On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger’s fateful flight ended due to a failed o-ring seal. Although laymen might see it simply as a seal, o-rings are crucial to the functionality of fuel systems, hydraulic systems, and braking and landing gear systems in space shuttles and other aircraft.
As a result of the doomed Challenger mission, research and advancements in rubber o-rings and sealing devices intensified. Now, we have seals that offer increased resistance to ozone and sunlight, such as EPMD, Nitrile and Mil-Spec o-rings. The fact that one series of events could lead to advancements and new trends in the industry is fascinating, particularly when you consider how far aerospace engineering has come in such a short time.
With that same eye toward the future, here are a few manufacturing trends to look out for in the coming year.
Electric and hybrid engines
According to one industry outlook, 2022 and beyond will focus on innovative technologies and solutions to drive decarbonization. These involve utilizing fewer fossil fuels and more renewable energy to keep flights moving, both in the commercial and air freight segments.
While environmentally conscious manufacturing is still somewhat new territory, world markets (and therefore, political agendas) are leaning toward electric and hybrid cars. The same is happening in the aerospace industry, making integrated electric propulsion systems, fly-by-wire avionics and actuators all current hot topics. These new and integrated systems require reimagining the miscellaneous parts that keep them running efficiently in extreme environments.
Main deck freighter conversions
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of travel, with domestic air travel being hit the hardest. When the first lockdowns occurred, the travel and service industries struggled, including airlines and the manufacturers who supplied them. The worst part was that it hit both industries quickly. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation released statistics showing that total commercial flight departures fell from 218,346 in mid-March 2020, to 58,113 in just six weeks.
Yet one side of the industry has been performing better than expected: dedicated freighters. In fact, the surge in demand for air freight operations has resulted in main-deck freighter conversions used to cash in on the trend. While supply chain woes still haunt this shipping industry in a post-COVID world, the evolution of o-rings, grommets and other specialized sealing devices used for such conversions continues into 2022 and beyond
Space market growth
Another trend to watch in the aerospace manufacturing sphere is a continued focus on innovation in space travel. In particular, there is growing attention toward the launch industry, as well as next-gen satellite technology with advanced Earth observation features. Moving forward, space travel and research will continue to be increasingly dependent on innovative products that perform well in extreme temperatures, environments and exposure to radiation.
From new, stronger materials to an eye toward the future of our economy, aerospace engineering and manufacturing is never a static process. It remains to be seen what exciting changes 2022 will bring about in the industry, but the trends mentioned above all point to one common theme: innovation. It is that continued innovation that will see the industry through the pandemic and ensure that the tools are there to perform the cutting-edge research required to advance aerospace and defense engineering into the next decade.