There is a general notion and confidence among the composites community that high-performance all-composite aircraft can be designed and built using currently available manufacturing technology if cost and schedule restrictions are ignored. The proof can be seen in such aircraft as F-117, B-2, Starship, AVTEK 400, and Voyager.

Furthermore, composites have already proven their worth as weight-saving materials. Therefore, the current challenge is not to make lighter-weight all-composite aircraft (a dream airplane several years ago), but to make composite components economically attractive. The effort to produce economically attractive composite components has resulted in several innovative manufacturing techniques currently being used in the composites industry. It is obvious, especially for composites, that improvement in manufacturing technology alone is not enough to overcome the cost hurdle. It is essential that there be an integrated effort of design, material, process, tooling, quality assurance, manufacturing, and even program management for composites to become competitive with metals.

Table1.3 1.3 shows current composites technology with cost reduction as a driving force. Table1.3 1.3, although not complete, provides a good idea of where composites technology stands today. Even with this impressive list of composites technologies, it is still not possible for composites to compete economically with metals. Nevertheless, for certain applications, the use of composites rather than metals has in fact resulted in both lower cost and less weight. Some examples are cascades for engines, most of the compound curved fairings and fillets, replacements for welded metallic parts, cylinders, tubes, ducts, blade containment bands, and many more.

Table 1.3
Composites Technology with Cost Reduction as Driving Force

Table 1.3 includes technologies with real potential for cost reduction, and those that are current and past composites "buzz words." In the U.S. it is often said that, "the best thing heard about a new material or process is the first thing heard." This is a sad testimonial on our propensity for overstatement.

Published: April 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian