Composites lights the way for aviation

Composites Europe 2018 picture
Composites Europe 2018 picture

Aviation and space travel composite applications will be highlighted at this year’s Composites Europe show, held at the Messe Stuttgart from 6-8 November.

Aviation and space travel composite applications will be highlighted at Composites Europe 2018, held at the Messe Stuttgart from 6-8 November.

Technological advances in the process chain are among the current drivers pushing the development of efficient lightweight construction solutions and their implementation in high-volume production. From 6-8 November, the thirteenth Composites Europe will show all the manufacturing processes used to make fibre-reinforced plastics, from raw materials to processing methods to lightweight construction innovations.

Visitors will meet more than 400 exhibitors from 30 countries in Stuttgart, the leading technology region of the industry in Germany, the leading research and development country worldwide, who’ll put on display state-of-the-art technology and the potential of composites – and not just in the exhibition space, but also in the numerous event areas, a Composites Forum and a Lightweight Technologies Forum, themed guided tours and workshops.

Numerous exhibitors at Composites Europe already cooperate with the aerospace industry. 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 release agent specialists Chem-Trend and CMS Deutschland, whose CNC machining centres are used in the aerospace industry worldwide. Hexcel and Hufschmied, a producer of high-performance tools employed in the aviation industry, can also be exhibiting at the show. Meanwhile, LAP, an expert in high-precision laser projectors, and Maka Systems, whose 5-axis CNC machining centres are also found in aviation, will also be in attendance. Furthermore, the programme on Thursday, 8 November, will be all about aerospace, where experts at both the Composites Forum and the Lightweight Technologies Forum will address the current requirements and challenges for composites producers in this sector.

New aircraft meet higher demand

Exhibitors at Composites Europe 2018 also include Belotti. This Italian company is a cooperation partner of Chinese aircraft manufacturer, Comac.

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.

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, so 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.

Asia pushes 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 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 major OEMs.

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.

One notable factor of the aerospace industry in carbon composite consumption are the much 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$ 19.3bn). 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.

Composites Europe is organised by trade fair organiser Reed Exhibitions in cooperation with the European industry association EuCIA and the trade association Composites Germany, a coalition whose members include the industry associations and clusters AVK, CCeV, CFK-Valley and the VDMA Working Group Hybrid Lightweight Technologies.

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