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Moving To Composites Is A Natural Progression In The Fight To Net Zero

By Gavin Rankin, Technical Director at PAC Group

In the fight against climate change, every action we take can have a meaningful impact. There are the obvious things we can do, particularly in the automotive industry such as electric vehicles, sustainable fuels, and so on.

But there are also the somewhat less obvious options. Take lightweighting, for example.

Lightweighting is as the name suggests. It’s the practice of reducing the weight of a component or structure, particularly through the substitution of materials. In switching out traditionally used metals in favour of lighter weight composite materials, such as carbon fibre, there’s a substantial overall reduction in the weight of the structure.

The benefits of utilising lightweight composites cannot be understated. Certainly, we’re all aware of the way that carbon fibre composites can increase performance. But going beyond performance, aerodynamic efficiency and the like, composite materials enable the transport industry to make a significant reduction in its carbon footprint.

Whilst the aerospace and automotive industries are certainly making this move towards the utilisation of composite materials, it remains a somewhat gradual process. Though carbon fibre is used in aircraft, the fact of the matter is that the aerospace industry would benefit from expanding its usage of composite materials, especially where its environmental impact is concerned.

It’s no secret that the aviation industry has had a role to play in ushering in the current climate disaster. Its main source of impact has been through the burning of fuel, which then converts to CO2. This means that until synthetic sustainable fuels become more readily available or widely used, the aviation industry is difficult to decarbonise.

Fuel is the number one cost for any airline, standing at around 30% of all total costs. To give you an idea of numbers, the average short haul flight consumes between two and three litres of fuel every 100 kilometres, per customer.

Of course, fuel consumption naturally differs from plane to plane, depending on flight duration, the number of passengers, the model of plane and its efficiency and age — and this is exactly where the benefits of lightweighting make themselves apparent.

Opting for composite materials, rather than metals like steel or aluminium, leads to an overall reduction in the weight of the aircraft. The lighter the aircraft is, the greater its fuel efficiency. Suddenly, a plane becomes both cheaper to operate and more environmentally sound.

An added benefit of composite materials is that they can actually reduce the individual number of parts in an aircraft. This is due to the fact that composite materials are moulded, enabling multiple parts to be combined in a single mould during the manufacturing process. Not only is this cost effective - fewer parts and manufacturing time culminating in reduced costs - but it means that a greater portion of the aircraft can be built out of lightweight composite materials.

The more carbon fibre you use, the greater weight you save. The lighter the aircraft, the more efficient it becomes, and greater efficiency leads to greater sustainability.

As the transport industry catches onto the myriad benefits of lightweight composite materials, there’s an influx in demand for components made of such materials. At PAC, we’re proud to be at the forefront of this push towards an increased usage of composites.

As the leading specialist in the design and manufacture of Hot Drape Forming machines, each of our preformers are manufactured to the highest standards. Every component of the system is produced to an exceptional quality, with reliability and durability at the heart of their design.

We hold 42 patents on the hardware and software used in our preformers, solidifying our position at the forefront of the development of this innovative technology. Our Hot Drape Formers are bespoke, customised to the needs of the client.

Our innovative Hot Drape Formers are able to keep up with the high demands of leading automotive and aerospace manufacturers. We see the growing numbers of manufacturers wanting to incorporate composite materials into their vehicles; even more importantly, we understand exactly why there is this growing desire. PAC recognises the importance of this shift, and the time-sensitive nature of the need to act.

PAC Group strives to increase the efficiency of the manufacturing process through the development of forward-thinking technology. Alongside our preformers are our reticulators and resin transfer/infusions systems, each of which drive efficiency of process. They help to reduce cycle times, enabling greater change on a shorter timescale.

Our sustainability targets have a timeframe. The aviation and automotive industries are aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. We have just over 25 years to achieve this goal, but we have a mighty journey ahead of us.

It’s time to embrace new materials, new technologies and new ways of thinking, all of which will bring us nearer to our sustainability goals. At PAC Group we’re delighted to be at the forefront of the aerospace composites industry working with companies such as BAE, Spirit Aerosystems and Airborne to name a few.

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