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Storm delays can't stop this manager on a mission

October 1, 2013

Electric storms and torrential rains devastated much of Mexico in September. The storms also caught up with a senior manager from Henkel Corp. in Bay Point, Calif., who, ironically, is working on the next generation of lightning strike surfacing film technology for aircraft.

Steven Cunningham, a Henkel global assembly segment manager in aerospace adhesive technologies, was on a United Airlines flight from Houston heading for Querétaro in north central Mexico to attend an aviation conference.

Air traffic controllers in Querétaro denied permission for the pilot to land in the inclement weather battering the city at about 9 p.m. and the plane returned to Houston, stopping in Brownsville for refueling.

Cunningham made it to the conference the following morning where in an interview with Plastics News correspondent Stephen Downer, he spoke about how Henkel chemists are developing surfacing films to protect the next generation of composite-laden aircraft from lightning strikes.

Hysol EA 9845, according to Henkel, contains a non-woven fabric that improves the surface quality of honeycomb stiffened composite parts and deflects lightning strikes by incorporating conductive metals like copper and bronze.

Cunningham said the whole industry is leaning towards developing lightning-strike-protective surfacing film that uses conductive resins instead of metals.

"Maybe within three years we'll have the answer," he said. He's a project leader in the process of developing the new film at Henkel.

"As the demand for composites grows, so will the demand for lightning strike protection grow," he said, adding that 50 percent of the total weight in the Boeing 787 is composite materials, and the Airbus A350 is going to be 52 percent.

According to the UK's Avalon Consultancy Services Ltd, "Boeing has jumped from 12 percent composite by weight in the 777 to 50 percent composite by weight in the 787." Boeing launched the 777 program in late 1990.

(Thanks to PN's Stephen Downer for this blog item).