A larger, traveling middle class has created worldwide demand for more seating space, and therefore for more airplanes, and that has led to greater growth opportunities for the Aerospace and Aircraft Maintenance Division.
The business (recently elevated to division status) is experiencing double-digit growth.
“Over the past several years, 3M has taken a giant leap toward having a much more substantial aerospace business,” explained Denise Rutherford, vice president and general manager, Aerospace and Aircraft Maintenance Division. “We now provide world-class bonding and sealing solutions, surface protection and enhancement, and thermal acoustic systems used throughout aircraft and adjacent market applications, all to enable our customers to make lighter, safer, quieter vehicles, constructed faster. We have strengthened our capabilities to capture new business in this expanding market. Our global team is energized — ready for take-off and the journey ahead of us.”
Aerospace and Aircraft Maintenance has been growing significantly in the past few years and has made several acquisitions, positioning the business for the future. In 2011, 3M acquired Advanced Chemistry and Technology (AC TECH), a manufacturer of quick-cure, lightweight polysulfide sealants for aerospace applications. In 2010, the E-A-R™ Specialty Composites business, which had been acquired by 3M in 2008 as part of its purchase of Aearo Technologies, moved to Aerospace and Aircraft Maintenance. Also in 2010, the business completed its acquisition of MTI PolyFab Inc., a Canadian manufacturer of thermal and acoustic insulation systems for aircraft.
These acquisitions, combined with 3M technologies and existing products, have enabled the division to create a product and solutions portfolio that enables manufacturers to construct lighter, safer, quieter aircraft — and to do so in less time.
“This addresses the key pain points of our customers as they work to meet demand by building aircraft faster, whilst building them lighter for greater fuel efficiency and distance traveling capability,” Sean McAfee, sales and marketing manager explained. “In addition, we are proud that 3M Aerospace has developed a range of new solutions in tune with the industry drive toward greater regulation on materials, to make them safer for worker handling and for the environment. Our quiet-enabling portfolio of products for aircraft manufacturers enables them, in turn, to offer a comfort-enhanced flying experience for passengers.”
Lighter aircraft in less time
Higher fuel prices drive the need for more-fuel-efficient commercial and regional aircraft. One way to decrease fuel consumption is to reduce the weight of the aircraft. 3M has solutions to help aircraft manufacturers construct airplanes that are lighter.
For example, sealants used in the manufacturing process to seal critical areas — such as the fuel tanks, fuselage and access doors — and to help protect against corrosion can add up to 3,000 pounds on a single aircraft. With 3M™ Aerospace Sealants (formerly AC TECH), that weight can be reduced. These sealants are 30 percent lighter than others, and — another benefit — they cure six to 10 times faster. In fact, 3M aerospace sealants have helped one 3M customer ramp up its monthly aircraft production by 25 percent.
3M™ Scotch-Weld™ Low Density Void Fillers are another way to speed up production. Scotch-Weld low density void fillers are structural compound adhesives used in applications in the aircraft interior, such as attaching a handle to a composite material. Scotch-Weld void fillers can be pumped, and they cure quickly. McAfee said that suppliers can produce parts up to 75 percent faster than before by using the new Scotch-Weld low density void fillers.
Helping protect against corrosion
Corrosion of U.S. aircraft is estimated to cost $2.2 billion annually, according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. Moreover, the design and type of materials used to repair and upgrade airplanes can make a difference in preventing corrosion-related failures.
New Wet Area Protection solutions from 3M include 3M™ Polyurethane Protective Tape 8657DL and 3M™ Polyurethane Protective Tape 8658DL, to lock out fluids and moisture in aircraft interior areas — for example, in lavatories, galleys and doorways — which are naturally prone to moisture problems. These protective tapes prevent fluids from migrating to the flooring substructure, preventing corrosion beneath the floorboards, and thus reducing maintenance costs and enabling safer aircraft.
A quieter aircraft cabin
Thermal and acoustic insulation keeps noise down and improves the quality of the ride. And a more comfortable interior is a key differentiator. Products brought to 3M by the acquisition of MTI Polyfab and E-A-R Specialty Composites — now 3M Thermal Acoustic Systems — provide solutions for reducing airborne and structure-borne noise, without adding excessive weight. Customized ship sets and kits are engineered and manufactured for each aircraft.
Together, these 3M solutions are helping manufacturers make lighter, safer, quieter aircraft at a faster pace.
At the same time, Aerospace and Aircraft Maintenance is offering specialized solutions.
One example is the 3M™ Aviation Window Restoration System by Clearfix™ Aerospace. This system, using a catalyzed UV polish and a catalyzed UV coating, helps to restore and protect the windows of military helicopters. Acrylic windows that become hazed and scratched can significantly reduce visibility.
Until now, that meant the windows needed to be replaced. With this product, the restoration process can be completed in 10 to 15 minutes per window, with the windows in place. This saves a considerable amount of time and money, and enables the helicopters to return to mission-ready status faster.