Monday, April 26, 2010

Plastic Jet Engines

This one really blows me away (pun intended). A French start-up company, Plasticell, has developed a new process for laser welding materials. In this case, they are able to create honeycomb cells from PEEK sheet. The resulting material is lightweight, extremely strong and can be rolled or otherwise curved. One potential application is jet engines. (I'm assuming the housing, not turbine blades or anything in the combustion zone. These are still organic polymers!) Just like the automotive industry, the airline industry is fanatical about reducing weight to decrease fuel consumption, with every little cut helping. The Dreamliner is reportedly 8% over target weight, probably hurting fuel consumption by that same percentage. Given that fuel is more-or-less a "fixed" cost[*] of ownership, any savings can be huge.

[*] The planes themselves are definitely a fixed costs borne 24/7, which then forces the airlines try to run them as much as possible. While this is not 24/7, it is still an appreciable fracture of that - hence the quotations on the term "fixed" above. Of course, a further variable on this "fixed" cost is the fluxuating price of the fuel.

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