Saturday, May 10, 2008

Spinning a a loom!

There was an incredible article in Fortune about the manufacturing process of the Boeing 787. The first plane is slated to fly before the end of the year and Boeing is already reporting that the 787 is the fastest selling jetliner of all times. In fact, Boeing is taking flak from customers for delaying the delivery of the aircraft for want of parts. Apparently, a handful of suppliers just cannot keep up with the demand!

But what fascinated me was that the aircraft's shell will not be made out of aluminum alloys. Instead, it is made of carbon composites. This material is created from carbon fibers that are spun in a way reminiscent of spinning thread (See picture below). Epoxy raisins and subsequent heat treatment creates the carbon composite material for the plane's body. The material is lighter, stronger, and amenable to better aerodynamic design. For example, the entire toilet of the 787 weighs just 170 lb!

Spinning the carbon fibers for the Boeing 787 (courtesy, Fortune). The complete slide-show is available here.

Needless to say, the light aircraft means it is significantly more fuel efficient. At the same time, the greater strength means that the cabin can be pressurized to about 6000ft, making flying more comfortable. The material also allows more comfortable humidity levels in the cabin because unlike metals, carbon does not corrode.

Kudos to the Boeing engineers for designing this marvel!

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