From the Road to the Sky: How Chemistry is Driving Collaboration
The in-service commercial aircraft fleet will more than double in the next 20 years. Increased demand for air travel is compelling aircraft manufacturers to look to the automotive industry to find ways to boost production with automation, optimize the supply chain, incorporate additive manufacturing (3D printing) and implement further lightweighting. Conversely, the automotive industry is looking to aerospace manufacturers to enhance the passenger experience as the industry moves towards autonomous vehicles where cabin comfort, utility, durability, and infotainment will rank higher in importance. One of the main elements that connects all these technologies is chemistry.
Path to Lightweighting
In both industries, lightweighting is vital to not only reduce fuel consumption, but also reduce emissions and increase sustainability. Aerospace has led the way with the use of composites and lighter metal alloys which have now transferred over to automotive, with higher aluminum content and more composites being used in auto structures.
Within aerospace, there is an increasing use of high performance plastics, thermoplastics and resin transfer molded parts, traditionally used for automotive applications, now making their way into secondary structures such as interior panels, overhead bins, passenger doors and wastewater tanks.
Multi-Substrate and Composite Bonding
The use of mixed materials is creating more opportunities for adhesives to replace fasteners and welding which also contribute to lightweighting. However, one area to address with adhesives is thermal expansion concerns that occur when one substrate grows faster than another during heating.
Henkel worked with Clemson University to develop methods for measuring thermal expansion of substrates to within one tenth of a millimeter of accuracy. This enables automakers to better determine the ideal location and type of adhesives needed for joining during the vehicle design and development process. As this technology translates to aircraft manufacturing, aircraft OEMs can use adhesives more confidently and build longevity into parts by preventing distortion as well as potential adhesive stress at joints of dissimilar substrates, including composites and metal alloys.
Henkel’s broad technology portfolio extends across several industry segments. The ability to leverage the different technologies and processes across the business groups enables best practices and product solutions to be shared from one segment to others. This allows for opportunities to go-to-market faster in addressing new customer needs, including the area of automation. This is especially important when you consider a commercial aircraft can take several weeks to several months to complete final assembly (not considering lead times for the major components and sub-assemblies, which can be 6 months to a year or more), while automobile assembly takes on average 18 hours. Aerospace OEMs are turning to highly automated industries like automotive to garner best practices in efforts to increase automation to ramp-up production rates to meet increased demands.
This can be achieved developing materials that can be automatically dispensed, for example, adhesive paste application, to increase process efficiency vs. manual application, and automatic tape layup where adhesive film is robotically put in place and trimmed to size. These types of automation can increase production speed as well as reduce waste.
For interior applications, the automotive group at Henkel has an extensive portfolio of hotmelt and water-based adhesives for interior applications, ones that are one-component, have longer open rates and are able to adhere mixed substrates onto plastic. These are technologies which we may be able to utilize for aircraft interiors and cockpits.
Additionally, the acoustics and structural steering unit of automotive has several lightweight acoustic treatments to address NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) in vehicle structures, which also may be able to carry over into the aerospace industry.
As advancing technologies continue to drive collaboration between the automotive and aircraft industries, chemistry will provide enabling adhesive technologies to keep these similar industries moving forward at the speed of innovation.
Listen to the Enabling Design Flexibility in Aircraft Manufacturing with Structural Adhesives webinar recording for additional information on the topic, by registering here or download the presentation slides on the Henkel Smart Chemistry Hub.