Epoxy-based composite materials have become indispensable for the aerospace industry. They are largely used as protective coatings to extend the lifespan of aircrafts.
The first modern use of epoxy resins in airplane design dates back to the 1970s when a boron-reinforced epoxy composite was used for the skins of the empennages of US fighter aircrafts F14 and F15. At first, epoxy-based composite materials were used only in secondary structures, but soon engineers realised that their use in primary structures, such as wings and fuselages, could improve the performance of the whole aircraft. In fact, while the F15 used around 2% of composite materials, the F18 raised to 19% and the F22 to a sizeable 24%.
It did not take long for commercial aircrafts to follow the footsteps of trailblazing defence applications. European conglomerate Airbus saw their potential early on and, in the 1980s, started to apply composite materials in the rudder of some of its commercial aircrafts such as the A300 and A310.
Structural composite applications are not epoxy’s only major aviation success. They have played a critical role in combining and finishing structural parts but they are also essential to make them last. Epoxy resins are used in anti-corrosion coatings and adhesive applications which, at the same time, are very effective at replacing or complementing heavier bonding methods like mechanical fasteners.
Sustainability aspects related to airplane emissions are an important side benefit of structural weight reductions. In fact, CO2 emissions are already targeted by regulatory authorities, and future emissions goals present a challenge for the aerospace industry and global carriers. In this sense, electric airplanes might contribute to curb and ultimately reduce future emission growth. Their development will further increase the demand for lightweight airframe structures to offset the weight of the potentially enormous battery packs. A similar development can already be witnessed in the e-car mobility arena at the moment.
Using epoxy composites can help achieve:
Reduced airframe weight
Better fuel economy
Heavy duty intermediates
Lower CO2 emissions
Better airplane’s carbon footprint
DID YOU KNOW?
Epoxy composites brought down the initial 2,000 pieces needed for metal-based tail fins to fewer than 100, thus lowering the weight and production costs. In the next 20 years more than 30,000 new aircraft deliveries are expected, while about 10,000 existing airplanes will need to be refitted. Design and maintenance efforts are primarily targeting weight reductions for better fuel economy and lowering service costs to ultimately reduce operating costs, thus helping airlines operate successfully in a fiercely competitive global environment.