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 Carbon Fiber Usage in Aerospace Industry

Posted on 19 Jul 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

There are a lot of elements that exist in the planet Earth. They already exist even before humans know what these elements are. As time goes by, humans began to know how to develop these elements into useful things that they can utilize for their everyday lives. One of these elements is carbon. Carbon is top six when it comes to abundance all over the world. The most common way for people to obtain carbon is through coal deposits. However, in order to use carbon commercially, individuals or corporations will have to process carbon into a more suitable form.

One such form is a carbon fiber composite. A carbon fiber has high tensile strength, high chemical resistance, high stiffness, low thermal expansion, and low weight properties. However, carbon fiber is most famous for being a strong yet lightweight material. A carbon fiber has enough good properties which makes it a very good material for different industries to use. One industry that benefits a lot in the use of carbon fiber is the aerospace industry. This particular industry is responsible in designing, assembling, and manufacturing various types of aircrafts.

Back in the 1900′s, the aerospace industry used aluminum in order to construct airplanes and helicopters, among other types of aircraft. Aluminum was the primary material in such construction. While aluminum is a strong type of metal, it is also a heavy element. In most cases, about 65%, even up to 75% of the total weight of an aircraft is attributed to the aluminum material. Now, if you add passengers as well as cargoes such as luggage and others, then, the aircraft, particularly the engine, will need to consume and burn more fuel in order to carry the airplane into the air to start its flight. Since this is the case, the cost of purchasing the fuel that the airlines will have to spend will definitely be high. In order to gain profits, the airline will pass a portion of this cost to the passengers. Aside from that, the distance that the aircraft can cover will definitely be short. However, in such short distance, fuel consumption is already high.

In order to address these key concerns, the aerospace industry switched from aluminum to carbon fiber in terms of the primary material for the construction of the aircrafts. Since carbon fiber is known for its lightweight properties yet can still offer durability, the switch has been welcomed by the companies belonging to the aerospace industry. Some companies have even ultimately discarded the use of aluminum materials during the construction phase. With the carbon fiber being light, there will definitely be a significant reduction in the fuel consumption of the aircraft. As a result, the cost of the fuel will also be lower. The aircraft will burn and consume lesser amount of fuel as it is already very light. Due to the consumption of lesser fuel, the aircraft will also have enough fuel left to cover long distances.

With regards to the durability of the carbon fiber, it also becomes very beneficial to the airline companies. Using carbon fiber as the primary aircraft construction material also lessens maintenance costs. Fatigue and corrosion are the two most common problems that plague most metals. Metallic components in an aircraft easily experience stress or fatigue, especially with the frequent use of the aircraft for flights. These components also corrode at a faster rate than carbon fibers. Carbon fiber can definitely resist corrosion as well as fatigue. In that case, the cost of the maintenance of the aircraft, whether routine or non routine, will definitely be lower. There will also be a lesser risk of failure within the aircraft, thereby reducing the chance of a crash and loss of lives.

Throughout history, the 787 Dreamliner that was developed and constructed by the Boeing Commercial Airplanes is the top selling passenger airplane. This plane uses carbon fiber reinforced composites for its different parts. The wings, the fuselage, the interiors, the doors, and the tail, among many others, are all made from these composites. Each 787 Dreamliner manufactured and sold by Boeing has around 35 metric tons of the said composite or polymer, making it lightweight yet durable.

There is also a bit of an environmental benefit when using carbon fiber as a construction material for aircrafts, especially with regards to the long term environmental impact. This is because carbon fiber has a long useful life due to it being resistant to corrosion and stress. This means that it does not have to be produced and replaced a number of times. However, it needs a lot of energy in order to produce carbon fiber. Emission of huge amounts of greenhouse gases also takes place during the production stage.

With all these benefits that the aerospace industry can take advantage of in the use of carbon fiber for constructing and building aircrafts, they also face a couple of challenges or obstacles in this field. One of these challenges is de-lamination. De-lamination is the state wherein the layers of steel or another composite material slowly separate from each other. In most cases, the separation is due to impact and repeated cyclic stresses. Aside from de-lamination, the carbon fibers may also wrinkle while they are in the fabrication phase. The wrinkling causes the fibers to become less stiff, and, as a domino effect, become weak.

The aerospace industry has taken a lot of steps in order to overcome these challenges or obstacles. They definitely spend financial resources for the research and development of carbon fiber. They try to improve the quality of these carbon fibers and follow certain steps to help them produce better carbon fibers. There are also strict constraints that the industry imposes, especially on the design of such structure.

Indeed, carbon fiber is beneficial to the aerospace industry. However, the industry alone is not the only one that can feel its effects. The consumers, especially those who love to travel and prefer planes over buses or ships, will also be able to benefit from the use of carbon fiber in the aerospace industry.

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