Higher, faster, lighter: aerospace and the pursuit of lightness 4 minutes spent reading

Higher, faster, lighter: aerospace and the pursuit of lightness

Christopher Eberl
Christopher Eberl is editorially responsible for the topics on the blog as well as for the apprentice website. With his stories he provides deep insights into the diverse world of the voestalpine Group.

When building aircraft, every gram counts, because weight-reduced parts made of high-performance materials not only make aviation safer, they make it more economical and sustainable. The lightweight construction philosophy at voestalpine ensures maximum quality combined with the lowest possible weight.

It is more than just a design principle. It is a philosophy, a holistic way of thinking and working: lightweight construction. The aim is to minimize weight while optimizing the use of materials and simultaneously increasing resource efficiency. Thus, parts and components are designed to be as light as possible, yet capable of withstanding maximum loads. And the material for these parts should be optimally used. “In the aerospace industry, lightweight construction is a major challenge, especially when we consider the forging involved. In this segment, design sovereignty always lies in the customer’s hands. We have the demanding task of designing the forged part as efficiently as possible in accordance with the specified requirements while ensuring that process stability is strictly maintained,” explains Bernd O., Head of Innovation, Digitalization & New Parts Management at voestalpine BÖHLER Aerospace.

Mitarbeiter der voestalpine für Leichtbau in der Luftfahrt

Less material, more value

To achieve the best results in lightweight construction, not only the design but also the materials, manufacturing technologies, and testing methods are crucial factors. Only a part that can be manufactured and non-destructively tested is suitable for safety-critical aerospace applications. The buy-to-fly ratio is a proven indicator of the efficiency of the manufacturing process. It describes the ratio of the weight of the raw material to the weight of the final part installed in the aircraft. In order to optimize this ratio, it is important to know not only the forces, loads, and constraints for a part, but also the limitations of the manufacturing process. This knowledge makes it possible to design specific components and even entire component groups according to the principle of lightweight construction and benefit from the associated advantages:

  • The more efficiently a part is designed, the lighter it will be when installed in the aircraft.
  • The less a part weighs, the less fuel an aircraft will consume. Customers not only benefit from lower fuel costs and higher payload, but also from reduced CO2 emissions.
  • The closer a forged part comes to the final geometry, the more efficient the final machining process is for customers.
  • Using more raw materials that are manufactured in a resource-conserving way leads to more sustainable and resource-efficient production of the part.

voestalpine BÖHLER Aerospace also provides customers with a simulation of the forging process and heat treatment. This is used to predict the properties of the material as well as stresses within the part so that customers can finish the part as efficiently as possible.

Engineering teamwork

Compared to other industries, aerospace is very long-term oriented. Approving new materials for aircraft construction is extremely costly due to the high safety standards and extensive testing. voestalpine BÖHLER Aerospace therefore strives to always get the most out of materials that have been established for decades. “We understand alloys very well and can constantly improve our processes and procedures to optimally meet customer specifications on time and on quality,” states Bernd O. The close coordination between voestalpine and the customer means they can jointly identify and incorporate optimization potential during the design phase. The resulting part not only has ideal properties for the customer, it is also ideal for voestalpine to manufacture. This approach to product development is known as concurrent engineering. voestalpine is advancing this method of working overall, including in lightweight construction: from design and simulations to modeling of material properties and forging.

A practical look at lightweight construction

You would like to know how the philosophy of lightweight construction is implemented in forging? For example, how screw presses instead of hydraulic presses make machining unique? In one of the next blog posts, we will tell you about the state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies that voestalpine BÖHLER Aerospace uses to produce aerospace parts.

Christopher Eberl