JEC 2019 at first glance
It’s Thursday, March 14 as I write this. It is the last day of JEC World 2019, and the show ended just more than three hours ago. It has been, as usual, an eventful three days at the world’s largest composites trade event. Also, as usual, JEC has provided a valuable opportunity to see and speak with people from a variety of segments of the composites industry supply chain, including materials suppliers, fiber suppliers, machinery manufacturers, fabricators and OEMs. In this way, JEC provides a rare chance to chase down rumors, see new technology, reconnect with friends and colleagues and otherwise take the “pulse” of composites manufacturing.
By journalistic standards, I should spend several days away from JEC before I attempt to put the show in perspective, but those same journalistic standards also demand that I adhere to deadlines. So, here is my in-the-show, sleep-deprived, partially baked take on what JEC World 2019 tells us about the state of composites manufacturing today.
Aerospace: There is, perhaps, no end market that is at once so full of promise and yet so unsettled as the aerospace market. With the Boeing 787, 777X and Airbus A350 in production, and with the A380 heading toward retirement, the entire aerospace supply chain is looking to the future, and the next aircraft programs to be developed by the two big primes. The question is not if composites will be employed on next-generation aircraft, but what kind, where and how (will they be fabricated)? Complicating matters is the fact that Boeing and Airbus are following different M&P paths that converge and diverge, depending in part on the application, material strategy, manufacturing strategy and manufacturing volume.
All eyes now are on Boeing, which is expected to announce — maybe at the Paris Air Show in June — the New Midsize Airplane (NMA, or, 797), a single-aisle, mid-range plane designed to take the place once held in the company’s aircraft portfolio by the now-retired 757. Assuming the NMA becomes reality, where in its design might composites be used? If the 787 and 777X are an indicator, then it will have AFP-made, autoclave-cured wings and fuselage structures. However, if Boeing decides to mature its composites M&P, it might consider increased use of thermoplastic composites as well as vacuum-infused structures. However, you can’t talk about the NMA without also considering the 737, which many people suggest could be redesigned as part of a broader NMA-737 development effort. If that happens, the NMA could be used as an M&P stepping stone to the 737 reboot.
For its part, Airbus appears to be waiting for Boeing’s NMA announcement to make a decision of its own about putting an extended A320 on the drawing board. And if that occurs, Airbus has R&D efforts in place that seem to signal that the company is more willing to consider use of thermoplastic composites in fuselage structures and infused materials in wing structures.
Automotive: The autocomposites waters are even muddier. If, at one time, you envisaged an automotive industry awash in composites structures, you can wake up. It’s not happening. Plainly, there is too much inertia amongst automotive OEMs for them to adopt composites, even if it makes sense from a lightweighting or even cost perspective. In automotive, the customer rules, and unless customers start demanding the advantages conveyed by composites, adoption will be incremental. That said, the electric vehicle market offers parts and applications heretofore unseen in the automotive world that could, easily, be dominated by composites. The poster child for this, at JEC, was the composite battery enclosure, which was everywhere at the show and offers unmatched weight, strength and FST properties. Also highly visible at the show were composite leaf springs, pressure vessels and lift gate systems.
Finally, I cannot let go unnoticed an impressive proliferation at JEC of manufacturing automation systems designed to minimize labor, reduce errors, boost productivity, speed throughput and increase quality. These systems covered everything from cutting and kitting to filament winding to ply placement to nondestructive inspection.
Keep an eye out in the magazine and at CompositesWorld.com for full reports on new products and technologies introduced at the show, as well as highlights from our coverage in Paris.
Spirit AeroSystems actualizes Airbus’ intelligent design for the A350’s center fuselage and front wing spar in Kinston, N.C.
Oven-cured, vacuum-bagged prepregs show promise in production primary structures.
Approaching rollout and first flight, the 787 relies on innovations in composite materials and processes to hit its targets