Tag Archives: Boeing

Norsk Titanium Receives Production Part Order from Boeing, Highlighting a Bright Future in Aerospace Metal Additive Manufacturing

Norsk Titanium (client registration required) recently announced that Boeing has ordered titanium structural components for the 787 made using Norsk’s additive manufacturing process. Norsk received FAA approval for the components in question in February 2017 after more than a year of testing by Boeing. Its printing process, Rapid Plasma Deposition (RPD), combines additive and subtractive steps: first building up a part using plasma arc deposition from a wire feedstock, then CNC machining the part to the final specifications. Compared to conventional titanium manufacturing, the RPD process can reduce cost by up to 70%, primarily from its comparatively low buy-to-fly ratio of 1.5:1. At the same time, compared to powder-based 3D printing processes (which can sometimes achieve even lower 1.1:1 buy-to-fly ratios), RPD is faster and can produce larger parts, up to 2 m across. Other wire-based metal 3D printers, such as those from Sciaky, achieve similar speed and part size to RPD but do not incorporate subtractive machining in a single production tool. To meet the increased production demand from Boeing’s purchase order, Norsk plans to move production from Norway to a facility in Plattsburgh, NY, which will have nine printers operating by the end of 2017. Ultimately, the company claims it will be producing several tons of titanium components for each 787, which would reduce the Boeing’s material cost per plane by as much as $2 million to $3 million. Continue reading

Trial by fire: Boeing should have chosen a safer type of lithium-ion battery chemistry for its 787

Potential cost savings and more demanding electrical loads are pushing airliners towards smaller, lighter batteries. However, as Boeing is now learning, new lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries must be carefully chosen and well-managed. The 787 is the first major aircraft to use a Li-ion battery to start its auxiliary power unit, foregoing conventional nickel-cadmium or lead acid designs. But on January 7, a 787’s Li-ion battery caught fire while the empty airplane was parked. Li-ion fires typically generate oxygen and are very difficult to extinguish: The blaze took 40 minutes to snuff out, injured one firefighter, and damaged the airplane’s equipment bay. On January 16, another suspected Boeing 787 Li-ion fire forced an emergency landing; this time, the battery was responsible for flight system backup and computer display startup.

The Li-ion batteries in question are supplied by GS Yuasa. They use lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) cathodes, which impart excellent energy density. However, there are known LCO safety concerns, most notably that they do not resist overheating well. In choosing LCO, Boeing (and system supplier Thales) eschewed safer alternatives to LCO, such as lithium iron phosphate (LFP). Even when overcharged, LFP cathodes change only slightly in structure, preventing oxygen release and resisting thermal runaway. This decision is all the more shocking considering major automakers early on refused to entertain the possibility of using LCO in passenger vehicles due to safety concerns.

The underlying cause of the Boeing fire is still unknown, but in a preliminary statement the 787’s chief engineer Mike Sinnett noted that Li-ion fires can start from overcharging. Though there may be faults elsewhere in the system electronics, the fact remains that LCO is inherently at risk of undergoing thermal runaway, exacerbating problems that may arise elsewhere in the system. Boeing made a conscious design decision favoring LCO’s higher energy over safer options, and is now paying the price. Its reputation has taken a major hit, and it must invest considerable funds to prove the safety of the aircraft to anxious regulators. Furthermore, GS Yuasa has felt the ramifications of the widespread attention surrounding the 787, losing over 5% of its stock value in a single day following the grounding of nearly the entire global Dreamliner fleet.

Despite Boeing’s assurances – 1.3 million in-flight hours for Li-ion batteries, and no plans to replace them – the fallout has been swift. Shortly after the incident, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a review of the 787’s critical systems. Then, on January 16, the FAA grounded all U.S. 787s. The FAA was already concerned about commercial aviation’s limited Li-ion experience, creating special guidelines for the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 batteries years ago. Indeed, since 2009 there have been over 30 battery fires in various commercial airplanes, with the vast majority coming from Li-ion batteries (see the Analyst Insight “Li-ion battery fire threatens the status quo for consumer electronics” – client registration required). We expect the FAA to tighten its Li-ion regulations, airplane makers to move towards safer cathode chemistries like LFP, and opportunities to arise for more sophisticated battery management and safety systems.

Wind and aerospace lead demand for advanced composite materials

This week’s Graphic comes from Lux Research’s recent report forecasting market growth for advanced composites based on carbon fibers, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. All told, the combined market is on track to expand from $7.0 billion this year to $25.8 billion in 2020 – an average compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16%.

As illustrated, most future growth will be powered by wind turbine applications that, thanks to increasingly strict renewable energy standards and a shift towards larger offshore installations, are on track to supplant aerospace’s historic role as lead adopter. The report predicts wind energy applications will balloon from $2.5 billion in 2011 to $15.4 billion in 2020, a CAGR of 23%.

Even so, the market for aerospace composites will also gain altitude – largely on the wings of Boeing’s successful 787 Dreamliner. The aerospace industry’s willingness to pay a price premium to reduce weight gave it an early start as the leading adopter (and developer) of novel structural materials. Yet, as wind applications become the dominant driver of future growth, aerospace composites will still see a healthy average CAGR of 13% – rising from $2.1 billion in 2011 to $6.3 billion in 2020.

While slim industry margins and long development timelines have slowed the automotive industry’s adoption of advanced composites, it will see the second largest average industry CAGR at 17%. That aside, revenues will actually only grow from $519 million in 2011 to $2.1 billion in 2020.

Oil & gas will also see relatively slow growth due to the end market’s inherent conservatism and its happiness to “get by” on conventional steel. The market will see a modest 5% CAGR from $273 million in 2011 to $427 million in 2020. Lastly, while sporting goods consumers are willing to pay for higher performance, they do not represent a volume driver. Total market size for sporting goods will remain steady at around $1.5 billion throughout the decade.

Source: Lux Research report “Carbon Fiber and Beyond: The $26 Billion World of Advanced Composite.”