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Materials Changing the Aerospace Industry

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Individuals in the aerospace industry are continually pushing limitations and boundaries. Over the years, extraordinary pursuits have led to innovations like advanced data acquisition and improved communication channels. But the most significant focus has always been on the aircraft themselves.

Old Materials in aerospace

Metals were some of the first materials to be employed in the aerospace industry, the most prominent being aluminum. In fact, in the earlier days of aerospace manufacturing, roughly 70% of planes were made from aluminum–today, a plane usually contains about 20% aluminum.

Advancements in aircraft engines initially catalyzed the movement away from metals. Engines are the most dynamic element of any aircraft because they possess the most components and determine fuel efficiency. While attempting to improve engines, researchers found themselves searching for more innovative material.

What makes material innovative?

So what makes a material innovative? In the aerospace industry innovation is predicated upon a material’s ability to address three key concerns: weight, strength, and noise reduction. Lighter materials translate into improved aerodynamics and flight. Furthermore, the lighter the plane is, the less fuel is exhausted.

Unfortunately, lighter materials are often weak and less durable, something aerospace manufactures can’t afford to have. Stronger materials enable planes to last longer and endure the mechanical stress associated with flight. There is also noise cancellation; researchers are working effortlessly to find materials which minimize the boisterous sounds produced when flying, which ultimately improves the passenger experience.

New and innovative materials

Interestingly enough, some of the old metals are still being used–but in a new way–specifically through alloy and composite materials. Composites are made from multiple constituent materials that have different physical and chemical properties. Similarly, alloys are combinations of metals and other elements. These new materials have enabled aerospace companies to meet the needs of aircraft and push the industry forward.

Safran is an exemplary trailblazer in the field. The company uses raw materials to produce matrix composite materials, reducing material weight by nearly 450 kg while lowering sound emissions. Another interesting player in the field is GraphenTech, a graphene-based blockchain technology. GraphenTech will produce graphene on an industrial scale. Graphene is a bi-product of graphite that is the strongest known material in the world. Graphene is already being used in composites, and it is believed that graphene can be used in similar capacities in electronics; it is forecasted that the semiconductor segment of the industry will grow to $70B by 2030.

The aerospace industry is progressing on every front. With the continued advancement of composites and the introduction of graphene, the materials space is no different. Even though the approaches are diverse, researchers, academics, and companies are all looking for the same material; something that is lighter, stronger and noise resistant, something like graphene.


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