What new composite technologies have potential in aerospace?

There are a lot of things we’ve looked at, such as out-of-autoclave processing and techniques—that’s really exciting because you can produce large composite parts with less expensive equipment and tooling at lower temperatures, equating to cost savings. Also, out-of-autoclave allows for unique composite structure design which may not be able to be fabricated using traditional autoclave technology. I’m excited with the progress and potential use of carbon nanotubes and fibers in aircraft applications such as EMI shielding, anti-icing and wiring harnessing.

How can a composite manufacturer break into the aerospace market?

Aerospace is a very competitive market. An up-and-coming company has to start in small bites. Look at niche markets, learn their strengths and weaknesses, and then leverage your product to meet the needs. I keep up with what is going on in the industry now through magazines, publications, news releases, and trade shows. Shows are excellent and offer you the chance to catch up quickly with market trends, new products and the people propelling them. You can see, touch and feel products and make relationships. I try to work with customers and agencies by asking what future needs and requirements they will be dealing with, then use this information as a road map for our plans and investments.

How can composites improve?

In aviation, it’s all about providing lighter and stronger structures that are more affordable. Improving those characteristics leads to better performance and economic value, allowing more people to buy and fly. There isn’t one thing I’d say composites needs to do except invest in R&D that drives to that end.

How has the use of composites changed in aerospace?

Manufacturers started using composite parts in small section applications. Today, it’s used in much greater content as seen on the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. They’re both using carbon and graphite composites in large aircraft sections and components. Roughly one-third of flying structures today are made from composites and I believe this trend will continue to expand as the composites industry develops new technologies and products with more applications.

What concerns do aerospace manufacturers have with composites?

The cost and lead-time for composite materials needs to come down. It is expected that as materials producers develop new methods to produce composite materials more efficiently, its cost will come down as well. I believe one of the main issues with composite materials is the shelf life and out-time that also effect the lead-time for the material. A composite resin system that has a shelf life of two more years and an order of magnitude increase in out-time from hundreds to thousands of hours would reduce concerns with material purchase, stocking and use.