22.214.171.124 Nanotechnology Impact in the Aeronautics Industry
"It's as big as going from the propeller to the jet, maybe more," said Boeing Chief Technology Officer David Swain about nanotechnology.
When industrial players at the end of the business value chain make such a statement it is difficult to deny that nanotechnology is a potentially disruptive technology for the aeronautics sector; however, there is a considerable delay between the development of conceptual new technologies and such developments becoming available for use . Actually, it may take 20 to 50 years to realize the full benefits of nanotechnology in the aeronautic industry .
In the aeronautic industry, there is a great need for new or improved materials that can contribute reducing aircraft ownership and operating costs (as well as their environmental impact) either through weight and/or fuel consumption reduction or reduced Maintenance, Repair and Operation (MRO). Nanotechnology can have an impact on virtually all aircraft components and systems, from airframes to propulsion systems, from electrical and electronic systems to windows or interiors.
Nanotechnology can provide materials with improved (or tailored) properties that improve their functional performance (e.g. mechanical or electrical properties) or that deliver multi-functional properties (e.g. lightweight conductive nanocomposites). These (new) materials can be roughly grouped into nanostructured (bulk) metals and nanocomposites and nanostructured coatings and can be applied in aircraft components (e.g. landing gears, air filters) and/or in production equipment (e.g. tooling for composites or cutting tools for metals) [21; 38].
In terms of nanostructured (bulk) materials, they include virtually all materials used in aircraft components. From aluminum and composites used in airframes to nickel superalloys used in turbines. Materials with improved, new or tailored properties could be obtained either through innovative production processes (e.g. Severe Plastic Deformation) or through mastering existing processes by improved modelling, simulation and characterisation tools.
Nanocomposites include both polymer matrix composites but also metal matrix ceramics (MMC). These materials consist of a matrix material (not necessarily nanostructured) plus a nanomaterial such as nanoparticles (e.g. for flame retardancy), nanotubes (e.g. for mechanical reinforcement or electrical conductiviy) and the like. Ultimately, it could enable the full integration of electronic deveices (e.g. sensors) in aircraft materials (e.g. moving from diagnostics to prognostics and self-healing).
As aircrafts operate in (harsh) environments (e.g. corrosion, oxidation, wear/friction) that limits materials' performance, nanostructured (multi-layer) coatings can provide suitable protection. This would enable these materials operating under higher temperatures (e.g. turbines), reducing ice formation or extending their lifetime (e.g. preventing UV degradation of aircraft paint or reducing wear in landing gears or brakes).
Beyond aircraft components, nanostructured coatings or materials can find applications in production equipment (e.g. tooling for composites production with longer lifespan and durability), be they used in nanomaterials production or not.
Besides improving materials performance, nanotechnology can also provide alternative solutions (e.g. aluminium nanostructured coatings) to well-established (not environmentally friendly) coatings such as Chromium VI used for corrosion protection.
Finally, nanotechnology provides the tools for better characterisation of material properties and a better understanding of the impact of process parameters in the achieved properties. This is a key enabler for tailoring material properties according to the required functionalities and for reproducible and controllable processes' results. Ultimately, nanotechnology can provide enhanced modelling and simulation capabilities by extending macro and micro-scale models to incorporate the phenomena occuring at the nano-scale (e.g. ab-initio modelling). This will not only impact new production processes for nanomaterials but all kinds of production processes used across all industrial sectors.
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