The manufacturing of composite materials combines two or more materials to create a new material for an intended purpose. In the aerospace industry, composite materials are used to improve the performance of aircraft without sacrificing durability. Nearly half of all parts in newly built aircraft are manufactured with composite materials.
New-material development and design help to continually improve aircraft and offset material costs. There are a lot of requirements for aerospace materials, which is one reason a high volume of composites is used within the industry. Composite materials such as fiberglass are favored because they meet many of these requirements. Fiberglass is lightweight, and resists compression and corrosion.
Manufacturing of composite materials for aircraft has been done since the 1960s. However, recent innovations in composite materials are introducing new options to the aerospace industry.
One innovation in this field — the use of plant-inspired structures to design and manufacture composite materials — sprang from research conducted by Anamika Prasad, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at South Dakota State University. Working alongside materials researchers within the U.S. Air Force, Prasad focuses on creating multifunctional composites.
Prasad leverages her knowledge of plants and other bio-structures to offer insights on potential designs for next-generation composites. The multifunctionality of a material discovered in 2011 — MXene — drew the attention of Prasad and the Air Force research team.
MXene is a 2D material that can be used in aircraft, as it is high-strength, heat-resistant and conductive. Though the material has many benefits, researchers are still working on a successful way to use it in the manufacturing of composite materials. This is a complex problem, because the composite has to retain all the properties of MXene and be structurally durable. Successfully creating a composite with MXene will open the door to multifunctional composite materials.
A university in the United Kingdom is conducting research on developing self-responsive aerospace composite materials. These materials use carbon nanotubes to enable the self-responsive properties, essentially creating smart composite materials.
The manufacturing of composite materials with these advanced capabilities is intended to decrease production costs in aerospace manufacturing. The technological capabilities of these materials include self-anti-icing, self-cure, and self-sensing. The electrical conductivity of these materials helps distribute heat more evenly, which improves the performance of these self-responsive technologies.
Aerospace innovations related to self-responsive composites will increase the life span and improve the performance of aerospace components. These benefits also lead to reducing maintenance and manufacturing costs. Self-responsive composites are in the demonstration stage, but they are an important step in the journey to fully electric aircraft.
Bio-composites are made of raw biological materials, from sources such as plants, animals, biomass, minerals, biowastes and more. These raw materials are becoming more popular among manufacturers because they are cost-effective, flexible, renewable, and lightweight.
Since bio-composites are made from natural renewable materials, they are an attractive alternative to synthetics. As the manufacturing industry becomes more environmentally conscious, bio-composites can push the industry toward sustainability.
For the aerospace industry, manufacturers and engineers want to use these new composites to improve the performance of future aircraft. Bio-composites can be used in aircraft cabins, cargo areas, structures, and auxiliary components.
Do you want to learn more about the manufacturing of composite materials and aerospace innovations? Attend AeroDef — an aerospace and defense manufacturing conference and trade show.