Composite materials like carbon fiber are quickly overtaking the popular material, aluminum when it comes to aerospace manufacturing. These materials offer unique advantages over the aluminum used in the body of aircrafts. Weight is reduced, no fatigue, and absolutely no corrosion, are the main benefits aerospace manufacturers are looking for when using composite materials.
Carbon fiber is one of the most popular composite material used in today’s aircraft manufacturing process. When this material first made its way into this industry, processing the material from its raw state took an incredible amount of time and had to be done by hand. This limited the manufacturer’s ability to use these materials in large, complex parts. By hand, it was only possible to process about 3kgs per hour, now with new automation techniques, that number has skyrocketed to 30kg per hour. This opens new doors for aerospace manufacturers and they are ready to get started.
Airbus is one of the most prominent users of carbon fiber when it comes to their aircraft manufacturing processes. Entire sections of an aircraft are able to be made from this impressive material. These sections can even be one solid piece of carbon fiber that is then cured in large pressurized ovens.
At first, only a small percentage of any aircraft would have been made from carbon fiber. Now, Airbus’ latest jetliner is made up of nearly 50% carbon fiber. Innovative automation processes are the cause of this tremendous spike in carbon fiber usage. Processing the raw material is extremely difficult and time-consuming when done by hand. Remarkable new machinery and technology have come together to create a much more streamlined carbon fiber production process that offers manufacturers the ability to greatly increase the usage of these incredible materials.
The reason Airbus and other aerospace manufacturers are so interested in carbon fiber in particular, is the fact that it does not corrode, fatigue, and is incredibly light weight. Corrosion can wreak havoc on an aircraft and servicing these incredible machines is not cheap and takes a good bit of time. Fatigue can lead an airline to replace entire sections of an airplane as well. Eliminating these issues can save airlines an massive amount of money as well as make the plans much more reliable.
Weight is the number one reason manufacturers are utilizing carbon fiber in their aircraft assembly. The aircraft’s weight is directly connected to its fuel economy. Furthermore, the less the aircraft weighs, the more passengers they can fit on each flight. This is the ultimate goal of any aircraft manufacturer as well as the airlines themselves. The less fuel an aircraft consumes, and the more passengers they can fit on each flight, all adds up to a more profitable aircraft. This, paired up with less maintenance, makes these materials a prime choice for aerospace manufacturers.
In the video by Airbus below, you can learn more exactly how they create such large components out of this incredible material.