Cost of Composites: a Qualitative Discussion

Considering that cost is the most important aspect of an airframe structure (along with the weight), one would expect it to be among the best defined, most studied and most optimized quantities in a design. Unfortunately, it remains one of the least understood and ill-defined aspects of a structure. There are many reasons for this inconsistency, some of which are: (a) cost data for different fabrication processes and types of parts are proprietary and only indirect or comparative values are usually released; (b) there seems to be no well-defined reliable method to relate design properties such as geometry and complexity to the cost of the resulting structure; (c) different companies have different methods of bookkeeping the cost and it is hard to make comparisons without knowing these differences (e.g. the cost of the autoclave can be apportioned to the number of parts being cured at any given time or it may be accounted for as an overhead cost, included in the total overhead cost structure of the entire factory); (d) learning curve effects, which may or may not be included in the cost figures reported, tend to confuse the situation especially since different companies use different production run sizes in their calculations.

These issues are common to all types of manufacturing technologies and not just the aerospace sector. In the case of composites, the situation is further complicated by the relative novelty of the materials and ...

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