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Composites Supplant Use of Metals in Commercial Aircraft

April 5, 2011
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Considered one of the breakthrough innovations in the materials sector, composites have gained increasing traction with their capacity to enable aircraft weight reduction. Their lightweight nature, which offers fuel efficiency, remains the primary factor driving uptake of the technology in the aerospace sector. Since the 1970s, composites have been widely used in the aerospace industry, replacing pure glass, aluminum, steel and titanium-based parts. Composites also manufacture easily on a large scale.

A new Frost & Sullivan report, Aerospace Composites, finds that technology adoption in aerospace occurs based on specific application needs. Changing value chain relationships evolve into excellent opportunities for aerospace companies. This associates with increased funding support for extensive research in identifying new technologies.

Although composites were developed during the 1930s, their applications were limited to making molds or dies for prototype aircraft components and tooling for aircraft. These first-of-their-kind composites consisted of glass fibers reinforced with phenolic resins. During World War II, the applications of these composites extended to fabrication of aircraft parts, such as ducts (of diverse shapes), engine nacelles and radomes.

Despite the tangible benefits they offer, composites possess some disadvantages that restrain market progression. Composites replace metals in aircraft parts; however, unlike metals, repairing them involves some technicalities. It is necessary to detect and repair this damage, as well as properly certify the product. Each intricate stage requires expert knowledge, which is not always readily available.

Issues such as delimitation of composites prove difficult to detect and necessitate sensors and other complex detection systems. On the contrary, any damage in metal parts mend easily using the traditional welding technique.

To move market prospects forward, research efforts must elevate to understand the properties of composites under normal and stress conditions. It is also necessary to identify new testing and damage detection systems. The results of such efforts provide proper training and assistance to industrial participants. In addition, this expands the expertise of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) companies with regard to composites.

For more information, visit www.frost.com.

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