Advanced Manufacturing

How Nanocomposites Support ‘Lightweighting’

Nanocomposites incorporate nanometer-sized particles into a standard material matrix. Employed in many of today’s automotive fuel tanks and engine parts, the nanoparticles present in nanocomposites have an extremely high surface-to-volume ratio, which improves structural traits like flexibility, strength, flame retardancy, surface appearance, thermal stability, and electrical conductivity.

In an effort to “lightweight” a structure and use less material with lower density, many engineers are turning to polymer and ceramic nanocomposites. Although metal materials — especially aluminum alloys — are still the dominant materials in industries like aerospace, nanocomposites are increasingly of interest.

A Tech Briefs article first reviews commonly used materials, such as aluminum alloys, titanium alloys, high-strength steels, and composites, which generally account for more than 90% of the weight of airframes. In part two of the article, the Imperial College London authors review the growing popularity of high-performance nanocomposites.

Unlike conventional composites, like reinforced plastic or concrete, nanocomposites improve properties without increasing density. Learn the advanced manufacturing advantages of nanocomposites:

  • Nanocomposites improve physical, chemical, and mechanical properties at the nanoscale. To increase the oxidation resistance of composites, for example, nanoparticles can be included: silicate, carbon nanotubes (CNTs), or polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (POSS) that could form passivation layers.
  • The addition of carbon nanotubes, silica, and layered silicate into a composite matrix could also promote energy dissipation and prevent structural failure, increasing the toughness of the composite and resulting in the potential application to high-damage-tolerance structures.
  • In addition to high modulus, high-strength nanoparticles such as continuous CNT improve the stiffness and strength of the composite.
  • The development of nanocomposites offers an opportunity for redundancy elimination and weight reduction, which provides significant potential in promoting the properties of aerospace components, especially in lightweighting. Wings, after all, must operate under specific loading conditions, operating temperatures, noise standards, and corrosion specifications.

Composites such as carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRPs) and glass-reinforced aluminum laminates (GLAREs) usually have much higher specific strength and stiffness than metals, which makes composites an attractive choice for lightweighting design for many aerospace components and systems.

Metals are cheap, easy to find, and easy to use, making them still a go-to materials for so many aerospace applications.

This Tech Briefs article explores how nanocomposites are a growing alternative to the standard composites and standard metals like hjgh-strength steel.  

Lightweighting represents an effective way to reduce energy consumption and enhance performance. See how the lightweighting concept has been well accepted and utilized in many industries, especially in aerospace component and system design, thanks to advanced manufacturing methods and the production of nanocomposites.

Read Lightweighting in Aerospace Component and System Design