Feeds

Airbus brews Scandium smackdown for carbon Dreamliner

A riveting chapter in Boeing and Airbus' rivalry

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Zis unfortunate little carbon machine, c'est une boîte d'herbe de puanteurs - regard, l'avion scandium par M'sieu Worstall!

Airbus has taken a very different route, they've decided to go play with scandium. The reason that we rivet planes together is because welding aluminium is a right bitch, much more so than making them out of carbon fibre. Al welds are also not very strong, horribly prone to cracking and in general just not the sort of thing that you want to do with something highly stressed like an airframe. At which point enter scandium, my favourite rare earth metal. Adding a small amount (0.1 per cent say) to the Al-Mg alloys which planes are made of makes the welding much, much easier. It also makes those welds much stronger. So much so that the design team thinks that it should be possible to make the fuselage out of such Sc containing alloys, weld it all together and thus eliminate the rivets.

The A380 airliner on the ground in Toulouse. Credit: Airbus/H Goussé

No, it's not a zeppelin, it's an Airbus A380.

That design team includes Airbus themselves, the University of Oxford and Qinetiq all playing with research originally done at UMIST. It's also at times included your humble author as a supplier of that delightful scandium.

Now, whether it's all going to work is at present unknown, that's why it is called research after all. But there are interesting pointers. Sc has been used in bike frames (bicycle, not motor) for more than a decade now and I know that one Taiwanese manufacturer simply makes all of his frames using Al Sc. He's got two lines, one very expensive and branded as containing that lovely metal and another no name line. He's found that what he saves on the welding costs so overwhelms the cost of the Sc (which is high, $4,000 a kg for the oxide at present, maybe $5 to $10 on the materials costs for a bike frame) that it's cheaper to use it even when he can't charge a premium for its use. The no name line is thus, in metallurgical terms, exactly the same as the high cost one. So we do have some at least real world information that this might be a good idea.

But whether scandium beats carbon fibre as a solution to the rivet problem? As yet still unknown. Scandium plus welding would certainly be much cheaper on the assumption that it really does work and passes all of the tests required for a new aerospace alloy (not surprisingly, these are more complex than those on a bike frame. The most a failure of the latter can do is ruin one's crotch or day, catastrophic failure of an airframe is more of an event.) Yet carbon fibre is further ahead in the getting ready for prime time stakes. Which might mean that the c-fibre solution gets cheaper faster as is usually true with methods that are in actual production.

But there it is, the two basic experiments being undertaken by the two major airframe manufacturers. One is an experiment about us, small planes and point to point versus vast buses in the sky with a hub and spoke model of travel. The other is entirely different approaches to how to get rid of the humble rivet. ®

Bootnote

I should of course declare my interest: I've been supplying Airbus' scandium research program for over a decade now. Boeing has yet to spend a red cent with me. The bastards.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.