The aerospace and defense industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by increased geopolitical competition, urgent requirements for rearmament and scaled defense production, interest in novel commercial air travel methods and the growing importance of technologies such as additive manufacturing and digital design. In the last three years alone, there have been over 237,000 patents filed and granted in the aerospace and defense industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Advanced materials in defense: CFR thermoplastics. Buy the report here.
According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 206,000 patents to analyze innovation intensity for the aerospace and defense industry, there are 110 innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.
CFR thermoplastics is a key innovation area in advanced materials
Carbon fiber reinforced (CFR) thermoplastics are a type of advanced composite that combines carbon fibers with a thermoplastic polymer matrix, such as polyester or epoxy. These materials offer high strength, stiffness, and heat resistance, making them suitable for various applications, particularly in the aerospace industry. CFR thermoplastics can be processed using methods like injection molding or compression molding, allowing for complex shapes and comparatively fast production. CFRs are also being increasingly used in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturing and the space industry, where their ability to save weight whilst retaining strength makes them highly valuable. Notable examples of CFR applications in aerospace and defense include Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, and SpaceShipOne, a sub-orbital space plane designed and built by US firm Scaled Composites (owned by Northrop Grumman).
GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 110+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established aerospace and defense companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of CFR thermoplastics.
Key players in CFR thermoplastics – a disruptive innovation in the aerospace and defense industry
‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.
‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.
Patent volumes related to CFR thermoplastics
Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics
The leading patent filer for CFR thermoplastics is France’s Safran, which has global operations in aircraft component manufacturing, optronics, and avionics such as helicopter flight control systems. In 2022, the firm joined the ThermoPlastic Research Center, stating that they see the technology as a key enabler to decarbonize aviation. Safran recorded 508 CFR-related patents from 2015 to 2023, with nearly half filed in the last three years.
In terms of application diversity, Solar Ship ranks the highest. The Canadian startup is developing a carbon-neutral airship design that utilizes solar power, to supplement or replace traditional, carbon-intensive activities such as road and air freight. Safran ranked second. For geographic diversity, Fischer Advanced Composites is considered the leader, with Sierra Nevada and Boeing coming in second and third.
To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the aerospace and defense industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Advanced Materials (AdMs) in Defense.