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Add to that — no pun intended — so -called “additive manufacturing”
or 3D printing — which allows just about anyone with a computer
and a specialised printer to literally print anything from heart valves
to a nearly complete (small scale) jet engine, and you can see the
aviation game is changing.
“ When it comes to the aerospace manufacturing supply chain,
production ramp-up is the number one priority, and it will continue
to be for OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers throughout the year,” said Anand
Parameswaran, senior vice president for aerospace and defence at
India’s Cyient engineering company. “Much of this demand is being
driven out of Asia, especially China and India, and this is set to con-
tinue for at least the next 18-24 months, when production rates are
likely to stabilise.”
“One of the most impactful, technological advances is additive
manufacturing,” he said. “ The precision that it allows, particularly
with intricate components, means that OEMs can manufacture,
lighter and more accurate products faster than ever before...The
industry is still evolving their strategy when it comes to incorporating
additive manufacturing into their operations. But all the signs are
there for this technological innovation to create the biggest impact
on the industry over the next five to 10 years. I don’t think you can
overstate the potential positive disruption here, as additive manu-
facturing could fundamentally change how every OEM operates.
The supply chain is set to move into a transformative period in 2017.”
The game actually started to change back in the 1980s when
composites made of carbon fibres started to find their way into the
development of aircraft. That revolution is now almost complete as
most modern airliners are constructed with a majority of compos-
ites. The Airbus A350 XWB for example, has composites making
up 53 percent of the airplane including the wings, centre wing box,
skin panels, doors and other sections. Graphene however, could
change all that once it is able to be produced in industrial quantities.
An example of a graphene-enhanced aircraft actually flew at the
Farnborough International Airshow in the UK last year. The model
aircraft, called Prospero, was developed by a research partnership
that includes two UK universities and several small companies.
This is actually not the first time aerospace has had to turn to
new materials, according to Australia’s Quickstep Technologies, a
composite manufacturer based in New South Wales that does work
for military aircraft like the F35 fighter and the C130 cargo carrier. In
1939 on the eve of World War II, officials in the UK were concerned
they would not have enough aluminium for the Spitfire fuselage and
turned to flax fibre-composites as an alternative for some sections.
Mike Schramko, Quickstep’s vice president for operations, said the
company is looking at how composites and 3D printing are changing
the MRO space, which he described as a possible growth sector for
the company. He explained that it’s taken a long time for composites to
reach the current level because it’s “hard to change at the OEM level
because of investments in tooling” and original equipment manufac-
turers also had technicians that were qualified for older processes.
“ We’re actively engaging with MROs as a potential for growth
because the amount of composites flowing into the active fleet is
going to significantly change,” he told Asian Aviation in an interview.
Schramko also said one aspect of composites and 3D printing was
that companies don’t need to be the size of GE Aviation or some
similar industrial giant because the costs have come down drasti-
cally thanks to advances in technology.
“Smaller companies can make better moves, they are more driven
to the new technology and it’s the way you can compete with the
larger ones,” he said. “Small businesses can set up and start and be
successful on a much smaller scale and grow.”
A similarly sized company called Quiet Technologies in Florida is
a perfect example. The company has 34 employees and specialises
in corporate aviation as a maker of hush kits. Martin Gardner, vice
president for engineering and customer support at Quiet Technol-
ogies, said his company started life providing hush kits for the DC8
beginning in 1986 using composites, which helped to quiet the air-
craft, but is now working to alleviate corrosion problems on planes,
again, using composites.
“ The composite lends itself to being very adaptive to whatever
shape you want and it is resistant to corrosion,” Gardner explained.
“If you look at new aircraft coming on the market they ’re all using
composites in inlets, but older ones built earlier were seen as more
costly than aluminium. In our view, it is that they’ve (OEMs) already
laid down all the tooling so the cost of changing (to composites),
they don’t see it as being warranted.”
One reason the world has not seen a successful “all composite”
plane, according to Gardner, is because of the costs. “ You can
look back over time to projects like the Starship...a lot of those
programmes failed because the cost of certifying the composite
structure and the cost of manufacturing. Aluminium is much more
well known. In our lifetime, it’s always going to be a mix .”
Gardner said what has him “really excited” about the future though,
is not more advanced composites or graphene, but 3D printing. “If
you combine those two (composites and 3D printing) you can make
A modern A350 is more than half composite material.
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