September 19, 2019
The much-anticipated delivery of the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner was fraught with delays and occurred three years behind schedule.
A critical issue contributing to these delays involved Boeing’s supply chain. The inability to receive necessary parts and components on time seriously hindered production lines.
Vice President of Aircraft Materials and Structures at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, John Byrne, highlighted the issues of composite supply chains at the 2014 CompositesWorld Carbon Fiber Conference.
Bryne observed that the composite industry was relatively ill-equipped to meet the material and production needs of Boeing in its manufacturing of the 787 Dreamliner. Citing standardization in the metals industry, Byrne implored a need for a more “metal-like” organization in the composite material supply chain.
The difficulties of composite supply chains arise from factors like high demand, limited carbon fiber production and supply, and the fact that composites have strict handling and storage requirements.
FRPs are complicated to manage. Labor intensive and equipment heavy to produce, they require cutting tables, engineering software, storage carousels, and freezers, amongst other space-and-resource-taking machinery. Proper storage and handling demands impeccable clean rooms that are:
After pre-impregnation, where the dry fiber is impregnated with resin, the material must be frozen to maintain its chemical and handling properties. Delivery needs to be temperature-controlled, as varying shelf lives affect how long FRP materials can be frozen, out of refrigeration, and held under vacuum bags before autoclave curing.
Once ready for custom shape cutting, efficient material use is essential to avoid waste. Without engineering software and precision cutting equipment, maximizing the amount of usable material in a composite sheet is a challenge.