Last Week, Composites Manufacturing spoke with Alan G. Miller, the director of technology requirements & incorporation for Boeing Commercial Airlines – Product Development, about the increased use of composites (you can read the interview here). Today, he’s answered a series of follow-up questions about the Boeing’s R&D processes, and composite manufacturers’ potential to grow or get involved.
What motivates Boeing’s R&D?
We certainly don’t push technology for technology’s sake, but rather how it translates to our customers. For example, we strive to improve aerodynamics not only for more efficient airplanes, but to reduce community noise. Also, if we reduce the carbon footprint of airplanes, that affects dispatched planes around the world. If they were quieter and had less of an impact on the environment, they could be dispatched at all hours of the day, which gives more flexibility.
How does R&D collaboration work for such a large company?
We are aligned with our broader Boeing-wide technology organizations where we share best practices and the newest ideas. Together we maintain an active global presence with our partners, supply chain members, and affiliated universities. Building and supporting airplanes is a global business and major components are fabricated in Australia, Asia and Europe. Part of those relationships is the participation in development. We leverage each other’s knowledge and whether a good idea comes to us from France, China or Kansas, it’s still a good idea.
How do you determine what parts will be made of what materials?
It is a decision made between alternative materials/structures of value to our customers. We consider the collective value of these decisions in terms of integrated considerations with structures, materials, systems, aerodynamics, propulsion, manufacturing, and life cycle cost factors.
In the future, what parts could be potentially made out of composites that aren’t right now?
Currently, composites are not as efficient for certain parts of the aircraft; we can do it with composites but it’s just not as efficient. But there is movement into more complex geometries, for example, where we use titanium or other metallic parts. Currently, the airplane is roughly half composites and half not composites. We optimize material selection and structures around the material properties that best work together. We’ve put aluminum and titanium around composites, for specific reasons—it was best for the job either due to stiffness, strength or expansion. But fitting, which takes a part loaded in one axis and joins to another axis, is done using traditional metals.