Our Strategic Investment in Arris

Our Strategic Investment in Arris

Since the 70s, as oil prices increased, many aircraft manufacturers increased their use of composites in airplanes in a bid to improve fuel efficiency, as composites typically weigh 20% less than aluminum for an equivalent function. Over the years, composite use reached 50% in twin-aisle commercial aircraft (e.g., Boeing 787), leading to significant weight reduction and fuel cost savings. Given that 90% of an aircraft’s carbon footprint is due to fuel burn, any weight and fuel savings are an important part of an airline’s decarbonisation efforts.

While the use of composites has proliferated in commercial twin-aisle aircraft, the same cannot be said for single-aisle aircraft, with composite use hovering at only 10–15%. This is because designs for single aisle planes have hitherto been largely derivative; and more importantly, the industrial complex that would have had to exist to manufacture composite parts for the much larger single-aisle aircraft market is not at that scale yet. In addition, one of the drawbacks to the use of composites is the issue of rust; aluminum, which is widely used in the aerospace industry but cannot be paired with carbon fiber composites due to galvanic corrosion when the two surfaces come into contact. As a result, even in the smallest of parts (e.g., fasteners and inserts), aircraft manufacturers have had to use the more expensive and heavier titanium metal in conjunction with composites.

Nonetheless, the increased use of composites is a secular trend in the aerospace industry, which we believe will scale significantly with the replacement cycle of single-aisle aircraft kicking off in the mid-2030s. These next generation single-aisle planes will be new platforms with much greater composite content rather than being derivative of previous designs. In the nearer term, the proliferation of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) will also require the extensive of use composites given weight constraints.

Arris’ unique offering

Here is where our interest in Arris comes in. Arris produces continuous filament reinforced thermoplastics (CFR-TP) with a unique micro-composite design and fabrication offering.

1) They produce their own proprietary formulations. While they are not the only purveyor of these polymers, there exists a lot of room in the IP landscape for them to innovate and develop new materials as well as new manufacturing processes of these material formats.

2) Arris is unique in that they are able to pair their proprietary materials with a design optimisation software that is married to the product format. This fit-for-purpose software package allows them to confidently design and analyse structures prior to investing in tooling and manufacturing equipment, thereby helping customers de-risk the development process.

3) This combined design and fabrication offering is their most valuable competency. By aligning the continuous fibers in the direction of principal stresses, Arris is able to design and manufacture micro-structures that have the highest possible strength-to-weight and stiffness-to-weight ratios. This leads to lighter and more robust designs compared to metallics.

Composites have not made it to production in microstructure applications because the material formats used traditionally are short fiber and discontinuous fiber; these products cannot take load well and suffer from creep. Therefore, in subscale structures like fasteners and inserts mentioned above, the industry has always defaulted to metallics. One of our first collaborations with Arris will thus involve fabricating performant composite subscale structures that can effectively displace the use of heavier metallics. We expect this to be the first of many joint developments of innovative composite products that will elevate our aerospace solution offering.

Julia Taylor
Vice President, Strategic Investments,
North America, ST Engineering Ventures