As many industries move towards implementing a more sustainable approach to product design, there is a newfound emphasis on exploring which materials and lean manufacturing strategies could aid in reaching that goal. One field that has historically had problems reaching sustainability goals is aerospace. Between the cost of raw materials, manufacturing, and fuel, the aviation sector faces significant and unique challenges in reducing its carbon footprint. In this blog, we will discuss a novel material management approach that many companies are adopting in order to achieve sustainability goals.
The push toward an environmentally-friendly operations framework stems from both shifting government regulations and pressure from consumers. Many European countries, in particular, are moving to create laws that would force airline companies to have a net carbon impact by a certain year, and the United States is likely going to follow their lead. To accomplish this goal, manufacturers used several techniques, including designing more fuel-efficient designs and increasing the number of recycled goods. While these interventions have proven helpful, choosing the appropriate materials in manufacturing seems to be the highest yield strategy.
To aid in material management, several manufacturers are beginning to use programs that can track the impact of raw materials through their product's lifespan. This strategy gives manufacturers particular insights into which materials are costing the company most from a financial and carbon standpoint. In addition, these programs allow manufacturers to search for any material and extract relevant information to incorporate it with their own CAD or PLM system. Since many airline manufacturers purchase whole parts in which the raw material is unknown, a material management program also allows them to search particular components to see the raw material profile.
Another phenomenon occurring in the automotive industry, which is likely to happen eventually with aerospace, is the move towards electrification. Much of the data from companies like Tesla and Honda have shown that producing an electric vehicle with lighter materials shifts the vast majority of CO2 emissions from the "in-use" phase of the car's lifespan to the "material-gathering" phase. This data highlights the importance of choosing lean materials and researching new technology that would cut costs and emissions from the beginning. An example of the electrification process merged with a materials management framework is Electroflight, which used a program to quickly determine the optimal material profile for their new zero-emission aircraft.
Three pieces of aerospace electrification technology are electrical vertical and takeoff (eVTOL), hybrid-aircraft, and fully electric aircraft. Several start-ups are partnering with Toyota, Airbus, Uber, and others to create taxi-like eVTOL aircraft that could traverse urban landscapes and deliver customers to their intended location. Hybrid airplanes are also starting to reach the production and deployment phase. Particularly, the Wright 1 and HERA projects are set to take to the skies in 2023 and 2028, respectively. Since these aircraft will likely be the first models of decarbonization in the aviation field, their success or failure will likely be a benchmark for future projects. Finally, electric aircraft represent the most promising technology in the industry.
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