The development of new materials isn’t anything new in aviation. Early airplanes were cloth and wood, but over the years metals and other more advanced materials like carbon fiber have become commonplace. Manufacturers such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Embraer, along with organizations such as NASA, DARPA, and the Pentagon, are all investigating new materials for aircraft manufacturing.
New composite materials do bring certain challenges with them, particularly when it comes to building something as large as an airplane. One reason they have become so popular in the automotive process is because an assembly line for vehicles doesn’t need large parts, they just need parts quickly. Building an airplane doesn’t demand a rapid build but it does require parts that are enormous. These pieces currently require a lot of energy, and large ovens for manufacturing.
A new process being developed by engineers at MIT goes quite a ways towards addressing this problem. Using a carbon nanotube film, connected to a power source, the film can stimulate a composite to solidify. Currently, to build large aviation parts with composites, a major capital investment in the form of a large oven is necessary. This method would reduce the cost of composite parts.
Another challenge is the necessary material property requirements for aerospace. The automotive industry, where composite use is high, does not have the same strength, stiffness, or damage tolerance requirements as an airplane. Low-cost, continuous fibers are not useful for the contours needed, while short-fiber composites do not provide the mechanical properties although they can be molded as needed.
DARPA is looking into methods to control short-fiber orientation, while also developing processes to allow multiple parts to be made on a single machine. This would increase the mechanical properties of the composites, while reducing the capital equipment costs and labor needed to process parts.
Another hope is that composite materials can be developed to be more reliable than current materials, which would increase safety and reliability – two highly valued qualities when it comes to airframes. This could increase the longevity of airframes, reducing costs to customers.
At Shimco, we are constantly looking for new ways to contribute to advances in aerospace technology. At the recently concluded Paris Airshow, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Keronite, an advanced surface solutions company, to develop a new coating process for shims. This is a unique, patented process that “fuses” a coating onto the surface of metals. The method essentially takes the surface of an alloy and creates a hard ceramic coating to improve strength, durability, chemical stability, and overall performance. We’ll be applying it to titanium and aluminum shims using Plasma Electrolytic Oxidation (PEO). This is a cutting edge, green technology and the electrolyte used can be poured down the drain with no adverse environmental impact. We look forward to working with Keronite on this exciting solution.
To learn more about new aerospace technologies and our agreement with Keronite, please contact Shimco via email at email@example.com or by calling 1 (905) 471-6050.