By: Roger Renstrom
May 8, 2013
LONG BEACH, CALIF. — A senior Boeing Co. executive discussed aerospace material developments and touched on the 787 battery problem during his May 7 keynote address at SAMPE 2013 in Long Beach.
"If you want to put on a new material, it can take up to four years and cost $10 million," said John Tracy, Boeing chief technology officer and senior vice president for engineering, operations and technology.
Concerning material developments, a three-tier vetting process involves evaluating material property, developing design value and validating analysis, he said.
Tracy said ceramic matrix composites represent "the next front" for engine internal-component materials requiring resistance to higher operating temperatures. "Engine makers are investing heavily" in the technology, he said.
Boeing is pursuing use of advanced computational technologies for future material testing and certification procedures, he said.
Greater integration and more functionality will lead to lower weight, less cost and greater damage resistance for airplane structures in the future, he said.
Tracy mentioned Boeing's recent problem with the lithium-ion batteries on the 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The problem grounded all 787s from mid-January to late April.
"Within two weeks, we had a thousand people working" on the problem, he said.
Without going into details, Tracy said Boeing had made "several layers of improvements" in the battery technology.
Boeing has delivered 50 of the 787s and has an order backlog of 840.
"Low-cost, large-scale composites manufacturing technology allows a significant increase in the use of composites on the 787," he said.
Carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics account for about 53 percent of the 787's structure; aluminum, 21 percent; titanium, 11 percent; steel, 8 percent; fiberglass, 3 percent; other composites, 2 percent; and Nomex core, 1 percent.
"The materials are very robust" and "toughness drives the design," Tracy said.
In a recent plant visit, Tracy said he observed an Australian supplier using the resin-infusion process to produce flaps for the 787.
Tracy said Boeing forecasts the use of 39,780 commercial aircraft in 2031 vs. the actual 19,890 in 2011.
He said Boeing is working with the Federal Aviation Administration on a clean-engine program.
In a further measure of advancements, Tracy said design improvements have reduced commercial aircraft fuel consumption by 75 percent since the start of the jet-engine era in the 1950s.
Tracy encouraged SAMPE attendees to "pass along the storehouse of knowledge" about composites to the next generation of engineers and technicians.
Tracy said he began his career as a high school teacher, but he was laid off three times in three years. He went to work for Hercules' composites products division and then Douglas Aircraft Co. Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1997.
Tracy went from the SAMPE podium to fly east for his induction as a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering. The academy recognizes leadership in advanced composites design and manufacturing for air and space vehicles.