Airbus and Fokker have teamed up to further develop an aviation material known as fiber metal laminate (FML). FML was developed for use on airplane fuselages to lighten the weight of the aircraft. FML is made from alternating layers of aluminum and glass fibers. The material is used in strategic areas of the aircraft, and can reduce the finished weight of a vehicle by about 15%.
The companies intend to develop high-volume production methods and tweak the material formula to incorporate newer glass fibers into the mix. According to the companies, “smart” production – which could be conducted primarily by robots – will lower the cost of the material and make it more attractive to aircraft manufacturers. FML has been used successfully on the upper fuselage and the tail structure of the Airbus A380 since it was developed.
FML was originally created by Fokker, a Dutch aviation company along with researchers from the Technical University of Delft and the National Dutch Aerospace Laboratory about 20 years ago. It was successfully integrated into A380 production in 2005. It is attractive because it offers a high degree of strength and can be produced more sustainably and at a lower cost than more traditional airframe materials. It also offers a viable lightweight alternative to traditional components, and has a fire safety rating that
The first generation material is known as GLARE (glass laminate aluminum reinforced epoxy). During manufacturing, the glass fiber layers can be oriented to produce a finished material with a highly predictable stress response.
GLARE can be repaired using traditional metalworking techniques, another plus for an industry that’s highly dependent upon field-based repairs. It has a better tolerance for damage than aluminum, as well as better corrosion resistance. It also provides a good demonstration of the versatility of glass.
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Photo Credit: Greg Hounslow , via Flickr.com