Advanced Materials Testing in the Aerospace Industry

Tensile testing machine in the process of testing a metal bar

The aerospace industry must adhere to the strictest of standards for every component manufactured. All items created for aerospace applications require extreme precision and repeatability to ensure reliable real-world functionality. While critical equipment failures present a problem for any industry, the consequences of failure are especially dire in aerospace.

The materials used to construct these parts continue to get more complicated as aerospace stakeholders develop new solutions that may be used to fabricate stronger parts with lighter weights that will improve the fuel efficiency and functionality of aircraft.

As new materials continue to be developed, it is crucial to carefully test them across all stages of development to understand how they will function for their intended application. Testing occurs at every stage of the process for aerospace manufacturers, from research and development through final production.

Why Materials Testing Is Necessary for the Aerospace Industry

While quality control management systems on the manufacturing floor have their place, most aerospace applications require more advanced methods of verification for completed parts and the materials they are fabricated from.

Aircraft, spacecraft, and other aerospace equipment operate in harsh environments that experience high and low temperature extremes, severe weather, impacts, and pressure extremes. Because of these, they are prone to a variety of structural deterioration risks, such as:

  • Corrosion
  • Fatigue
  • Fabrication defects
  • Unforeseen loading

As such, strict quality and safety standards must be met for all materials used in the fabrication of aerospace components.

Determining the quality of the materials helps industry stakeholders increase their return on investment by avoiding potential lawsuits and the medical costs associated with injury. These risks aside, the development and fabrication of aerospace components is costly and time-consuming. Verifying the viability of these parts at each step of the process helps to avoid problems and save both time and money over the long term.

Aerospace Material Standards

Given the risks associated with underperformance or failure of aerospace equipment, a range of industry standards have been developed to carefully regulate and guide manufacturers who produce parts for aircraft and spacecraft. For example, the ASTM offers strict standards for materials testing within aerospace applications. These standards enable global manufacturers to standardize testing for material properties, including:

  • Mechanical (strength, durability, ductility)
  • Thermal resistances
  • Optical characterization
  • Chemical resistances
  • Electrical (conductivity, resistivity)

In addition to ASTM standards, a variety of other industry standards must also be adhered to. Nadcap performs regular audits on accredited labs to insure they can perform testing and analysis according to specifications. In addition, many OEM manufacturers like Pratt & Whitney, GE, and Boeing set product testing standards that their suppliers must meet to ensure approval as vendors.

These standards enable aerospace manufacturers and design engineers to calculate how selected materials will perform in dangerous environments and situations presented by real-world applications, as well as determine if specific materials are suitable for a distinct design.

A comprehensive range of materials tests currently exist to determine these properties and more. Materials testing services aerospace stakeholders may find useful include:

  • Chemical analysis
  • Corrosion testing
  • Failure analysis
  • Fatigue testing
  • Metallurgical Analysis
  • Mechanical testing
  • Non-destructive testing

Thanks to advances in testing technology, data gathering and analysis techniques, and the connectivity provided by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), a wide variety of advanced solutions now exist to identify material properties, benefits, and shortcomings. Implementing the results of comprehensive materials tests has become a crucial element of design operations and decision-making processes for the aerospace sector.

 

Image Credit: Mrs_ya / Shutterstock.com

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