“We need revolutionary improvements in compression performance without sacrificing tensile performance,” he said. “That’s where the work needs to go.”

Standardizing Industry Processes – Original equipment manufacturers in the aerospace industry build, analyze and inspect aircraft differently, said Anderson.

“Everybody’s got their secret sauce, and the lack of standardization means that only this particular supplier can make my part,” she said. “Consequently, it’s tough to leverage off of each other in the manufacturing world.”

It’s challenging for a parts supplier to diversify and work with another OEM because it requires starting from square one to learn that company’s processes. That, in turn, hinders further expansion of composites in the aerospace market.

Qualifying Materials – Qualification of advanced material systems is imperative, but it’s a lengthy and expensive process that often deters the use of new materials, said Joseph Heil, a research engineer on the Spirit Wichita Innovative Future Thermoplastics team at Spirit AeroSystems.

For instance, Heil said Spirit AeroSystems can build an urban air mobility vehicle for a client with thermoplastic materials, however qualification will be laborious. “We have a very robust system for doing that. It’s a building block approach,” he said. “But it’s going to take three years and a couple million dollars.”

Heil suggested an evolutionary approach to qualifications – simulation backed by experiment.

“We need to understand how and why things work together so we’re not quite as reliant on testing everything exactly the way it’s going to be in the exact environment for exactly this product,” said Heil. “That’s essentially death by test, and it’s very slow and every expensive.”

Educating Employees – Anderson discussed the challenges employees face transitioning from metal to composite materials.

“It’s not just the engineers. It’s the people on the manufacturing floor, too,” she said. “They are used to being able to take a metal part and throw it on the floor. You can’t do that with composites, and you might not know if it broke until it’s too late.”

Finding enough skilled employees is an issue. “The massive amount of training required to work with composites and the steep learning curve is a real challenge,” said Anderson.

Despite the roadblocks to increasing the use of advanced materials in aerospace, the three experts remain optimistic – especially after convening with peers during CAMX.

“This is a great forum for all of us to share our experiences and encourage people to join us, not just from our individual functions in aerospace but across functions,” said Anderson. “These are the places where we can talk about how to abate the challenges.”

Susan Keen Flynn is managing editor of Composites Manufacturing magazine. Email comments to sflynn@keenconcepts.net.