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3rd August 2017, Stuttgart

Soaring prospects for aerospace industry

Prof Dr Axel Herrmann, Technology Board CFK Valley. © AirbusThe aerospace industry is taking off thanks to fibre reinforced plastics, especially carbon-fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP), according to organisers of the Composites Europe event, which is set to take place from 19-21 September in Stuttgart, showcasing deployment possibilities for CFRP and other composite materials in the aerospace industry.

The aerospace sector is currently consuming 35,200 tonnes of CFRP annually, about a third of global CFRP production. Forecasts predict that quantity to almost double to about 65,000 tonnes by 2022. The Composites Market Report 2016 issued by the industry association Composites Germany shows that the mood in the industry is correspondingly buoyant. Right now, 34% of surveyed companies expect growth in this application area, while just two per cent believe the market will worsen in future.

Trend towards automation

Industry expert Prof Dr Axel Herrmann seconds the notion that the use of CFRP in aircraft construction is booming. He serves as the CTO of CFK Valley, the fibre reinforced composite network for the optimisation of the CFRP value chain, and as CEO of Composite Technology Center GmbH in Stade, an Airbus subsidiary. Airbus plants turn CFRP into complete fuselages, wings, vertical and horizontal stabilisers, and more.

In Stade alone, some 55 tonnes of CFRP are processed each month. Production today is highly automated. “By now, automation has penetrated the entire market. Even for small and medium-sized companies, there now are many providers of automation technology for CFRP processing,” explained Professor Hermann.

Guided tour and lectures

Among the companies at Composites Europe to address the aerospace industry’s composites-market needs will be J.H. vom Baur Sohn, Keller Lufttechnik, Ocsial and Solvay. The supporting programme, as well, is geared towards professionals whose main interest is aerospace.

Aerospace industry at Composites Europe. © Composites Europe

A one-hour themed guided tour on the first day of the trade fair will take visitors to industry-leading companies such as Airtech Europe, Dieffenbacher, Evonik, Gunnar international and Grass. In addition, current topics, trends and issues pertaining to this application area will also be discussed at the Composites Forum, on the morning of the first day of the trade fair.

2.5 million rivets in Airbus A320

When it comes to CFRP processing, Prof Dr Herrmann sees a particular need for further advancements in joining technology, which by now is dominated by riveting. “It is – when you consider 2.5 million rivets in the case of an Airbus A320, for example – a real cost driver,” explained the CTO. “That’s because we need 2.5 million holes for the rivets; drilling these into CFRP, however, is a lot slower than into metal. This also drives up production costs.”

Possible long-term options include the use of weldable thermoplastics and bonded CFRP structures, but the quality of those cannot yet be checked in non-destructive ways, he says. Therefore, he adds, alternatives are not on the horizon for now, because it usually takes many years until they’ve developed into reliable, officially approved and certified processes.

Despite this yet-to-be-resolved detail, Germany is the clear global leader in CFRP technology, says Hermann. “Now we should also leverage this advantage on the macroeconomic level by establishing Composites Europe as a trade fair whose offerings attract interested prospects and visitors from around the world. That’s one of the reasons why we support this trade fair.”

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