Carbon fibre composites are rapidly gaining popularity in the aircraft industry, providing increased structural strength but at a significantly lighter weight. This results in improved performance and fuel efficiency from the aircraft. Composites are built by combining carbon fibres with other materials, each of which retains their unique identities and yet creates a high-temperature resistant, lightweight ‘hybrid’ material with improved structural properties.
Benefits of Using Carbon Fibre Composites in Aircraft Manufacturing
The growing significance of carbon fibre composite materials in the aviation industry has facilitated the designing of high-performance, reliable and economical aircraft that will improve efficiency, lower fuel consumption and minimise direct operating costs. The composites of carbon fiber sheets can be manufactured in different shapes wherein the fibres are tightly wound to increase overall strength.
A unique feature of composites is they can be precisely layered and the carbon fibres in each layer run in different directions. This allows the aircraft engineer to create structures that have distinct properties. For instance, a structure can be built in a way that it bends only in one direction, not another. Owing to its fibrous nature, the composites have excellent resistance against compression and superior tensile strength. This makes them most suitable for manufacturing aircraft parts.
On applying tensile force from a particular direction, the carbon fibres will line up in the same direction, adding to the tensile strength of the composites. The toughness of the base matrix system and the adhesive adds to excellent resistance to compression. The resin used in manufacturing the composites helps maintain the carbon fibres in a straight column and prevents buckling.
Airbus A350 XWB and Boeing 787 Dreamliner are the biggest examples of how commercial airline companies are widely using carbon fibre composites to manufacture aircraft bodies. Carbon fibre is lighter than aluminium but stronger than steel which makes it an ideal choice for building planes that are robust but lightweight for more fuel efficiency. Additionally, it is highly malleable, i.e. carbon fiber sheets can be moulded into any shape.
Thus, aerospace engineers have more flexibility in building their dream aircraft using carbon fibre composites. Add to this are the advantages of improved aerodynamics, lower fuel costs, increased efficiency and requirement for fewer parts – no wonder why carbon fibre composite materials are fast emerging as a top-notch aircraft building material today.
Carbon Fibre Composites Enhance Aerodynamic Performance
Aerodynamics play an integral role in determining the fuel efficiency of an aircraft. More trimmed the aircraft design, the more fuel-efficient it is. Carbon fibre composites can be precisely fabricated in a manner to produce complex yet smooth geometrics that enables engineers to optimise the aircraft’s aerodynamics. Furthermore, carbon fibres are tough that helps design seamless swept wing designs. This can reduce the aircraft’s fuel consumption rate by up to 50% by minimising aerodynamic drag.
Carbon Fibres Help Build More Fuel-Efficient Aircrafts
In the aviation industry, the lighter a plane is, the less costly it is to operate and maintain. Lightweight design helps enhance fuel-efficiency, thus, reducing the overall cost of operating commercial aircraft. Carbon fibre composites are enormously strong & rigid and yet extremely lightweight. Building an aeroplane using carbon fibre composites can reduce its weight by almost 20% than an aircraft which is built with aluminium.
With every kilogram of weight that can be reduced by using carbon fibres, expert estimate an enormous savings of around $1 million over the lifespan of the aircraft.
Carbon Fibre Composites Help to Have Fewer Aircraft Parts
Another factor that affects the weight, aerodynamics and fuel efficiency of an aircraft is the number of parts required to build it. More number of parts required to build an aeroplane would mean greater manufacturing time, increased weight, more maintenance and higher costs. Thankfully, carbon fibre composites can be easily fabricated and moulded to combine several parts into a single structure that is more robust and reliable.
Build Complex Shapes
Typically, metallic alloys used in conventional aircraft manufacturing lack resilience. Therefore, engineers are switching to carbon fibre composites that feature high malleability. This allows designing more complex shapes, adding a new and innovative realm to aircraft engineering. Building complex shapes help reduce the number of aircraft parts as well as the joints and fasteners required to set up a component.
There are two advantages of this: firstly, fewer joints and fasteners would mean faster assembling time; secondly, every hole that is made to attach joints and fasteners would result into a potential site of crack-initiation. Having fewer ones, thus, is expected to make the structure sturdier and more reliable.
Carbon Fibre Composites Ensure Faster Fabrication Time
Quicker assembling and the need to build fewer parts are likely to speed up the fabrication process. Carbon fibre composites are highly malleable, i.e. they can be moulded to build any complex shape or combined to manufacture a single structure. Thus, manufacturers have only fewer parts to fabricate and assemble. This will speed up the manufacturing process and improve the time to market.
Carbon Fibre is Corrosion Resistant
Another advantage of using carbon fibre composite materials in aircraft manufacturing is their increased resistance to corrosion as compared to metal alloys. This makes them the perfect choice in the aviation industry as corrosion-resistance would mean improved lifespan of the parts, better maintenance and lower costs of operating an aircraft. Additionally, carbon fibre, when combined with a stronger resin matrix, features excellent resistance against crack and fatigue.
These are ideal instances for manufacturing high-quality and reliable aircraft.
Improved Environmental Impact
Modern commercial aircraft companies are rapidly shifting toward Green Engineering. And building planes using carbon fibre composites can help reduce carbon footprint while ensuring environment-friendliness and sustainability. Composites are lightweight and have increased tensile strength as compared to heavier materials. When lighter carbon fibre composites are used in transport applications, the environmental load is comparatively lower.
Composites are typically corrosion-resistant as compared to metal alloys. This ensures the longevity of the parts. These factors together make carbon fibre a good aircraft building material from an eco-friendly perspective. Traditional composite materials are manufactured from resins and petroleum-based fibres that are non-degradable. This can result in landfills once the lifespan of the composite ends.
Carbon fibre is biodegradable and can be manufactured easily in bulk quantities without causing a significant impact on the environment, unlike traditional composite materials. The latter, when burns, may release micro-particles and toxic fumes which pose serious health risks. Additionally, they tend to weaken at higher temperatures around 150 degrees or more, causing major structural failures.
Carbon fibre composites are fabricated by combining carbon fibre, glass fabrics, aramid fibre and durable epoxy resins that are resistant to high temperatures and eco-friendly. These are less likely to release harmful gases and particles, thus, ensuring improving sustainability and wellbeing. The environment-friendly feature of carbon fibre composites has certainly revolutionised the aviation industry.
Disadvantages of Using Carbon Fibre Composites in Manufacturing Aircrafts
One of the biggest disadvantages of carbon fibre composites is they do no break or bend easily under resistance. While this is certainly a benefit of using the composite material for aircraft manufacturing, it can be difficult to identify the need for potential repairs. Furthermore, carbon fibre composite is costlier and more difficult to repair than metallic alloys; thanks to its remarkable tensile strength and stiffness properties.
Use of Carbon Fibre Composites in Aircraft Manufacturing – An Example
Carbon fibre composite is rapidly finding its place in the aviation industry, used to manufacture high-temperature resistant, lightweight and robust aircraft. Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the first commercial aircraft where most of its structural elements are built with composites such as carbon fibre or carbon laminate.
Earlier the aircraft has been encountering problems with its wing box which was primarily caused due to lack of stiffness the composites used to manufacture the part. This was causing delays in the aircraft’s delivery dates. To overcome this obstacle, the wing boxes were remanufactured using carbon fibre composites that made them tougher and stiffer than before.
For instance, the Airbus A380 is made with approximately 6 million parts. So, you can imagine the extent of time and money one single aircraft takes to be built with utmost precision. Using carbon fibre composites can help address this problem by limiting the number of parts used. Smaller parts can be combined to build larger structures that can easily be assembled to build a plane that is lightweight yet strong and powerful.
Since aircraft parts made with carbon fibre composites are light in weight, only a few people are required to assemble or manoeuvre them. It would take lesser time to manufacture the entire aircraft, resulting in significant cost savings.
The Future of Aircraft Designing Lies with Carbon Fibre Composites
Using carbon fibre composite materials to build aeroplanes offers engineers with improved flexibility when planning aerodynamic efficiency and fuel savings. Commercial aircraft companies may rethink creating designs where the wings and fuselage blend to deliver enhanced lift-to-drag ratio of the plane.
Carbon fibre has made its place in aircraft manufacturing since the 1970s. And with modern technological advancements, there lies a bright future where we can expect to see innovative and more powerful aircraft designs.