Like engineers in other transportation industries, commercial aircraft designers are racing to create lighter weight, less costly components while maintaining structural integrity. New materials for manufacturing structural and non-structural components are being developed for interior and exterior applications. These include lighter, stronger, and faster-curing carbon fiber and glass composites, and lighter weight metals and alloys. For interiors, new constructions contain microcellular or honeycomb cores or glass bubbles.
Although composites, especially carbon fiber-based, receive a lot of attention, most structural materials in commercial aircraft are still metals, primarily aluminum and its alloys. According to a new study of lightweighting materials in transportation, in many cases, aluminum is the best material for the short term, since it doesn't disrupt manufacturing patterns. The Lux Research report, "Structural Navigation: Optimizing Materials Selection in Automotive and Aerospace," contains multiple decision-tree analyses. These help determine which materials are best used where in several transportation applications, now and during the next 10 years.
Components made of microcellular polyurethane elastomers, such as this jounce bumper or spring aid made of BASF's Cellasto, can reduce weight, absorb shock, and dampen sound and vibration in aircraft interiors. (Source: BASF)
In the last five to seven years the aerospace industry has learned that carbon fiber doesn't make sense for every application, said Tony Morales, Alcoa's global marketing director for aerospace and defense rolled products:
From the design and build standpoint, aluminum has high performance and low weight at a lower cost than the alternatives. It doesn't require building new factories, new hangars, new supply chains, new ovens, or doing R&D for new inspection and repair techniques. In metal wing structures, you only have mass where it's needed. In carbon fiber it's harder to fine-tune complex shapes.
Alcoa is working with aircraft OEMs on new structural approaches that combine selective reinforcement techniques and advanced structural concepts with new materials.
Its third-generation aluminum-lithium alloys, introduced last year, have higher strength-to-weight ratios and better stiffness and corrosion resistance. Their densities range from 2 percent to 10 percent lower than traditional aluminum, depending on the amount of lithium. Most of the new generation is around 5 percent lower density. They are being used in extrusions, forgings, and sheet and plate applications in several aircraft structures, including airplane wings and fuselage. Alcoa expects to reach full production by the end of 2012 in two facilities, and by the end of 2014 in its Lafayette, Ind. facility.
Composite makers are also involved in major efforts to improve their materials as competition with aluminum alloys heats up. The main areas of development include improving strength and toughness, adapting component shapes to specific loads or environmental conditions, and reducing costs by finding better processing methods to speed up laydown rates, said Carmelo Lo Faro, Cytec's vice president of technology.
It really shouldn't be a surprise that composites are not the be all and end all of advanced structures. Aluminum has served the aircraft industries well and is (relatively speaking) a fail-safe material...dings, dents and cracks are all fixable in aluminum....dings in composites you don't know about until you've got 12 feet of delamination flapping in the breeze. Dents require trepanning the damage out of the composite and rebuilding the location. Things like leading edges in composites are fine until you have a bird strike then it's easier to replace the whole leading edge. A bird strike on an aluminum leading edge is field fixable by any competent sheet metal basher...most get you home fixes are good enough for a number of flights since the pilot will be able to view the fix and make a decision on whether to fly. Try making the same decision on a composite fix and you don't know whether its good bad or indifferent. Alcoa et al are not going to go out of business because the new fad is composites...in fact they've still got a lot up their sleeves....variations in ARALL and GLARE are just two of the aluminum/composite hybrids that'll run circles around pure composites
BASF's website at the link Susan gives below has a clickable overall diagram of the numerous types of plastics and other materials for an airplane manufactured by the company. While high-level, I found this info helpful in my background research. Clicking on any of the categories leads to a different diagram giving more detail. For example, the high-level diagram on the structural materials page
gives an idea of where different types of composites, thermoplastics, PIM and polyurethane materials might be used in an aircraft.
I see this technology as being useful in the manufacture of jackscrews, ths component that is often used to actuate control surfaces. If it was constructed of a lightweight plastic with a low coefficent of friction, this would be less inertia needed to move the jackscrew (energy saving for the drive motor) and could possibly lessen the need for lubrication substances. Remember the Alaska Airlines DC-9 that crashed due to failure of the jackscrew from inadequate/wrong tytpe of grease?
sometimes new ideas generate new discovweries, consider a study of all species of bird feathers and the incredible design weight, lift, etc etc, flexible wings to use both mechanical power and atmospheric changes , perhaps the ultra lights culd take on a new perspective> my wing collection has some very old feathers that have not changed over time as I keep studing these designs which are incredible' I think there is legislation forbading feather collections, but I have a deep native american background, the race card and holocaust is not in my deck. My spirit remembers the genocide of americas 20,000 tribes, and the role buffalo soldiers played when freed. I worked for a time at LTV Aerospace in the 60's on the A-7 series, while no bird is powered with fuel they can indeed do some pretty tricky stunts, like gliding for hours, with small wing shifts , in acord with atmospheric variables, fins do compensate to keep on course, but consideration of actual feathers may be in our future. whatever. Birds of prey do reach considerable speed, without any fuel at all,
Many of the new adhesives we're featuring in this slideshow are for use in automotive and other transportation applications. The rest of these new products are for a wide variety of applications including aviation, aerospace, electrical motors, electronics, industrial, and semiconductors.
A Columbia University team working on molecular-scale nano-robots with moving parts has run into wear-and-tear issues. They've become the first team to observe in detail and quantify this process, and are devising coping strategies by observing how living cells prevent aging.
Many of the new materials on display at MD&M West were developed to be strong, tough replacements for metal parts in different kinds of medical equipment: IV poles, connectors for medical devices, medical device trays, and torque-applying instruments for orthopedic surgery. Others are made for close contact with patients.
New sensor technology integrates sensors, traces, and electronics into a smart fabric for wearables that measures more dimensions -- force, location, size, twist, bend, stretch, and motion -- and displays data in 3D maps.
As we saw on the show floor this week at the Pacific Design & Manufacturing and co-located events in Anaheim, Calif., 3D printing is contributing to distributed manufacturing and being reinvented by engineers for their own needs. Meanwhile, new fasteners are appearing for wearable consumer and medical devices and Baxter Robot has another software upgrade.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.