Key manufacturers predict that the next-gen transformations in the aircraft wheel manufacturing will be driven by low-weight and high strength dynamism.
- Growing Demand For Light-Weight Aircraft Components:
The aviation industry faces a two-pronged challenge—increasing scarcity of fossil fuels and climate change. The two factors drive up the demand for lighweighting components to achieve improved fuel efficiency. Aircraft wheels undergo maximum testing, during taking-off, landing, and taxiing high static. Moreover, significant dynamic and thermal loads occur during aircraft operations, which the wheel must withstand, reliably. Manufacturers of aircraft wheels have upping their innovation to meet this growing demand, with advanced material technology. The conventional aircraft wheels are made of aluminum components along with some magnesium alloy wheels. Manufacturers are increasingly exploring materials avenues relating to carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), for the development of aircraft wheel that—demonstrating a significant reduction in weight. Fiber-reinforced plastics are being increasingly used in the aviation industry given its superior strength and stiffness. For instance, Fraunhofer LBF has planned to develop first nose wheel made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) for an A320.
- The Paradigm Shift From Aluminum
Apart from the lightweighting trend, manufacturers are also focusing on new alloys—making the aircraft wheels less maintenance-intensive. Aircraft wheels are known to take a beating from corrosion contributing components along with fatigue impacts and extremely high load. For many decades, aircraft wheels have been manufactured using closed-die aluminum forgings, considering its superior characteristics. However, aluminum offers very poor protection against corrosion. Apart from the corrosion standpoint, reduced strength of aluminum after it reaches a temperature of 400F on the application of brakes is a key factor restraining the adoption of aluminum in aircraft wheels manufacturing.
UTC Aerospace Systems (UTAS), for instance, is exploring a silver-based aluminum alloy, likely to be available in 2019, for developing aircraft wheels. The new wheels made of silver-based aluminum is projected to increase the wheel strength by 20 percent—at or above the component reaches a high temperature. Apart from that, nearly 10 percent increase in ‘room temperature’ strength, 70 percent increase in damage tolerance, and improved corrosion-resistance are some additional key benefits projected. The silver-based aluminum variant is also likely to make the aircraft wheel much lighter and reduce the maintenance downtime. With a key focus on the braking application and its impact on the aircraft wheels, the company is also in the process of developing a composite aircraft wheel structure that would weigh lesser than the traditional wheels.
- Robust Corrosion-Resistant Coatings and Alloys
In the wake new technological developments in the aircraft wheels market, manufacturers have made advancements in coatings providing corrosion-resistance—including the low-volatile organic compound (VOC) and chromate-free variants in primers and coatings. Apart from improved abrasion resistance, the new advancements will make aircraft wheel nearly 3 times more fluids-resistant and 1.5 times less VOC content—offering enhanced corrosion prevention and protection. For instance, Safran Landing Systems’ advanced coating and priming solutions along with aluminum anodization and chromium-free process are some advancements in the coating landscape—resulting in superior barrier against main wheel corrosion in aircraft. Another key advancement includes using Inconel alloys in wheel tie bolts and torque bars that not only prevents corrosion but also significantly reduces the weight of the aircraft wheel bolts.
- Go Bolt-less
UTC Aerospace Systems recently started delivering boltless wheels to at last 5 new customers flying C-130 aircraft. Boltless aircraft wheels are projected to significantly reduce the pressure on MROs—often challenged by the impact of high intensity of heat generated by carbon brakes. Moreover, to address the increasing demand by airlines to reduce the maintenance cost, manufacturers have advanced towards using rim-retained wheels employing a lock-ring device—eliminating the need for tie-bolts. Manufacturers in the commercial aviation landscape see boltless wheels technology as a lucrative opportunity to address aircraft weight issues with reduced inspection downtime. Aircraft wheels with bolts have to be inspected individually.
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