Global aviation feeds on composites


They are not perturbed by extreme temperature changes, they convince engineers with their lightness and can withstand even high loads with ease: fibre composites are ideally suited for use in aviation and space travel. This will also be highlighted by COMPOSITES EUROPE in Stuttgart from 6 to 8 November 2018. In addition to the exhibitors’ ranges the trade fair provides information on fibre composites with talks on the focal themes of composites in aerospace at the Composites Forum and the Lightweight Technologies Forum.

Numerous exhibitors at COMPOSITES EUROPE already cooperate with the aerospace industry today. Whoever seeks best practices and innovations should make sure to schedule a visit to Airbus supplier Flugzeug-Union Süd or CNC manufacturing specialists Reichenbacher HAMUEL. Also represented on site will be producers and developers of release agents such as Chem-Trend or CMS Deutschland, whose CNC machining centres are used in the aerospace industry worldwide, to name but one sector. HEXCEL, a leading vendor of Advanced Composites and HUFSCHMIED Zerspanungssysteme, a producer of high-performance tools employed in the aviation industry, can also be contacted personally at the trade fair. Know-how related to the use of composites in aircraft and the like also comes care of LAP, an expert in high-precision laser projectors, and MAKA Systems, whose 5-axis CNC machining centres and holistic solution concepts are also found in aviation, plus many other companies exhibiting at the trade fair. Furthermore, the programme on Thursday, 8 November, will be all about aerospace. On this day experts at both the Composites Forum and the Lightweight Technologies Forum will address the current requirements and challenges for composites producers in this sector of industry.  

Higher demand due to new types of aircraft

Exhibitors at COMPOSITES EUROPE 2018 also include BELOTTI. This Italian company is a cooperation partner of the state-owned Chinese aircraft manufacturer Comac. Their C919 took off for its maiden flight in May 2017 making Comac a new competitor for Airbus and Boeing. Since November 2017 the two aircraft prototypes have undergone testing and the second prototype has now also passed initial performance tests. In 2021 the first planes are slotted for delivery to customers. Several hundreds of orders have already been received.

What constitutes a challenge for Chinese competitors is good news for the composites industry: the demand for composite materials rises with each new type of aircraft. For the production of the C919 Comac also focuses on these materials to save weight. The cabin pressure bulkhead in the rear of the fuselage is made of PMI-based structural foam. It is very light, withstands even extreme temperature changes and high mechanical loads, thereby fulfilling the requirements for safety-critical parts in aircraft exteriors.

Half a plane made of composites

Composites have also been long established materials at Airbus and Boeing. While CFRP only accounted for less than 30% of the materials used in the A380, it already reaches 53% for the A350 XWB. Here the wings of this giant passenger jet are the biggest components ever made of carbon-fibre reinforced plastics. The jet airliner is said to weigh in 10 tons less than its predecessor A330. Thanks to a 50% share of CFRP the Boeing 787 model also saves about one fifth of weight. Since for one Airbus A320 100 kg less weight translates into almost 10,000 litres less kerosene per year, it is plain to see the enormous savings potential that composites hold.

Current market studies testify to this fact. The report “Bestandsaufnahme Leichtbau in Deutschland” (Taking Stock of Lightweight Construction in Germany) published in 2015 by the VDI Centre for Resource Efficiency, for example, rates the growth potential of composites in aircraft construction as very good. The market growth forecast for FRP use in aviation and space travel by 2020 stands at approximately 15%. One remaining challenge, however, is the issue of excessively high costs. Therefore, the development of less expensive, scalable automated production technologies is a research focus in Germany.

China and India are pushing the market

An analysis released by market research institute Ceresana in 2017 forecasts that global air traffic and, hence, the demand for new civilian jets, is very likely to continue rising substantially over the coming years.  At the same time, the share of composites used in both civil and military aviation and space travel will go up. This is why the prospects are positive at the locations of the said manufacturers: Airbus (Western Europe), Boeing (USA), Bombardier (Canada), Embraer (Brazil) and Comac (China).

The Composites Market Report 2017 also covers the positive growth prospects – especially for CFRP – in the aerospace industry in detail. This development is clearly helped by the segment of commercial aviation with models A350 XWB, A380, B787 and B777X. Between 2015 and 2016 approx. 8% growth was posted. There are increasing efforts undertaken in the Asian region to strongly expand the national aviation and space travel sectors. Alongside the new, large-scale activities in India, developments in China are particularly interesting.

Space travel accounts for 60% of global total sales

There are currently also activities undertaken in space travel in the area of booster rockets. Both Falcon9 (SpaceX) and Ariane 6 (ESA/ASL) are built with the help of carbon composites. The CFP boosters of Ariane 6, for example, are developed and later manufactured by MT Aerospace (Augsburg, Germany) and AVIO (Collefero, Italy) by means of a coiling process. In Asia the space travel programme is also pushed. Here the efforts undertaken even include the installation of an own Chinese orbital station for the time after the ISS decomissioning.  

One USP of the aerospace industry in carbon composite consumption are the clearly higher sales compared to other sectors. Demand in the aerospace sector stands at some 38,000 tons (accounting for 30% of the total global market) and therefore only slightly exceeds that of the automotive sector at just under 28,000 tons (22%). The share in earnings, however, is markedly higher: at US$ 11.7 billion it accounts for some 60% of the total turnover generated (US$ 19.3 billion). According to the market report, this is especially due to the high quality demands and approval costs that entail significantly higher kilo prices by comparison.