Not only did we talk about performance, light weight and integrating of parts, but things we could do in aerodynamics that were hard to do with monolithic materials. On the cost side, we’ve come down on the learning curve with assembly issues. We have some dramatic data showing significant improvements.
What role do you see composites playing in Boeing’s future?
At a recent conference I gave the message that every next airplane is based on a previous plane. When we look at what drives us on this and the next airplane, questions are still the same. We are in a customer value creation business, and while composites was a fabulous answer for the new 787, that level of performance is what our other airplane has to improve on. We aren’t beholden to composites or metals. It could go either way.
What are factors in that decision?
There are some inherent issues in composites that make them very appealing. For example they enable us to design larger, more integrated pieces and in terms of the environment, it results in less waste and the use of fewer hazardous materials. But we aren’t about choosing one path over other for the value it could create for customers. We could very well go back to metals. I’d say we will make that decision based upon requests of the design. We don’t want people to think we are dogmatic about it. It’s an integration question; people paint the image too much of a one-sided perspective and we try to be very balanced.
What performance properties would you like to see improved in composites materials?
Performance properties are the same basic drivers for aluminum, titanium or any other aerospace materials: continued balanced improvements across all the major design properties of tension, compression, shear, crack resistance, etc. Also, there need to be continued advances in manufacturing cost reduction associated with fabrication and assembly.
In the future, where do you see potentially for composites?
Looking ahead at 3-D reinforcement strategies that allow load transfer around corners, the density for composites is less, so weight performance could be improved if we can design a part to do that. That’s a part of the pie that could shift from metal to composites. Having said that, the metal guys aren’t standing still – we’ve given them the same challenge. Can they improve their properties/capabilities? From our point of view, it’s an even horse race between composites, titanium, aluminum and steel.