Aluminum in the air

  • 01-Aug-2013 10:59 EDT

Airware from Constellium enables aircraft designers and manufacturers to meet demands for a new generation of lighter, more efficient, and greener aircraft.

A market leader in the supply of advanced metallic materials for the aerospace sector is Constellium (formerly Alcan Engineered Products), which has invested in a range of new Airware products tailored to meet today’s demanding needs for performance (strength, stiffness, and damage tolerance), ease of manufacture, and competitive costs.

An important factor, and one seen by Constellium as an aspect that benefits from the use of metallic components, is the increasing environmental concern over the need to recycle structural materials.

Constellium provides a close focus on how waste material is recovered and reused through the supply-chain manufacturing process up to the time when the airframe is eventually dismantled after a lifetime of service use. This approach minimizes material losses and enables a positive outcome, long term, in environmental benefits.

In this respect, the advanced metallic scores higher than within the composite manufacturing and recycling supply chain, and it uses less environmentally harmful contents. Airware is 100% recyclable. These lightweight high-performance materials give overall hybrid structural solutions that offer a sustainable future, with a reduced carbon footprint.

The Airware technology features a lower density, a higher stiffness, and better damage tolerance. Combined with advanced welding and redesign of aircraft aerostructures, the technology can provide an up to 25% reduction in structural weight, the company claims.

Higher corrosion and greater fatigue resistance increases the structural durability, and this in turn guarantees longer intervals between heavy maintenance periods out of service. These advantages are encouraging aerospace manufacturers to use advanced aluminum solutions rather than composites for more high-tech structures.

Airbus has adopted Airware structural components for the latest A350XWB (internal wing structures and fuselage), and Bombardier has also chosen it for the fuselage of the new 130-seat C Series super-size regional jet. Both new aircraft are due to make their first flights soon.

Airware products are available in three forms. Airware I-Gauge is the thickest low-density alloy plate (165-mm thick) and offers OEMs better performance while minimizing weight and simplifying manufacturing and the assembly of complex monolithic shapes. It is said to be 46% more corrosion-resistant and 25% more fatigue-resistant.

Airware I-Form is a highly formable product and comes in sheet form, allowing the design of complex 3-D curvature shapes with no loss of mechanical properties and a reduction in manufacturing steps. Highly formable, it is 3% lighter, 47% tougher, and 40% more corrosion-resistant and reduces the number of manufacturing steps from four to two. It is best suited for fuselage nose and tail structures—as on the Bombardier C Series.

Airware I-Core is 21% stronger and is a high-strength extruded product that comes in a low-density alloy and is optimized for a hybrid structure environment with the best crash-worthiness ratio. Its ability to absorb energy reduces the risks of structural damage in a crash or emergency landing and also makes it an ideal solution for cargo floor beams.

In March, Constellium opened a new casthouse in Issoire, France, dedicated to low-density alloys. The industrialization of the new technology has involved the reinvention of some of the manufacturing processes, with an open view on innovation. Some €52 million was spent on the new project, which included a pilot phase that took place in the company’s R&D center at Voreppe, France.

Constellium is integrating its manufacturing capacity, which now comprises facilities in France, Switzerland, and the U.S. at Ravenswood, WV. These plants work closely with customers to exploit the gains that can be made from using advanced materials. A good example is the way in which the company has worked with Lockheed Martin on the F-35.

“To meet a critical need for very large monolithic components for the F-35, we needed to produce very large plates of previously unheard-of dimensions,” said Kyle Lorentzen, CEO of Constellium’s Ravenswood facility. “This was achieved by combining a unique manufacturing capability with a tailored product range.”

On the F-35, Constellium’s 7050 and 7140 alloys have been used, which offer strength, lightweight, and, importantly, greater corrosion resistance. But legacy military aircraft, including the F-16 and F-18, have also received replacement materials in their bulkheads, skins, and other key structural components using Airware 2297 and 2098 alloys.

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