A good way to save money
Every woman knows that unblemished skin is essential to looking good.
In modern vehicle aerodynamics, not only does a smooth skin look good, but it can also save large amounts of money for the owner or operator.
The aviation industry has been aware of the importance of a smooth finish for many years, and has developed many ways of reducing skin friction. Flush rivets and streamlined fairings go a long way to increasing achievable airspeed and reducing drag (and therefore fuel burn).
The latest generation of transport aircraft now increasingly use composite materials such as carbon fibre to construct airframe components. Such materials offer two main advantages – a high strength to weight ratio, combined with the ability to be joined using high technology adhesives rather than rivets.
However, an aircraft in line service becomes dirty over time, and the dirt particles accumulate to cause a breakdown in the airflow over the wing surface, thus increasing drag. Paint finishes also start to blemish and break down, causing further erosion of the erstwhile smooth finish.
This is where the relatively new science of Nanotechnology offers significant improvements to aerodynamic performance.
Nanotechnology is defined as “The manipulation of matter at an atomic or molecular level.” The standard unit of measurement is the nanometre, which is defined as being one billionth of a metre. To put this into context, an atom of Helium measures about 0.1 nanometres!
Developments in this field have enabled the production of commercially available coatings designed to bond to a vehicle structure, forming a perfectly smooth coating which prevents the accumulation of dirt and debris and helps to shed water, and protect paintwork.
The process for applying the nano-emulsion is simple.
Firstly, the airframe is thoroughly cleaned, and then treated with an acidic solution which has the effect of positively polarising the surface. This enables the nano-emulsion to completely bond with the structure.
The final stage is applying the coating itself. Once cured, the coating is fully bonded to the surface.
The fully cured coating is extremely thin – 100 times thinner than a human hair, and the total weight of the treatment adds just four ounces (113g) to the weight of the aircraft.
It is estimated that a treated aircraft will return a fuel saving of somewhere between 1% and 2%!
A number of airlines have been quick to evaluate these products. In 2011, EasyJet, grasped the opportunity to run trials, and had eight of their aircraft treated with the nano coating.
A carrier such as EasyJet’s fuel bill will represent about 40% of its total costs, and be in the region of £750,000,000 ($1,185,000,000) per year. A 1.5% saving on this figure is a massive £11.25 Million per year. As fuel prices only ever go up, these figures are just a start.
There are also additional hidden savings, as treated aircraft will need washing and repainting less frequently.
Another significant saving may be made on the amount of green taxes incurred by the operator. In Europe, these taxes are quite high, and a drop in fuel burn results in a proportional reduction in greenhouse gases.
Recently, British Airways announced that they are conducting a trial on a Boeing B777-200, and is hoping to see cost saving in excess of £100,000 in the year long evaluation.
This technology is not just limited to aircraft operators. The coating is equally effective in a marine environment, and coating ship hulls will improve hydrodynamic qualities.
Road vehicles can also benefit from improvements to their aerodynamics and haulage operators with a large fleet may well be able to enjoy cost savings as well.
So our womenfolk were right all along. Smooth is essential!