Safran consolidates its research into ceramic matrix composites
The recent inauguration of Safran Ceramics, a research center devoted to ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), underlines the Group's desire to develop its expertise concerning these materials, whose properties are particularly interesting for the aerospace sector.
"Safran first started working on CMCs back in the 1970s. Today, this new center will give the Group the means to step up innovation in this field," says Marc Montaudon, Head of Safran Ceramics center which is based in Le Haillan, near Bordeaux.
Reducing fuel consumption
Being both resistant to high temperatures and extremely lightweight, CMCs are already used in several of the Group's industrial applications. Carbon-based composites have been used by Safran Landing Systems since the 1980s to produce brake discs for commercial and military aircraft. They are also used in the production of rocket engines, in particular those used on Ariane1 launchers, and to manufacture the nozzles for the Rafale. Safran Ceramics develops several families of materials, notably silicon-carbide matrix materials for internal engine parts and oxide-based materials for turbojet-engine afterbodies. "The great advantage of CMCs is that they reduce the amount of kerosene consumed by the engines," explains Marc Montaudon. "They can withstand much higher operating temperatures than current alloys and do not need cooling and are much lighter. It is estimated that an engine that has had as many of its many metal parts as possible replaced by equivalent CMC parts could consume between 5 and 6% less fuel."
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Teams at the cutting edge of technology
To achieve this objective, Safran Ceramics employs around 100 high-level engineers and researchers and has around 200 different pieces of cutting-edge equipment. Some, such as the chemical-reaction furnaces and the tools for observing and characterizing the materials, are the only ones of their kind in the world. "Above and beyond these material resources, the center's real strength is its multidisciplinary teams," says Marc Montaudon. "We have specialists in chemistry, fibers, matrices, surface treatments and so on. Not to mention a design office in charge of designing the parts, and production engineers to define made-to-measure equipment."
From 2021 onwards
Safran Ceramics is focusing on integrating CMCs into commercial and military aircraft propulsion systems and Safran helicopter engines. The center is also conducting research into next-generation brake discs and is providing support to the ArianeGroup's R&T to improve the performance of CMCs used in space launchers. "Our aim is to provide the Group's companies with proven, "off-the-shelf" technologies, i. e. technologies that are ready to be industrialized, which could well be possible as early as 2021 for aeronautical applications," concludes Marc Montaudon.
1 Ariane space launchers are developed and produced by ArianeGroup, a company co-owned by Safran and Airbus.
Ceramic matrix composites (CMCs)
These are ceramics reinforced with ceramic fibers that remove their natural fragility. These materials have advantages over the metal alloys currently usually used in the aerospace industry due to their resistance to high temperatures, their lightness and their mechanical resistance. There are different types of CMCs based on the chemical nature of their matrix and the reinforcements used: CMCs based on carbon, silicon carbide or oxides.
- © Vincent Le Gallic