Airbus is working on the feasibility of replacing the chemical milling of complex aluminium panels of aircraft fuselage with a more environmentally-friendly mechanical process.
The evaluations are being carried out in a project called GAP (Green Advanced Panels) in partnership with Dufieux Industrie - a company specialised in the design and manufacture of machines tools. This effort is part of the European Unionâ€™s LIFE programme (L'Instrument Financier de l'Environnement), a financial instrument for the environment and nature.
Milling is used on areas of aircraft panels to make them as lightweight as possible, and up to now only chemical milling has been appropriate for those complex-shape panels of nose fuselage and aft fuselage panels (so called "3D" panels). With the chemical process, areas not to be milled are masked off, and the panel is processed in a sodium hydroxide bath. While chemical milling is recognized today as a "best available technology" by European environmental authorities, it does create slurries and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that require treatment and disposal.
Airbus has been seeking alternative milling solutions in the framework of its environmental policy and ISO 14001 certification - as well as to reduce the production costs for aircraft panels.
Mechanical milling significantly lowers the environmental pollution impact, as aluminium shavings chips are the only by-product of this process - and they can be 100 percent recycled.
In addition, operating costs for a mechanically-milled panel is reduced by 50 percent when compared to one that has been chemically milled. This significant reduction results from combination of lower man-hours for the production process and the elimination of environmental costs involved in chemical milling.