AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 0056B ACCREDITED

Why Are Composite Materials Used in Aerospace Manufacturing?

The standard construction materials of commercial aircraft have largely remained the same for over half a century, with sheet metal forming much of the exterior. This design has remained in use because it is durable, corrosion-resistant, and relatively easy to work with. Nevertheless, sheet metal does have its limitations, those of which can often be improved upon by opting for composite materials. As a result, we are likely to see composite materials taking up a larger place in modern aircraft design in the coming years.

A composite material is a solid material that forms when two or more different substances, each with different characteristics, are combined to create a new substance whose properties are better than that of the original component. One common example is plywood, a material that is manufactured from thin layers or “plies” of wood that are glued together with adjacent layers having their wood grain rotated perpendicularly to each other. As wood bends more easily along its grain, this process of orienting the grain to go both ways allows the resulting material to be more durable than a wooden plank. 

Plywood is just one type of composite material that comes in a wide variety of forms to suit the needs of different applications. In aircraft construction, it is common to see composite materials used because they are typically lighter, stronger, or more durable when compared with common materials like glass and sheet metal. Moreover, composite materials can be formed into more complex shapes than their metallic counterparts. This not only reduces the number of parts making up a given component, but also reduces the need for fasteners and joints which may be the weak points of a component.

As a result of these advantages, composite materials have already been adapted into many modern aircraft. Most notably, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is designed to be made up of 50% composite materials, which constitutes most of the fuselage, wings, and much of the empennage. In heavy jets, composites offer a great advantage in their weight savings. This is because weight is directly related to fuel consumption, so with less weight, a plane goes much further while relying on the same amount of fuel. It also allows for more cargo and/or passengers, as well as reduced operating costs.

Overall, composite materials offer a lightweight and durable alternative to aluminum sheets and other materials traditionally used in aircraft construction. However, there are some concerns with a full-scale transition to composite materials rather than aluminum. Firstly, composite materials are expensive and more time-consuming to produce. The initial expense of using composites in construction is higher than using aluminum, which naturally translates to higher sales costs. The capital gains will therefore arrive further down the road through reduced operating and maintenance costs. While this is not an issue for legacy air carriers who have large budgets, mid-size airlines and startups may not be able to justify the initial cost. Additionally, while composite materials do not corrode and are less prone to fatigue failure, sheet metal is easier to repair. Whereas the tools and processes for repairing sheet metal are very well established, there are less experienced professionals that can repair composite materials.

Despite several obstacles, composite materials are showing great promise as a material already being employed in aircraft for their many benefits. They not only improve on the strength and adaptability of classic metal panels, but also offer a lightweight, highly corrosion-resistant alternative that will save operating and maintenance costs in the long run. If you are ever in need of a dependable source for your aircraft parts, including those made of composite materials, Integrated Parts Services is ready to assist you with all that you require. Boasting an inventory of over 2 billion new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find components, we are well equipped with a wealth of quality-sourced items that can suit your operations. Start finding the parts you require with ease when you browse the various items we present in our online catalog. Moreover, with representatives on standby 24/7x365, you are welcome to contact us at any time for questions or a free quote on any of our available products!


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