The Aerospace Market
By Deepak Karthikeyan, Industry Manager – Visionary Science at Frost and Sullivan
The aerospace industry continues to remain at the forefront of composite adoption, primarily due to the market’s proactive shift toward lightweighting to meet emission reduction goals and increase fuel efficiency. However, in comparison to other industries that have embraced composite technology, the approval process for new materials in aerospace takes a significant amount of time and opportunity cost is high.
Nonetheless, over the years key aerospace OEMs understood the significant advantages of composites over metals in terms of design flexibility, vibrational damping and a high strength-to-weight ratio. Therefore, OEMs have since used composites for primary load-bearing structures and high-volume components such as wings, fuselages, elevators, rudders, ailerons and nacelles. And more recently, composites have penetrated secondary applications, including windows, cabin compartments, arm rests and trim strips due to their superior fire, smoke and toxicity (FST) properties, as well as antimicrobial properties.
Within the composites market, carbon fiber reinforced polymers have been the primary beneficiary of the industry’s answer to lightweighting. The share of carbon fiber composites is likely to further increase in the coming years, owing to the tremendous potential to replace aluminum and steel in primary load-bearing structures. In addition to this, carbon fiber composites remain the dominantly used material within the aero-engine segment because of its adoption in fan blades, spinners, ducts, thrust reversers, vent tubes and engine cowlings. However, with the demanding nature of the aerospace industry, the carbon fiber upstream value chain continues to face challenges such as cost and supply.
Due to the reduced requirements on impact resistance for interior applications, along with lower material and production costs, glass fiber reinforced polymers find opportunities mainly within interior applications. At the outset, composite usage in interior applications has also been driven by increasing interest in enhancing aesthetics, especially in business and first-class segments, with passenger cabins also expected to become more advanced in the future.