Saturday, 13 May 2017

Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer Aircraft and Engine Parts

Carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) is still a relatively new material in the aerospace industry. It consists of a structure of carbon fibres bound together with a thermoset resin or plastic, which gives it an extremely high strength-to-weight ratio. Lighter than aluminium, stronger than iron, and with a higher elasticity than titanium, it is no wonder that a lot of airlines now use CFRP parts in the airframe, including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Its resistance to strain and abrasion makes it ideal for withstanding the forces during repeated take offs and landings, and its low shrinkage and expansion against heat is exploited in aircraft brakes to absorb considerable quantities of energy rapidly without mechanical failure or seizure (CIEC Promoting Science, 2013).

In 1995, GE Aviation introduced the first airline engine to feature carbon fibre components. The fan blades in the front turbine of the GE90 were made out of CFRP, which are twice as strong and one third the weight of generic titanium blades (GE Aviation, 2015). They have now opened a second factory in Mississippi to produce CFRP parts for two new engine programs, including manufacturing fan platforms for the LEAP engine that is expected to reduce the fuel consumption of the Airbus A320neo by about 15% (Sloan, 2016).

There are, however, a number of limitations to CFRP, mainly due to how new the technology is. A number of aircraft that use CFRP parts have experienced delays with delivery dates due to the relatively new processes used to make them; metallic structures, on the other hand have been studied and used on airframes for years and the processes are relatively well understood. Another disadvantage is the price - it is very expensive. And this expense can increase due to the need for a mould to create a sufficient product. Making a mould is not always easy and often requires the help of a specialist to produce (Zhou, 2004). Also, when the material breaks, the material can disintegrate into a number of fractured pieces, which can cause some unpredictable results. (Caterham Group, 2016).

A lot of research still needs to be done on CFRP composites before they can be used in more engine components. There are further studies still being carried out on new carbon fibre composites, such as polyether ether ketene (PEEK) and carbon nanotube reinforced polymers (CNRP), but due to the high temperatures of engines, it is so far doubtful that carbon fibre composites will be used beyond the fan blades of engines.


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Zhou, M. (2004). A Comprehensive Process for Composite Design. California: Altair.

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