Developments to Watch
WEAVING AIRPLANE WINGS FROM A TOUGH PLASTIC YARN
Today, only a few planes, most notably the B-2 bomber, have all-composite "skins." These fiber-reinforced plastic materials can outperform metal, but they can require very costly manufacturing by hand. Now, Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a low-cost way to crank out composite products with ordinary textile machinery.
Slender bundles of a tough fiber, such as DuPont Co.'s Kevlar, are coated with plastic by passing them through a cloud of electrostatically charged powdered resin, then baking the plastic onto the fibers. Textile equipment can weave this composite yarn into a limp airplane wing that looks like a huge sweater arm, which then would be cured to its rigid form. Lockheed Corp. is among the aerospace companies that are interested. "But we're concentrating first on markets like sporting goods and medical devices," says Timothy L. Green, engineering manager at Custom Composite Materials Inc., an Atlanta startup founded to commercialize the technology.EDITED BY WILLIAM D. MARBACH