|The usage of polymers and composites in aerospace has seen a huge surge since the mid 2000s, with the introduction of game-changing aircraft models such as Boeing 787 and Airbus A380. As per Frost & Sullivan, from being used in non-critical and semi structural applications, the usage of polymers has rapidly expanded into the design of critical structural parts for modern aircraft. Polymers and composites are establishing themselves firmly as the materials of choice in aircraft construction, explains the research. From being restricted mainly to aircraft interiors, these revolutionary materials have rapidly expanded into critical structural applications. The current emphasis on aircraft fuel efficiency and concerns over the environmental footprint of air travel have furthered the cause of weight-saving polymers and composites in aircraft construction. Understandably, the transition from 10% by weight of composites in structural applications to more than 50% by weight of composites is not an easy one to make, and will create its own hurdles for companies leading this initiative.
The industry will have to overcome some teething troubles that are bound to arise whilst making a transition on this scale. Investment will have to be made across the aircraft supply chain to support the increased usage of polymers and composites in future aircraft.
'Polymers and composites, despite spending years in product development, are still at the early stages of the learning curve with respect to large scale usage in twin aisle aircraft,' remarks the analyst of this research. 'Areas requiring improvements include enabling faster production process, early detection and repair of composite structures and, with rising volumes over the long term, putting in place efficient polymer and composite recycling mechanisms for end of life aircrafts.' However, with the large amount of investment by the major aircraft original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) ensuring this transition and the resulting technology gains in the area will guarantee that over the medium to long term, polymers and composites will establish themselves as the key materials for usage in aircraft construction. Most of the materials in the downstream supply chain for aircraft construction will feel the impact of heightened demand from the aircraft industry between 2007 and 2014. Its effect will be particularly felt in industries facing capacity constraints such as carbon fibres, which is one of the materials for which the demand will be exceptionally strong. All major carbon fibre producers in the world are currently engaged in expansionary activities, with some of them increasing individual capacities by up to 25%. This is absolutely necessary if market suppliers are to benefit from the rising demand for their product in the medium to long term. Demand will also be strong for structural resins such as epoxies and the multitude of newer resins, such as benzoxazine, are targeting this market. Among thermoplastic suppliers, there is an immediate need to create separate business divisions catering solely to the aerospace industry, if they are to boost the penetration rate for thermoplastics in aerospace applications. This is currently largely a trend that is being experienced only amongst niche plastic producers. The favourable environmental characteristics of thermoplastics will create opportunities for them, especially in aircraft interiors. However, such growth potential can only be realised with a focused approach targeting this market with special product ranges.