If there is one industry that depends on high-performance, low-resistance surfaces, it’s the aerospace sector. Nanocoatings in the aviation industry has the potential to transform fuel consumption and maintenance costs.
In the harsh high-altitude environments most aircraft operate in, protecting the external surfaces is critical to ensuring predictable airflow over the aircraft’s outer skin. If an airframe’s external surfaces are smooth, that translates into lower friction generated by the passage of air over the aircraft and thus a lower drag coefficient. This contributes to great fuel economy and shorter periods of aircraft unavailability due to maintenance on the airframe’s paintwork.
Why The Aviation Sector
The aerospace sector is one of the world’s premier heavy industries. In an era of renewed interest in space exploration, 5th generation stealth fighters, and advances in commercial aviation, it is hard to imagine a world without an aerospace industry.
Many companies depend on being able to transfer people and products from point to point often in a time-critical window. Air transport provides a significantly faster transport network able to bridge the world, quickly and comparatively, easily. Today, the value for aircraft manufacturing in the global market is in the billions.
This massive economic importance is coupled with equally enormous consumption. Aerospace continues to have one of the largest carbon footprints in relation to an industry’s size. To negate these factors, research, and development into aerospace materials, including aerospace nano-coatings, is driving towards the discovery of lighter, more effective materials for both the construction of airframes and in tweaking enhanced efficiency out of aircraft engines.
One key goal is to reduce current fuel consumption levels and in turn, deliver lower carbon emissions generated through the global trade in air travel and cargo movements.
High Speed, Low Drag
Similarly, nanocoatings in the aviation industry are finding expanding applications in areas with a need to increase an aircraft’s resistance to extreme temperatures, its exposure corrosion, together with abrasion and wear and tear on the engine parts.
This demand for more reliable high-performance coatings is opening the door to nanocoatings, thanks to their intrinsic characteristics, which offer substantial advantages over conventional coatings.
Aerospace companies and their maintenance agencies are adopting nanocoatings in the aviation industry to add superior and distinct physiognomies to aircraft frames and interiors and extending into their use to engine parts and component surfaces.
Nanocoatings properties such as self-cleaning, improved hardness, corrosion resistance, improvement in fuel efficiency, and flame retarding characteristics are yielding improvements in an abridged carbon footprint, lower cleaning and maintenance costs, enhanced safeguards against corrosion, and condensed ice deposits in flight and on the ground.
Savings on fuel-burn due to drag reduction is also attracting attention for nanocoatings in the aviation industry.
Aviation, and in particular military aviation, suffer high maintenance costs, which can be substantially reduced through the use of anti-corrosion nanocoatings. Nanomaterial additives in material coatings are expected to provide an effective substitute for halogen-based flame retardant materials, which are exceptionally environmentally hazardous.
Nanocoatings are applied straight onto the surface to be protected. In the event of a fire, a ceramic layer forms within seconds. It provides a protective lining against heat, radically reducing the amount of smoke generated from a fire.
However, as with conventional systems, nano-based coatings have to meet a range of complex requirements and pass a battery of field tests before acceptance into service.
Benefits Of Nanocoatings In The Aviation Industry
Aerospace coatings protect the high-performance materials from the exotic conditions posed by the high altitude environments where they operate.
There is a range of reasons why the aerospace industry, both the civilian and the military is turning to nano-technology. Namely, in search for improved performance, lower operational costs, and a lower environmental footprint.
Unlike other industry sectors, where the case for nano-coatings may be more contested, the benefits for the aerospace industry in adopting nano-coatings is strikingly clear.
In an environment where extremes of temperature, pressure, and cycles of compression and expansion dominate, nano-coatings offer a clear next step in realising performance gains.
Today, bulky metals that possess some nanoscale structure already enjoy wide usage within the aircraft manufacturing industry. Metals with nanostructures are accepted as having significantly better properties than those possessing a larger granular structure.
In material used in aircraft construction, the primary benefits are in yield strength, corrosion resistance, tensile strength, and low density. Combined, these features make for strong but lighter aerospace materials.
With a lighter construction, an aircraft consumes less fuel thus emitting a more compact carbon footprint. Happily, due to the strength of nanostructured metals, light-weight does not come at the expense of durability.
Polymer Nanocomposite Fillers
Different nanomaterials have been adopted as filler materials to enhance the properties as applied to both structural and non-structural polymers. The most common materials in use for this purpose are nano-clays, nano-fibres, graphene, and carbon nano-tubes.
In particular, carbon nano-tubes present significant advantages as fillers for many polymers. Carbon nano-tubes have proven to be exceptionally stiff, tough, and possess outstanding electrical properties.
Nano-composites also display excellent strength-to-weight ratios. Moreover, they offer enhanced vibration and fire resistance. These characteristics make them ideal for aviation applications.
Nano-material filler-enhanced polymers have properties that make them highly suitable in aircraft manufacturing contexts. As such, its use as a selective replacement for certain metals in airframes is increasing. This is delivering substantial weight savings, as well as cost savings for manufacturers and in turn, aircraft fleet operators.
Another major benefit of nanocoatings in the aviation industry is their ability to enhance the durability of metal components using nanotechnology coatings. Corrosion is an age-old adversary of an aircraft and some metals are particularly prone to it.
Magnesium alloys are one example of an aerospace material benefiting from nano-coatings. Magnesium alloys are substantially lighter than both aluminium and steel. However, they corrode easily due to magnesium’s high chemical reactivity.
Aerospace nano-coatings protect the normally reactive magnesium alloy from direct contact with its environment. Prior to the development of nano-coatings, the only solution was to dip magnesium alloys into a chromium bath. Chromium is an exceedingly toxic pollutant so its widespread use comes at a cost to the environment.
Other materials benefiting from corrosion protective using nano-coatings are cobalt-phosphorous nanocrystals and silicon and boron oxides.
Nanocoatings are also applied to mechanical components, such as the turbine blades. This mechanical component needs to endure high temperatures and the friction generated through wear and tear. A type of coating called tribological coatings significantly reduces the friction coefficient and heightens wear resistance. Consequently, this will lead to improvements in overall engine efficiency.
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In the harsh high-altitude environments most aircraft, both civilian and military operates in, protecting their external surfaces is critical to ensuring predictable, smooth controlled airflow over the aircraft’s outer skin. If an airframe’s external surfaces offer reduced drag levels thanks to the adoption of nanocoatings in the aviation industry, that will translate directly into greater fuel economy, lower operating costs and shorter periods of aircraft unavailability due to maintenance on the airframe’s paintwork.