How Arconic is Shaping the Future Skins of Flying Cars

An idealized version of how Arconic envisions flying cars of the future.
An idealized version of how Arconic envisions flying cars of the future.

In the automobile world, common buyers are focused on the look and drive of the car. How it presents and how it accelerates are typically the most important factors. Often we believe these factors to be driven by the chassis design and color, or the power and efficiency of the engine. Rare is the person that thinks about the materials used to build the chassis or the engine or any other component.

So is not the case with Arconic, a manufacturing company that specializes in material development for industries spanning from aerospace to automotive. Having split from Alocoa in 2016, Arconic hopes to shape the future by means of manufacturing practices and innovative material developments. One of their target enterprises is the lofty goal of a flying car, as envisioned in the above picture and below video.

Though far from this idealized future, Sherri McCleary, a chief materials scientist at Arconic, believes one of the barriers in achieving this future is material development.

In Sherri’s line of work, several advances have already been made that could propel our four-wheeled vehicles up into the sky. With over a century of experience as a leader in aluminum, Arconic is no stranger to this metal. Many of their engineers envision future cars to have an ultra-lightweight, next generation aluminum-lithium structure. Stronger and lighter than conventional alloys, aluminum-lithium will help to reduce vehicle weight and increase energy efficiency.

Advanced experience with aluminum has led to the development of the Arconic A951 bonding technology. Already being used by vehicles today, A951 allows aluminum to easily bond to itself or other materials. This gives aluminum strength and safety not otherwise seen before while still allowing a lower density material, a factor that will be instrumental in flying car design.

Arconic has shaped aluminum in the manufacturing realm, too. Their mircromill technology turns aluminum from liquid to solid in a matter of minutes, while traditional rolling took approximately twenty days. Even better, the technology alters the microstructure of aluminum, making it 30% stronger and 40% more formable. With the bizarre and sleek designs of futuristic cars visionaries dream up, formability will be necessary to achieve these visions.

As Arconic expands, they are beginning to look at material maps for titanium and nickel, two other metals that are contributory in the aerospace and automotive industries. Titanium-aluminide is being considered for flying vehicle propulsion components. Fifty percent lighter than the super-alloy components titanium-aluminide will replace, this metal will enable greater fuel efficiency. Because flying car engines will need to be more on par with jet engines given their required thrust to lift the car and its passengers off the ground, greater fuel efficiency will be absolutely required.

Beyond exploring the properties materials offer raw, Sherri and other engineers at Arconic have a competency in engineering surfaces. This encompasses changing the surface versus the bulk material as a whole. One such example of this are riblets, as seen in the video below. Based on the skin of sharks, riblets are an innovative way to design the surface of aircraft, allowing improved aerodynamics.

Though consumers will continue to focus on engine horsepower and aerodynamic shape, Arconic can be counted on to propel the material world of automation forward on the road and, hopefully, into the sky.

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