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Boeing's Composites, Compressors & Pumps

Thu, 09/10/2009 - 11:36am
by Luke Simpson, Associate Editor, Chem.Info

Bonjour!

This week’s column comes from about 30,000 feet above Quebec, on my way home after three glorious days in Montreal for the Labor Day weekend.

Perfect weather, two days of great music on the city’s waterfront and some interesting food (beef tartare — basically a raw hamburger patty but surprisingly good) was exactly what the doctor ordered, and I’m returning to Chem.Info HQ refreshed and ready to cover the products and technologies that are making a difference in the processing industry.

But before we get back to business, I think this is an appropriate time to talk about my fascination with planes. I don’t sit at the end of the runway at Madison airport watching the planes come in, but I’m always reading about the different top speeds, seating configurations and maximum ranges of the various commercial airliners.

At the moment I’m on a dual-engine Embraer ERJ, which seats about 50 people. Due to the engines being mounted right at the back of the fuselage, it’s a surprisingly quiet ride, and manages a top speed of 518 mph, only slightly less than the top speed of 544 mph for the much larger Boeing 737s.

It has been interesting watching Boeing and Airbus embark on different strategies for advancing air travel. Airbus recently released the A380, the world’s largest commercial jet designed to carry passengers quickly, quietly and slightly more efficiently than the Boeing 747s, which have long dominated the high density routes connecting the world’s major cities.

The A380 was released at the end of 2007 amid much fanfare, with Qantas being one of the first airlines to receive the jet, putting it straight to work on the Melbourne to Los Angeles route. So when I was back in Australia for a wedding in March, I specifically organized to fly back to the U.S. on the new plane — and to be honest it was a bit of a disappointment.

Yes, it was a smooth and quiet flight, but not much more so than the older 747s. If I was willing to pay around $15,000 for the flight I could have been in a suite, complete with bed and flat screen TV. Unfortunately, reality dictated that I be back in the cheap seats, which were just as uncomfortable and cramped for my 6’1” frame.

Boeing on the other hand is taking a much bigger risk with their next-generation aircraft. The name of the game for the Seattle-based manufacturer is weight — or a lack thereof — to create a lighter, more efficient plane using advanced composite materials. After numerous delays and setbacks, the 787 is due for its first test flight later this year.

It won’t be as big as the A380, but it will use 20 percent less fuel than similarly sized aircraft, while increased cabin pressure and the ability to have more humid cabin air (due to less corrosive materials) will add to passenger comfort.

Besides the lighter weight of the aircraft, increased efficiency in the 787 will result from a new electrical system, which replaces hydraulic power sources with electrically powered compressors and pumps. These types of technological advancements are interesting because they will inevitably trickle down into applications that affect our day-to-day lives and businesses. Who in the processing industry doesn’t want stronger and lighter materials, as well as more efficient compressors and pumps?

In the meantime, if you can just convince the boss to install suites and flat screens around the plant, you’ll be working in first class comfort without the delays.

Have you flown on the A380? If so, what did you think? Drop me a line at luke.simpson@advantagemedia.com.

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