A new aluminum-lithium foundry in Issoire, France, opened March 26 by aluminum specialist Constellium embodies the latest effort to regain ground lost to composite materials in aircraft construction. Dedicated to a new line of alloys dubbed Airware, the new casthouse has the capacity to produce 14,000 metric tons of aluminum-lithium per year, making it the world’s first large-scale production facility of the alloy.
Aluminum product developer Constellium (Hall 4 Stand H11) is increasing the percentage of recycled metal in the aircraft parts it produces, as it vies to lower the cost and environmental impact of using metals and to prove that composites are not the answer to everything. The French group’s latest Airware technology is now at the production stage for new airliner programs such as the Airbus A350 XWB and the Bombardier CSeries.
Aluminum product developer Constellium wants to increase the percentage of recycled metal it produces for aerospace in a bid to realize both economic and environmental goals. The value of such alloys has grown with the addition of elements such as copper, silver and—critically—lithium. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of aluminum costs about $2, while one kilogram of lithium—the lightest metal in nature—costs $100.
Aluminum giant Alcoa (H5 F220) is here exhibiting a fuselage section manufactured with advanced aluminum-lithium alloy sheet that was stretch-formed on existing tooling by Spirit Aerosystems’ factory in Wichita, Kansas. U.S.-based Alcoa is targeting the next generation of single-aisle aircraft (with a clear focus on Boeing’s expected decision this year) as the potential first applications.
Aluminum maker Alcan Global Aerospace has won two major contracts on the new Airbus A350 XWB and the Bombardier C Series aircraft for which it will supply light alloys from its new Airware range. Airware combines technologies and services to improve metal performance, reduce cost and facilitate recycling.
Notwithstanding the unprecedented scale of composites content in the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350XWB airliners, aluminum still reigns as the material of choice in most airliner fuselage applications. At least that’s the message Alcoa–the aluminum company–wants to send here in Farnborough, where scores of examples of flying machines made of the metals the company supplies grace the static display.
Aluminum specialist Alcan (Hall 2 Stand B19) is developing new alloys and new processes to better compete with composite materials, the proportion of which has been steadily increasing in airframes over the past decades. At Voreppe in France, Alcan Engineered Products (Alcan EP) has a major research-and-development (R&D) center to devise and test these solutions.
At a time when the state-of-the-art in aerostructures design more and more often involves the use of carbon-fiber laminates, companies like Alcoa Aerospace suddenly face a perception challenge unrivaled since aluminum became the material of choice in airplane construction. So the timing of Alcoa Aerospace’s first industry forum, held in New York City on May 2, came as little surprise.