Composite materials introduced for use in manufacturing aeronautical components

- February 22, 2017

Even though aeronautical technologies are the result of leading edge work from scientist and engineers, the development cycle of the related products is somewhat difficult to achieve. Because of the enormous quantity of testing that must be carried out to certify the new technologies, years and sometimes decades can go by from the time an idea is chosen for development to the time the technology is actually being used in an aircraft. Composite materials (a combination of two or more immiscible components whose properties are mutually compatible) were introduced for use in manufacturing aeronautical components several years ago. Used initially for non-structural components, such as trims and cabin panels, composites are nowadays used in structural elements. Aircraft such as the Bombardier C-Series use high-performance composite materials for such critical elements as the wings and empennage, which result is an aircraft that is up to 5,500 kg lighter than the competition’s.

Composite materials may take years to develop and their application in the aeronautics industry may not be straightforward, but they clearly represent performance benefits over comparable metal parts. Composite materials have repeatedly proven their performance, whether they are used in internal components such as partitions, monuments, ventilation ducts, floors, etc.) or for primary structural components, such as the fuselage or wings. The main benefit of using composite materials is their lighter weight compared with equivalent metal parts. Airline operators are drawn to the weight reduction factor which cuts fuel costs and increases the ecological value of the aircraft. Additionally, composite materials used in aeronautics are more resistant in fatigue than equivalent metal parts. This results in a longer useful life, which translates into greater efficiency over the aircraft’s life cycle.

Some turbine engine manufacturers, such as CFM, a GE / SAFRAN association, focus on developing jet engine parts using composite materials: certain low-temperature parts, such as fan blades, have been developed and used in commercial motors. By using composite materials in the new LEAP engine, CFM has been able to reduce the weight of each motor by 220 kg, compared to engines using standard metal parts.

There are considerable benefits to using composite materials for certain equipment, such as on-board trolleys, which can result in considerable weight reductions. Norduyn has developed the Quantum line of trolleys, made from composite materials, which are 40% lighter than conventional aluminium-frame trolleys and more corrosion- and fatigue-resistant.

While the use of composite materials may be beneficial in helping to reduce the weight of certain aircraft by thousands of kilos, the materials developed to date cannot survive the extreme temperatures of a turbojet core. If researchers are able to increase the temperature resistance of high-performance composites, in the coming years it may be possible, for example, to develop low-pressure compressor parts. This would be another advance in materials that has fostered developments in the field of aeronautics in recent years. Considering their current and future applications, there is no doubt that composites are the way to go in aeronautics!

Comment on this article