The part itself is relatively small for such a huge aircraft, but it’s of crucial importance for the safety of the new Airbus A 380.
Hidden away in the undercarriage of the double-decker super-jumbo is a dense forged part in which numerous holes have been drilled to form a pipe system. Without this titanium component, the plane’s brakes would not work. It is needed for the brake hydraulics of the world’s biggest and most advanced passenger aircraft, and it has to be able to withstand severe loads and pressures of 300 bar. To meet these special requirements, the part is made from the titanium alloy Ti6Al4V, produced at ThyssenKrupp VDM’s Essen plant. But many structural parts of the A 380 would also have been impossible to make without the company’s high-performance materials. For example, molds used to produce carbon-fiber composite (CFRP) components were manufactured from nickel alloys from ThyssenKrupp VDM (Werdohl).
The new Airbus A 380 is soon to start operating out of Germany for the first time. On June 11, scheduled flights will commence on the busy routes to Asia and North America. Five days earlier, the German national soccer team will depart for South Africa on board one of these aircraft to take part in the World Cup. Theoretically, the world’s largest passenger plane can seat up to 850 people. The super-jumbo is 24 meters high, 73 meters long and weighs around 560 metric tons. And it would be much heavier still were it not for the use of titanium. This material combines extremely high strength with low weight, good mechanical and thermal properties and corrosion and erosion resistance. Titanium can be as hard as steel, but weighs only half as much. Not least, that helps significantly reduce fuel consumption. That’s why the engines, undercarriage, wing structures and airframe all contain large amounts of titanium. “As aircraft become bigger, they will need more and more titanium,” says Helmut Jost, Project Manager Marketing and Regional Management at ThyssenKrupp VDM. “Around 140 tons of titanium are ordered to manufacture an Airbus A 380, and roughly 120 tons for the Boeing Dreamliner 787.” The titanium content of modern jumbo jets accounts for 10 to 15 percent of their overall weight.
Special nickel alloys are not just used in aircraft components, but also in the tooling used to produce specific parts. These parts are made from carbon-fiber composite (CFRP), another important material in the construction of the latest aircraft. The lightweight plastic with embedded carbon fibers is cured in molds made of high-performance materials supplied by ThyssenKrupp VDM. In addition to wear resistance, a particularly important advantage of these materials is their low thermal expansion between room temperature and 200°C, the curing temperature of the plastic. “Certain nickel alloys, like the Pernifer 36 used here, display only a tenth of the thermal expansion of steels in this temperature range. That means that when curing and cooling CFRP parts in such molds, no thermal stresses occur and the parts are not damaged,” explains Dr. Heinrich Scherngell, Head of Aerospace Sales at ThyssenKrupp VDM. This ensures that the high safety requirements of the aerospace sector are met.
The modern giants of the air surpass all their predecessors in power, size and looks. The particular mechanical and thermal loads to which the aircraft are exposed at high altitude call for materials capable of withstanding precisely these conditions while at the same time offering low weight, high strength and passenger comfort. “Modern aircraft construction would be inconceivable without titanium and nickel alloys,” emphasizes Dr. Scherngell. “They allow us to make airplanes lighter, bigger and more energy efficient.”
ThyssenKrupp VDM (Werdohl) is one of the world’s leading suppliers of high-performance materials, special alloys and titanium mill products. Its main customers are in the plant engineering, energy, oil, gas, electrical, electronics, automotive and aerospace industries. The company has production facilities in Werdohl, Altena, Unna, Siegen and Essen as well as a sales office in Frankfurt/Main. It also has two plants in the USA and a global sales and distribution network. In the 2008/2009 fiscal year the company employed roughly 1,700 people and generated sales of more than 740 million euros.