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Is greener innovation in aerospace possible?

Author : Richard Thompson, Alvant

02 June 2021

Current legislation, aimed at curbing emissions, is fuelling materials innovation for aerospace components and, as global standards get more stringent, the pace of change is quickening. Now is the time for design engineers to look beyond traditional choices, to prompt radical transition, urges Richard Thompson, Commercial Director of Alvant.

Composite materials have revolutionised the aviation industry. But while what has been achieved with the 787 is an incredible feat of engineering, using composites does present some engineering and maintenance challenges, as well as placing the issue of sustainability under the spotlight. 

Composites are also not delivering all the supposed guarantees: tales of patching composite structures and engineers overcompensating on calculations (due to a lack of knowledge of how composites behave in an airframe) highlight that it isn’t a solution for every application. 
Standard aircraft composite materials also have conductivity issues as they don’t conduct electricity and so, unlike aluminium, can’t prevent lightning from being directed to a plane's fuel tanks. This was initially a problem for the 787, which was then corrected by incorporating wire mesh into the composite. 

A lighter solution 

So, what about potential alternatives? There is no obvious quick fix, but now is the time for design engineers to look beyond traditional technologies and embrace long-term change. This means lighter weight materials that enhance capability and offer a good value alternative to materials that include carbon and polymer composites, steel, titanium, and aluminium...

Read the full article in the June issue of DPA

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