OEM Report: Aerospace
Thursday | 27 June, 2019 | 8:57 am


Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: Rolls-Royce’s UltraFan engine  will deliver significant weight, noise and fuel burn reductions and will be 25 percent more efficient than a first-generation Trent engine.

From a Mars rover’s heat shield and satellite prototypes to commercial jet engines, materials and processes undergo development at breakneck speed

July 2019 - So much is going on with aerospace technology for commercial, defense and outer space applications that is very encouraging. And the developments keep increasing exponentially. In other words, the long-term prospects for the supply chain are as solid as a rocket. Here are three examples among many.

Space: Lockheed Martin successfully completed the flight hardware structure of the heat shield for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars 2020 rover on April 25, validating the physical integrity with a final static test after exposing it to flight-like thermal conditions. The heat shield is half of a two-part aeroshell that Lockheed Martin is designing and building to encapsulate the Mars 2020 rover and protect it from the punishing heat and friction of entry through the Martian atmosphere.

The 15-foot-diameter aeroshell is built from an aluminum honeycomb structure sandwiched between graphite-epoxy face sheets. The heat shield’s aerodynamics serve as a brake to slow the spacecraft from about 12,000 mph on entry and descent, when the structure faces 70 tons of pressure.

Commercial flight: In May, Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.’s G550 airplane established a new city-pair speed record, connecting Shanghai with Seattle in 10 hours and 29 minutes—completing the 5,123-nautical-mile flight at an average speed of Mach 0.85.

Defense: In late February, Rolls-Royce selected Indianapolis as the site to build its proposed power plant for the U.S. Air Force B-52 re-engining competition: the F130 engine. The B-52 re-engining program will include 650 new engines for the B-52 strategic bomber fleet. Rolls-Royce is completing a $600 million investment in modernization and technology programs in Indianapolis, from which it already produces engines for multiple U.S. Air Force aircraft.

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Northrop Grumman demonstrated rapid spacecraft development with its Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2), which launched March 28.


Let’s review the long-distance, long-term projections of a key industry organization, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), then we’ll return to granular developments, especially those focusing on materials like superalloys and processes like additive manufacturing as the supply chain perfects the materials that make travel, security and orbiting safer.

The AIA commissioned McKinsey & Co. to produce its report, “What’s Next for Aerospace and Defense: A Vision for 2050.”

Among trends surrounding innovation, the authors anticipate “broad advances in automation and digitization technologies, new materials and alternative energy sources and storage, the continued proliferation of data sources, and the ability to transmit data and increasingly rapid development cycles driven by Industry 4.0.”

Advanced materials, technologies and designs “are at the core of many future systems.” Their purposes will enable quiet supersonic platforms and mitigate the issues involved in overland flight. Similarly, hypersonic flight faces significant challenges that will call for the development of highly durable materials and designs that allow effective control at hypersonic speeds (Mach 5 and above).

These materials and designs will make flexible force projection (rapid and effective deployment of resources to address crises, provide stability and issue deterrents) possible, the report states.

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The Gulfstream G550 established a new city-pair speed record, connecting Shanghai with Seattle in 10 hours, 29 minutes.


The agency’s “Aerospace Forecast, 2019-2039,” projects system traffic as measured in revenue passenger miles (RPMs) to increase by 2.2 percent each year between 2019 and 2039. Domestic RPMs are forecast to grow 1.9 percent a year while international RPMs are expected to grow  by 3 percent annually.

“The number of aircraft in the U.S. commercial [passenger] fleet is forecast to increase from 7,397 in 2018 to 8,806 in 2039, an average annual growth rate of 0.9 percent a year,” the report states. “The cargo carrier large-jet aircraft fleet is forecast to increase from 858 in 2018 to 1,587 aircraft in 2039, driven by the growth in freight RTMs [revenue ton miles].”

Global economic growth averaging 2.8 percent a year over the next 20 years is the foundation for the FAA to forecast growth of international passengers of 3.4 percent a year, as levels double from 244 million to 491 million by 2039. In terms of cargo traffic, international cargo RTMs are forecast to grow 4 percent a year on average, over the next 20 years.

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Mars 2020 rover components at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Photo: NASA

Materials trends

GE Aviation and GE Additive (and all the subsidiaries the latter has scooped up in recent years) are among the most active proponents of adopting additive manufacturing as a way to produce airworthy parts rapidly and at low cost.

In March, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., a manufacturer of remotely piloted aircraft systems, radars, electro-optic and related mission systems, selected GE Additive’s AddWorks as a consultant. AddWorks will help General Atomics to accelerate and strengthen the qualification and implementation of metal additive within its products and processes.

AP&C, a GE Additive company, began delivering aluminum alloy F357 powder in April using its proprietary Advanced Plasma Atomization technology. The Saint-Eustache, Quebec, factory can produce 1,000 tons of the metal powder per year. The alloy is increasingly in demand for aerospace applications.

Separately, GE Additive developed a new cobalt-chrome alloy bracket for a power door opening system on GE Aviation’s GEnx-2B commercial airline engines that fly the Boeing 747-8. The bracket is in mass production at GE Aviation’s facility in Auburn, Alabama, using GE Additive Concept Laser M2 cusing Multilaser machines. Compared with milling a block of metal, this method cuts waste by 90 percent and lowers weight by 10 percent.

In November, Boeing invested in Digital Alloys Inc., which is developing high-speed, multi-metal AM systems that produce parts for aerospace and other production applications.

Digital Alloys’ proprietary Joule Printing technology can rapidly combine multiple metals into each part, which enhances thermal, electrical, magnetic and mechanical properties, according to Boeing. The process allows metals like titanium and high-temperature alloys to be 3D printed for parts that could be used in Boeing products.

Lockheed Martin and the Office of Naval Research are exploring how to apply artificial intelligence to train robots to oversee and optimize 3D printing of complex parts. Under a two-year contract, they will study and customize multi-axis robots that use laser beams to deposit material.

“We will research ways machines can observe, learn and make decisions by themselves to make better parts that are more consistent, which is crucial as 3D-printed parts become common,” said Brian Griffith, Lockheed Martin’s project manager.

The team is starting with the most common titanium alloy, Ti-6AI-4V, and integrating the related research with seven industry, national laboratory and university partners.

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The SpaceX Dragon lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 4, 2019, on its way to the International Space Station. Photo: NASA

Timely flows

Allegheny Technologies Inc., Pittsburgh, possesses a concentration of metals production capabilities targeted to aerospace applications. During a first-quarter earnings call April 23, President and CEO Robert Wetherbee noted that ATI’s revenue growth “was driven by solid gains in the aerospace and defense markets.” He notes that “ATI has content on every commercial jet engine program.”

John Sims, executive vice president for the producer’s High Performance Materials and Components Segment, explains that aerospace and defense sales grew 9 percent. Commercial airframe sales grew by 25 percent versus the prior year, led by continued emergent demand growth from OEMs. “We continue to exceed our contractual share levels as we work to ensure a timely flow of materials to our customers to enable them to meet the ongoing aerospace production ramp.”

Sales to the defense market increased by 30 percent from a year ago. Military jet engine product sales increased by more than 30 percent while sales to the space segment were up more significantly.

Kim Fields, executive vice president for Flat Rolled Products at ATI, projects that demand for “our high-value products [will] increase in the U.S., primarily due to the initial phases of [our] nickel pipeline project and the ongoing ramp of titanium plate products for use in General Dynamics land systems vehicles around the globe.”

Demand is ramping up as expected for both the LEAP engine program run by GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft and the Geared Turbofan engine program run by Pratt & Whitney. “We’ve seen no slowdown whatsoever in any of those programs, whether it be mill products going into them, [or] forgings or castings,” says Sims.

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Last September, Airbus Helicopters launched the production of latch shafts for the doors of A350 XWB passenger aircraft using 3D manufacturing.

Satellite system

The most notable trend witnessed by materials producers and Tier I and II suppliers is the greater speeds at which end users now expect to receive tested and certified parts, components and subassemblies.

Northrop Grumman Corp. demonstrated rapid spacecraft development for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) with the Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2), which launched March 28.

Northrop Grumman led a team of commercial suppliers to deliver a 150 kg satellite from concept to orbit in 20 months. Traditional satellites of comparable complexity typically take many years to get to this stage.

“The rapid development of future space capabilities is possible,” said Scott Stapp, vice president of resiliency and rapid prototyping at Northrop Grumman.

One part of the space race we haven’t discussed is the billionaires’ club/private ventures like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Interstellar Technologies Inc., founded by Takafumi Horie. These payload carrying, rocket launching programs aspire to commercial viability and employ the rocketeers who think outside the planet. How their efforts will impact future demands on the aerospace materials supply chain remains to be seen. MM


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