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.
You bet! It's Vertechs Enterprises (vertechsusa.com)
I just looked, and realized that the non-honeycomb sandwich products are not yet shown on our website. We have a number of such products that we have been developing and testing with major aerospace companies for quite a few years, and are just about to start producing our first full-scale product samples.
CPDick, thanks for that information. We focused on structural and interior component materials for this feature, not engines, but that's good input. It's especially interesting that temperatures are outpacing titanium. Can you give us your company name for possible followup?
I saw no mention of cellular steel (superalloy) products. Inside and near turbine engines, the temperatures are too high for most of the materials mentioned. In fact the temperatures seem to be rising, to the point that many parts that were traditionally made of titanium alloys are failing. For quite a few years, we've been working both on traditional superalloy honeycomb and on other brazed cellular structures that can replace titanium and withstand much higher temperatures, and yet be weight-neutral or even weight-saving.
Beth, I also found it enlightening to discover the mix of materials being developed for, and used in, in bleeding-edge aircraft design. But composites are, in fact, a big part of all this, so it's not all hype. It was a big surprise, and encouraging, to see that sustainability concerns are finally reaching and influencing this industry, like so many others.
Very comprehensive overview of the state of materials exploration in the aerospace industry. It was interesting to me that companies don't see composites as the be-all, end-all solution--a surprise given that so much attention and hype is focused on their deployment. I was also pleased to see that companies are keeping somewhat of a watchful eye on sustainability concerns as they vet out these new materials.
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.
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