In the aerospace industry, the most advanced, reliable materials are necessary to ensure optimal safety, longevity, and strength in demanding applications.
Aerospace materials must be lightweight to allow for optimal aerodynamics; strong to ensure the safety of pilots and passengers and to withstand the physical forces of flying; and heat resistant to ensure structural changes are kept to a minimum during the sudden and extreme temperature fluctuations that occur at both high-speed and high-altitude flight.
Honeycomb — particularly, aluminum honeycomb — can effectively meet all of the above requirements.
As the name implies, honeycomb materials resemble the structure of beehives. This unique material is an excellent solution for various aerospace applications.
Although honeycomb production requires multiple steps — a combination of expansion, corrugation, and molding — the process is quite simple and straightforward. Also, because less metal is needed to produce honeycomb than solid products, the process is relatively inexpensive.
Honeycomb is most commonly used as the center of sandwich-structure composites, wherein the honeycomb is sandwiched between two thin panels of material. This sandwich form effectively combines the light-weight and high-strength qualities of honeycomb — both of which are essential for the aerospace industry — with the smooth, flat surfaces of the panels to allow for easy installation. The panels also eliminate openings and unwanted airflow.
Honeycomb can be designed and manufactured with any number of cell shapes, sizes, and configurations. From added flexibility to high strength, any specification can be accommodated with the proper honeycomb design.
Aluminum honeycomb, in particular, offers a range of benefits and properties that are particularly useful in aerospace applications.
The stiffness of aluminum honeycomb is second to none, as is its strength-to-weight ratio, which is among the highest of any composite core material currently available. Its resistance to compression is also high, as well as its resistance to heat, temperature fluctuation, and shear, all of which are particularly important in flight scenarios.
Aluminum honeycomb is non-moisture absorbent and resistant to mold and fungal growth — key qualities in the enclosed environments found in aerospace applications. Highly recyclable, more than 90% of all aluminum material processed annually is derived from recycled products, making aluminum honeycomb a very environmentally friendly option.
Honeycomb Composites in Aerospace
Although honeycomb composites are not quite as light as other materials, such as standard laminates (depending on the number of layers), they offer other unique benefits. Honeycomb can be as much as 40 times stronger than laminates in certain scenarios, for instance, and often offers better weight-to-strength ratios. Also, load carry and load transference are much greater in honeycomb than in laminate.
Aluminum honeycomb is used in various aerospace applications and is becoming the go-to material for critical substructures in rockets, aircraft, and jet engines, and propellers, as well as similar non-aerospace structures, such as wind turbine blades. In less sensitive applications, aluminum honeycomb is also used in aircraft heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.
For over three decades, Continental Steel & Tube has been a leading supplier of materials for the aerospace industry. We source and supply aluminum honeycomb of varying sizes, weights, and grades from the highest-quality honeycomb manufacturers. To learn more about aluminum honeycomb and how it can help with your aerospace applications, contact us today.