Dreamliner delays reflect on composites
The Wall Street Journal has a story today about how the latest delay in the commercialization of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner "highlights the engineering, manufacturing and maintenance issues" associated with carbon-fiber-reinforced composite parts. "Boeing's stumble is striking because in the past, concerns with high-tech composites generally have focused on the manufacturing challenges of turning out ever-larger composite parts with extremely tight tolerances," according to the report. This time, maintenance issues are key, because structural experts are having trouble predicting how composite parts will wear. As the transportation industry considers ways to reduce weight and improve fuel economy, these challenges are going to become pretty commonplace. Engineers and designers won't be able to throw more steel at a structural problem to make a part work -- not with ambitious fuel economy standards and the drive to reduce the sector's carbon footprint. It's probably a good time for young people to consider careers in mechanical engineering and industrial design.
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