Composite Technology Set to Soar on Wings of Commercial Airliners
The cost and weight-saving objectives of aircraft/engine OEMs will drive the application of composites in the aerospace industry. Aircraft safety will be one of the overriding concerns, bolstering the growth of the composites market. Advances in composite technology will trigger related developments in engine technology.
Currently, the general lack of composite material characteristics and simulation tools will challenge market expansion. Moreover, the conceptual design phase of composite aircraft can be of long duration and require extensive testing and analysis, resulting in extended time-to-delivery. Significant capital infusion into R&D, training programmes in advanced production technology and the retention of experts will be critical to sustain market growth.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (http://www.aerospace.frost.com), Composite Application Market Assessment – A Global Review, finds that the total aerospace market consumption of carbon fibre composites was estimated to be 7,260 metric tonnes in 2007 with total carbon fibre production set to reach 35,800 metric tonnes in 2010.
Of this, the aerospace industry captures 30 per cent of the total market volume, with a value of $520.0 million. The United States will be the largest consumer of carbon fibre composites followed by Europe and China.
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“Composites have considerable potential in commercial aviation sectors with the largest end users in this segment being business, light and very light aircraft,” notes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Balaji Srimoolanathan. “This will create a new dimension in the production of next-generation aircraft, with improved cabin comfort, superior economic quality and, most importantly, increased fuel efficiency.”
Traditionally, composite technology was not as widely used in the aerospace industry as it is at present. Through enhanced research capability, composites currently account for a major portion of the structural weight of aircraft.
“Competitive offerings and high strength-to-weight ratio have augmented the fuel efficiency of aircraft and have set the stage for the full adoption of composites in aircraft currently in production and next-generation aircraft as well,” remarks Balaji Srimoolanathan. “Composites offer a ‘value-added’ technology that benefit both aircraft/engine manufacturers and airlines in managing the cost structure of their business.”
Despite the competitive advantage offered by composites in improving fuel efficiency, there have been restraints. These include a 10 per cent reduction in fuselage and wing mass, which can increase the payload by 3 to 6 per cent. Issues related to certification, manufacturing, repair and recycling threaten the prospects of composite applications.
“Composites have not made major advances in the primary structure of large civil aircraft with aluminium still dominating the major portion of the structural weight,” adds Balaji Srimoolanathan. “In the large cabin market, the Boeing Dreamliner 787 will be the first of its kind to launch a full-size commercial aircraft with composite wings and fuselage.”
Another issue that hinders market growth is the lack of domain knowledge. Extensive testing and analysis need to be undertaken to understand the capability of composites in various applications. For instance, the potential for weight saving in the primary structure can be no more than 25 per cent and, similarly for secondary structure, not more than 15 per cent in commercial aircraft, creating a challenge for composites.
With the rising demand for carbon fibre led by next-generation composite aircraft, material suppliers and composite parts manufacturers need to accelerate their production by outsourcing core activities to low-cost countries such as China and India even as they leverage low currency rates in advanced countries such as the United States. To promote composite growth in large commercial jets, all primes and tier 2 & 3 market participants must initiate R&D to study their capability in various applications.
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Composite Application Market Assessment – A Global Review