start looking at who controls what. I also don't think this is just a "shoe's on the other foot" situation in terms of comparing what China's doing now to anything we've done in the past and how unfair or wrong that may have been. The thing is, we're now in a vastly shrunken world in terms of the entanglement of everyone in everyone else's economy and how everyone's economy and technology decisions affect everyone else's. (Interesting that you mentioned Alcoa--they seemed to have had a potential aluminum-lithium deal going with COMAC for a few years and then all mention of it disappears sometime in 2011).
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
A fun and informative tour you can attend at the upcoming Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis, MD&M Minneapolis, and other events there, is the Materials Innovation Tour on Wednesday afternoon. I'll be leading it.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies.
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