Fokker Aerospace, founded in 1919, is one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world, until aluminum replaced wooden structures as the norm. Almost 100 years later, the company has again made a name for itself in aerospace, supplying composites parts for Gulfstream, Airbus and other companies. Fokker’s director of R&D, Arnt Offringa, has been in the industry for 20 years, and shares his thoughts on its future.
What are some of Fokker’s historical accomplishments?
Since we began using composites as a weight reduction tool, we have had a few recent R&D technology developments. We are now supplying the Gulfstream 650 tail, which is the first full thermoplastic rudder because welding of composites is not very established. We’re also supplying flaps for the new Boeing 747-8 and Apache avionics housings, which are 16 feet long and made mostly of composites.
What made you focus R&D on the tail?
It was a place where we were able to provide a product with an improved cost-to-weight ratio, making it extremely lightweight and affordable. We will be showcasing it in April at JEC and in May at SAMPE.
How will the aerospace industry change in the next five years?
We see changes that will adapt to the growing emphasis on the environment and an increased demand for lightweight structures, thus a higher demand for composites.
What made you focus specifically on thermoplastic composites?
At first thermoplastic composites was a small-scale research activity, which has matured into professional mainstream activity for two reasons: First, very high toughness of materials, resulting in a low weight, and second, the unique processing possibilities such as press forming individual parts and welding assemblies.
We started a large project with Airbus for composite-made large primary structures, which will be launched in 2011-12. One of the advantages that we see for large composite structures is the fire, smoke and toxicity of the material, especially within the fuselage. If you light typical materials, they release fumes and toxic gases, and the material starts burning. However, if you do same thing with a thermoplastic composite (such as Carbon PEKK) there is no burning or dripping.
What percentage of your materials does composites make-up?
Percentage-wise it is rather small, approximately 25 percent. But the growth potential is so large. Right now, composites are found in flaps, which are thermoset parts found in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as well as wing leading edges, rudders and floorboards for Gulfstream and other aircrafts.