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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

5th April 2018, Paris

Hexcel flying high with Airbus and Boeing

The push to ramp up production of Airbus A350 XWB wide body jet airliners to ten per month in 2018 is leading to frenzied activity throughout the global operations of composites leader Hexcel.

The body of each A350 XB is 53% composite based, and worth $4.8 million to Hexcel in the materials supplied per individual plane. Speaking at JEC World in Paris last month, the company’s president for aerospace Thierry Merlot said there was currently a backlog of some 844 orders for the A350 XB, with 78 planes delivered during 2017. The programme now needs to be accelerated.

A350-1000

In February this year, the first A350-1000 – measuring nearly 74 metres from nose-to-tail – was also delivered to Quatar Airlines, representing a further expansion of the programme.

Hexcel at this year’s JEC World in Paris. © Inside Composites

In addition, Hexcel has secured an extension of its contract to supply composites for the latest H160 Airbus helicopters. Hexcel’s reinforcements, prepregs, adhesives and honeycomb materials have been selected for the H160’s composite fuselage structures and main rotor blades.

These programmes have called for significant investment and the grand opening of the company’s new $250 million carbon fibre production plant in Roussilon in France is imminent, and lines there are now qualified for the supply of raw materials for the latest LEAP engines, Merlot said. The plant currently has room for an additional carbon fibre line which is likely to be in place shortly.

Meanwhile, Boeing’s investment in its new site near Casablanca in Morocco will create an estimated 10,000 jobs in the country and Hexcel has just opened a $20 million plant for engineered cores there.

Innovations

Not surprisingly, innovations for the aerospace sector from Hexcel were in abundance at this year’s JEC World including carbon-reinforced 3D printed parts, made from HexAM additive manufacturing technology that uses PEKK ultra-high performance polymers. HexPEKK structures offer significant weight, cost and time-to-market reductions, replacing traditional cast or machined metallic parts with a new technology.

Speaking at JEC World, the company’s president for aerospace Thierry Merlot said there was currently a backlog of some 844 orders for the A350 XB. © Inside Composites

Aircraft engines currently benefit from a number of Hexcel technologies, including HexShield and Acousti-Cap honeycombs.

Also displayed was a CTi fan blade for new generation lightweight turbofan engines from Rolls-Royce manufactured from Hexcel’s HexPly M91 high toughness and impact-resistant epoxy prepreg.

A new range of HiFlow advanced liquid resins for aerospace structures manufactured by liquid moulding technologies was also introduced.

Performance

The company’s sales in 2017 were stable at $1.97 billion, with 41% achieved in the US, 42% in Europe and 17% in the rest of the world. For 2018, a significant boost in sales is anticipated, with Hexcel now positioned as a fully-integrated supplier, from carbon precursor and fibre to engineered materials.

In addition, Hexcel has secured an extension of its contract to supply composites for the latest H160 Airbus helicopters. © Inside Composites

It is also the biggest producer of multiaxial materials and of honeycomb core and is being further strengthened by its four recent acquisitions, of Formax in January 2016, Carbon Covering in May 2016, Safran Structil in October 2017 and Oxford Performance materials in December 2017.

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