Advanced Materials can be used in a wide variety of areas from lighter, more agile aircraft and emerging hypersonic systems, to personal protection equipment and hostile environments where risks and damage can be reduced using protective solutions.
The most disruptive effects are expected to come from the integration of functions such as energy harvesting, camouflage, structural and personnel health monitoring.
Listed below are the key technology trends impacting the advanced materials in aerospace and defence theme, as identified by GlobalData.
Advanced Materials – Lithium-ion (Li-ion) dominance and introduction of graphene
Li-ion batteries (LIB) are emerging as crucial for energy storage. The increasing growth of LIB-powered electric vehicles resulted in advancements in lithium-ion technologies and a steady decline in the prices of lithium-based batteries.
While Li-ion batteries have gained more popularity than other battery energy storage technologies, when considering its wide-scale deployment in electric vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and on the electricity grid, the introduction of graphene could revolutionise the way energy storage technology is utilised.
Graphene is nothing but a carbon-based material, which is merely one atom thick and can be used to make batteries, which are lightweight, durable and applicable in high capacity energy storage, and they charge rapidly.
Recently, researchers from the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) and Seoul National University’s School of Chemical and Biological Engineering collaborated to design a graphene coating for Li-ion batteries to enhance charging speeds five-fold and increase battery capacity by making it 45% more energy dense.
3D printing has been proven to be an excellent manufacturing solution for producing components and parts that contain significantly less material than other comparable, traditionally manufactured parts.
This is because a great deal less material can be used to create an item through additive manufacturing and extremely complex geometric shapes can be built that have great strength, despite the reduced density in material used.
Particularly in aerospace, but across the entire defence sector, weight saving is paramount to achieve high performance in aspects such as speed and capacity, but further elements such as payload, fuel consumption, emissions, speed, and safety too. This realisation is leading the aerospace and defence industry to look for applications in its newest products, from seat frameworks to air ducts.
A recent example of this trend is in the Airbus A350 XWB. Airbus has partnered with Stratasys to manufacture over 1,000 individual 3D printed items for the A350 XWB.
Using an extremely strong thermo-plastic called ULTEM 9085, Stratasys has been providing its machines to make components that are strong, FST (flame, smoke, and toxicity) compliant, and have an excellent strength-to-weight ratio.
Fibre-reinforced polymer (FRPs)
Carbon fibre reinforced composites (FRPs) are successfully used in applications such as military aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), naval ships and weapons.
These materials have started to be used in the construction of aircraft parts such as fuselage, doors, wings and tails, especially due to their light weight and durability and attract the aerospace industry.
Recently, advances have been made within the development of carbon fibre reinforcement polymers with self-healing properties that check the impacts of harm to composite materials, especially critical in airplane design and assembly.
Since carbon fibre is stronger, tougher and lighter than steel, it can help increase fuel efficiency due to its lighter weight. Indeed, as carbon fibre is ten times stronger than regular-grade steel yet only one quarter of the weight, carbon fibre composites used as automotive components are expected to reduce vehicle weight.
Consumers benefit from lighter-weight vehicles with better fuel economy and all the safety benefits that come with vehicles of greater mass.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Material science is also benefiting from AI/machine and active learning in research and education. Machine learning offers the ability to gain new insights into materials by discovering new patterns and relations in the data.
For instance, in order to create the next generation of technology, researchers at the United States (US) Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) are using machine learning, AI and autonomous systems to exponentially increase the speed of materials discovery and lower the cost of technology.
Platforms such as AFRL’s Autonomous Research System (ARES) use AI and machine learning to conduct autonomous experiments designed to optimise the synthesis of carbon nanotubes, which have tremendous potential for next-generation energy technology.
Next-generation robots are expected to provide manufacturing companies with new options to improve their efficiency and tackle challenges such as high costs and skilled workers.
In the years to come, it is expected that robots working directly and in collaboration with humans in a production environment will increase the use of soft robots that use pneumatics instead of mechanical power, reduce energy requirements and increase safety in general.
The use of robots in the Industry 4.0 environment, which focuses heavily on interconnectivity, automation, machine learning, and real-time data, will increasingly lead to a “turn off the lights” or “dark factory” production concept in which activities and material flows are handled entirely automatically.
All aerospace systems need weight reduction to increase fuel efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Lightweight materials help increase aircraft and UAV’s range and payloads, while reducing fuel consumption, both of which are key to reducing operating costs over the long-term.
Militaries are seeking new high-strength, very lightweight materials that can be integrated with primary structures and can defend combat vehicles against future weapons.
Moreover, the trend towards the development of lightweight ballistic material is one of the major factors propelling defence authorities towards procuring newer-generation personal protection equipment.
As such, countries are focusing on manufacturing better solutions such as ballistic inserts, lightweight under suits, combat helmets, anti-mine boots and flame-resistant uniforms that provide the benefits of comfort and enhanced protection to ground forces.
This is an edited extract from the Advanced Materials in Aerospace and Defense – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.