Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Boeing's Plastic Pause


Boeing has entered a new phase sometime ago, when it announced the 737 Max followed by the 777X. Both were essentially metal and not plastic. Nor did the 747 8i follow the all plastic route. A curious observation of Boeing's greatest accomplishment, all plastic 787. What both Airbus and Boeing discovered is a spot where metal can compete with plastic. Whether it uses an amalgamation of both plastic and metal parts or new airframe design tweaks both manufacturers can build a composite design of parts, (both metal and plastic) that will compete with the all composite 787 design.

The Max uses engine advancements aero design and other transition technology, making the 737 fly farther, cheaper, and better without going all plastic. The 777X will use all plastic wings with an advanced wing design and a little old school on the folding part. It remains with the all metal body. Boeing with use advanced aluminum skin and a refined frame that strengthens the frame accepting larger windows and better cabin pressure. People will think they are on an extremely large 787 when in fact its a metal 777X.

The next advanced airplane won't be all plastic, but it will all new technology and a better evolved version of the prior generation of aircraft. It will have less expensive  R&D cost for the 777X than the 787, but it will be more efficient per weight and design. All Plastic is not the total answer at this time. It is the answer for Boeing and the 787. The A330 will straddle the the plastic and metal gap by being all metal, but will under perform the plastic competitor found in the 787. The Max and Neo will run neck and neck in the metal class where ones design will beat the other. Boeing claims it got it right in its engineering balance on the MAX. The 747 is a lost led er at this time more in the market than the A380 new acceptance. It will live out its life in the pasture of niche markets. The A380 is closer to that same pasture, than having an expanding future. Its too big to land and park.

The plastic revolution has entered a pause period while metal aircraft adapts. In this pause plastic construction will revisit how it makes its parts and what is best for that construction for its use and disposal. New fabrics and plastics will emerge during this great pause. Once the evolution of the market has settled, the one who perseveres with plastics will emerge with something greater than the 787. The 787 will have a follow-on model in 10 to 15 years with better applications of the plastic concept, better flight deck, and leading edge technological advances all around. Engines in the future will incorporate better and more plastic within in constructs, but may never depart from the metal portion of the engine.

Let's pause and wait and see what aviation has learned with the 787 as it keeps flying.