Aircraft industry publication SpeedNews drew 540 delegates to its back-to-back aviation suppliers conferences, held March 4-6 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (Beverly Hills, Calif.). The day-long 3rd Annual Aerospace Raw Materials & Manufacturers Supply Chain Conference preceded the two-day 27th Annual Commercial Aviation Industry Suppliers Conference, providing what organizers described as a global in-depth look at the $166.6 billion (USD) aviation industry and the supply chain that supports its engines of production.
One question drew strong interest and comment: Why has aviation been flying high while most of the world economy has been crawling? World air travel reportedly has grown 5 percent per year since 1980, in spite of 9/11 and other challenges, and air travel demand is forecast to continue at about the same rate per revenue passenger kilometer (RPK) for the next 20 years. Richard Aboulafia, a VP at aerospace and defense market analysis firm Teal Group Corp. (Fairfax, Va.), graphed 57 percent growth between 2008 and 2012, while almost “nothing else grew in that period,” he says. Alan Pardoe, head of marketing communications for Airbus (Toulouse, France), noted that in a global economy it’s “always sunny somewhere,” and the sun’s brightest today in emerging Asia Pacific, Latin American and African markets.
Growth = retirement + replacement
Several conference speakers attributed this surprising growth to low interest rates combined with new technologies that reduce fuel consumption and, thus, combat rising fuel costs — primarily reengined airplanes that feature lightweight materials, including composites. This combination has encouraged airlines to purchase new aircraft and retire older models.
The already strong demand for composites, therefore, is expected to grow 10 percent per year, according to Dr. Kevin Michaels, VP of aviation consulting firm ICF SH&E (Fairfax, Va.). He noted that new wing designs can be made with composites in ways “you can’t make them out of metals.” For 2012, Michaels shows composites total buy weight at 4 percent, or about 48 million lb (21,770 metric tonnes) out of a total of about 1.2 billion lb (5,443,110 metric tonnes) of raw material. In terms of revenue, that’s 16 percent, or $1.4 billion of the total $8.7 billon. Rivals The Boeing Co. (Chicago, Ill.) and Airbus reportedly account for nearly 70 percent of the total (see two charts, titled "2012 Aerospace Raw Materials Value" and "2012 Aerospace Raw Materials Buy Weight").
Boeing’s Jim Haas, director of product marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, expressed the company’s satisfaction with the composite structure of its 787 Dreamliner and with its decision to go that route, despite delays caused by the technology learning curve and problems associated with the company’s unprecedented outsourcing program. “Things are going well now,” he states. On the subject of Boeing’s lithium-ion battery problems on the 787, Haas noted that Boeing has been working with outside and inside technology teams to diagnose the problem and find a solution. A proposed solution was approved for U.S. Federal Aviation Admin. (FAA)-sanctioned flight testing at HPC press time. In the meantime, Boeing has continued production of the 787, believing the problem will be suitably resolved.
Meanwhile, Airbus is using an average of 40 metric tonnes (88,185 lb) of composites every day, and its A350 XWB is more than 50 percent composites by weight. Further, David Williams, VP of procurement for Airbus, forecast a demand for more than 27,000 new commercial aircraft in the next 20 years, with single-aisle models dominating.
In fact, single-aisle, narrow-body passenger jets are expected to dominate the commercial aviation market in coming years. Bombardier’s (Montréal, Québec, Canada) new single-aisle CSeries jets will feature composite wings built in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Embraer (São José dos Campos, Brazil) has used composites in doors and other secondary structures in its RJ models and is considering composites for primary structure on its new E-175. Tokyo, Japan-based Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. (formed in 2008 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries) is introducing its Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), which has composites in its empennage and flight-control surfaces.
Jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney (East Hartford, Conn.) has a carbon/epoxy composite fan case on its PW1000G PurePower Geared Turbofan engine that powers the Airbus A320neo aircraft family. It incorporates a fan drive gear system that reduces the fan speed, providing lower noise and improved fuel consumption. Carbon fiber and 6-6 silicon carbide composites (along with titanium aluminide) are also incorporated into engines that are being built for narrow-body planes by Cincinnati, Ohio-based CFM International, a joint venture of GE (Evendale, Ohio) and Snecma SA (Evry, France, part of the Safran Group). This technology has enabled CFM to cut its LEAP engine’s weight by two-thirds in several areas, compared to a comparable-size engine with metal parts. The engine also features breakthrough “lean combustion” technology.
Materials procurement paradigm shift
The SpeedNews raw materials and manufacturers supply chain event, on March 4, highlighted major changes in procurement strategies at Boeing, Airbus and other OEMs. Airbus said it has placed all procurement under one umbrella. Composites and metallic materials are sourced according to value. Williams stressed a huge drive to globalize sources, with vertical integration the key. Contractual agreements, he added, will prescribe suppliers’ duties and challenges, with suppliers managing their supply chain. At Boeing, John Byrne, VP of aircraft materials and structures, supplier management for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, identified several challenges to his company’s supply chain, especially in raw materials supply, including composite materials. Byrne emphasized that material quality needs continuous improvement, while at the same time costs must be reduced through lean manufacturing principles and innovation, especially in robotics and automation. He stressed Boeing’s focus on the needs of its customers, the airlines, through a dynamic subtier network that comprises a few top suppliers, with the aim of reducing complexity and increasing the production rate. He also advised suppliers that Boeing’s scrap recovery strategy is “No scrap left behind!” Further, Boeing aims to reduce raw materials costs by converting built-up structures to monolithic structures wherever possible, consolidating parts and reducing part labor and processing costs. Finally, Byrne spoke of reconfiguring the supply chain architecture by determining the true opportunities and risks offered. “We are willing to take risks when introducing new technology or products,” he concluded.
Speakers from composite material and parts suppliers also addressed conference attendees. David Leach, global market manager – composites for Henkel Corp. (Rocky Hill, Conn.), summarized the evolution of composites in commercial aircraft from the use of fiberglass/phenolic and epoxy in interiors and as secondary structure to the advent of carbon fiber/epoxy in primary structure. Leach then presented a brief primer on high-performance materials and processes and suggested opportunities for improvement. Notable among his recommendations were inline inspection for automated fiber placement (AFP), materials with flexible cure schemes, out-of-autoclave curing and materials standardization.
Timothy Kirk, director of sales for prepreg manufacturer Toray Composites America Inc. (Tacoma, Wash.), discussed the scale and capacity needed to meet the demands of the commercial aerospace primary market and strategies for managing capacity requirements.
Vincent Chanron, VP of marketing for Daher-Socata (Paris, France and Los Angeles, Calif.), a Tier 1 aerostructures supplier, talked about the advantages and applications of thermoplastic composites in aerospace, especially for parts that benefit from thermoplastics’ greater impact resistance, including the wing leading edge, the cockpit floor and movable ribs and spars. Although this is still a niche market, 20 to 40 percent growth is expected in the next few years.
A panel moderated by Trevor Stansbury, president of Supply Dynamics, a Loveland, Ohio-based supply-chain management group, discussed the ways collaborative raw-material purchasing programs are transforming the raw materials supply chain. Comprising representatives from Boeing, United Technologies (Hartford, Conn.) and Cessna Aircraft Co. (Wichita, Kan.), the panel discussed the benefits of Material Demand Aggregation, or consolidation. Aggregation procedures identify and analyze material costs of finished parts and consolidate subtier suppliers; they also consolidate parts into near net-shape assemblies.