REACH: When regulation drives innovation
The European REACH regulation on the use of chemicals reached an important milestone on September 21, 2017 - known as the sunset date -, when the need for authorizations for some critical compounds came into force. Above and beyond the technical challenges the regulation raises, its implementation has proved to be a powerful driving-force for innovation at Safran.
The REACH1 regulation was introduced in Europe 10 years ago in order to protect people and the environment against risks linked to chemical substances. The regulation had a significant impact on the aerospace industry, for both aircraft and equipment manufactures. "Certain manufacturing processes use products that are today recognized as being harmful," explains Pascal Frou, REACH Project Leader in Safran’s Industrial Division. "This is the case for surface treatments and coatings, which primarily use hexavalent chromium to combat corrosion. The assembly and machining processes are also concerned. In total, the regulation affects more than 25 processes and 35,000 part numbers, from the engines and landing gears to the electronic systems."
Meeting the set deadlines
Currently, 75% of the replacement solutions have been validated or are very close to being so. As provided for by the regulation, Temporary Authorizations2 have been requested for certain processes, to allow us the time to identify and implement alternatives. The most recent pieces of equipment produced by Safran have been designed and manufactured taking the REACH requirements into account. For example, the LEAP engine uses virtually no anti-corrosion processes based on hexavalent chromium. Equally, the landing gear for the Dassault Aviation Falcon 8X are treated with a zinc-nickel process rather than cadmium, a substance which is considered hazardous.
From laboratory to factory
To meet this challenge and ensure HSE aspects were taken into account upstream, Safran structured its approach as early as 2007. Very quickly, the requirements imposed by the Regulation were transformed into a source of innovation. Initially, this impacted the technical side, since identifying alternative solutions required a substantial research effort. "It is not simply a question of replacing the substances; you also need to redesign the anti-corrosion protection mechanisms," says Pascal Frou. "In fact, it provides a great opportunity to conduct extensive research with a level of resources that we did not have a few decades ago. “However, it was not just the research laboratory that was concerned, since before introducing a new technology, you obviously need to demonstrate that it is safe and plan its industrial deployment. This involves filing change files with airline certification authorities, and adapting the know-how and the tools in the Group’s factories, and those of its sub-contractors.
Internal and external synergies
The deadlines imposed by the Regulation drove Safran to set up a specific organizational system, which has also been a vector of innovation through its cross-functional structure. Internally, the Group’s Materials and Processes Department is responsible for the research work and project management. "Despite the wide variety of products and professions involved, the Group’s strong commitment made it possible to pool the expertise of the different companies concerned and this accelerated the work," says Pascal Frou. This philosophy of cooperation extended beyond the Group, to the GIFAS3 and the ASD4. It has already resulted in patents jointly-filed by Safran and other manufacturers. "We will maintain our efforts to replace hazardous substances as soon as possible," says Pascal Frou.
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Safran has developed a range of processes for protecting aluminum alloys without hexavalent chromium (Cr6) known as AOS-NG: anodic oxidation with chromic acid (based on hexavalent chromium, Cr6) is replaced by anodic oxidation with sulfuric acid, without Cr6, including for the finishing step (binding), which therefore no longer uses hexavalent chromium.
1) Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restriction of CHemicals
(2) For a period of 7 years
(3) French Aerospace Industries Group (Groupement des Industries Françaises Aéronautiques et Spatiales)
(4) Aerospace and Defense Industries Association of Europe
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