Boeing’s next innovation in composites could render autoclaves obsolete, says Boeing chairman Jim McNerney.

The epoxy resin within the composite structures that comprise the fuselage of the 787 and the wings of the 787 and 777X must be cured in giant pressurised chambers called autoclaves. The time-consuming and costly process has made it difficult for Boeing to ramp down the manufacturing cost of the 787 as it approaches four years from entry into service.

But Boeing is already evaluating new kinds of composite materials that do not need to be cured inside of autoclaves, McNerney says.

“There are new composite matrixes we’re looking at that take cost and weight down significantly, [and are] non-autoclavable,” McNerney says, addressing a Wing’s Club luncheon in New York City on 24 September.

McNerney didn’t mention details, but the approach sounds similar to a patented Boeing process known as controlled atmospheric pressure resin infusion (CAPRI), in which dry composite fibre is infused with epoxy resin in a vacuum-assisted process.

The next evolution of out-of-autoclave material could set a new landmark in the transition from metal to composite structures in aviation. Composite materials have made it possible to reduce airframe weight while improving strength, but usually at the expense of manufacturing cost, speed and simplicity.

“As far as the eye can see there are costs and capability improvements in the land of composites,” McNerney says.

McNerney also addressed how Boeing integrates new innovations into aircraft programmes. Two years ago, McNerney called for a permanent ban on Boeing’s history of “moonshot” projects, such as the 747 or 787.

Boeing still plans to introduce new innovations, but on a different pace and scale than it has in the past, McNerney explains. Rather than saving up multiple new technologies and releasing them in one product at the same time every 15 years, he says, Boeing should adopt a more iterative approach.

Source: Cirium Dashboard