Airlines and other aircraft operators will need about $220 million in structural core materials by 2021, according to the consultancy MarketsandMarkets. That represents more than 50% growth over 2016’s $142 million demand.

The increase is due chiefly to the drive for lighter aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. Structural core materials are often sandwiched between composite sheets that increase panel stiffness in aircraft interiors. These light core materials are chiefly made of honeycomb, foam and balsa wood.

Hexcel is a highly diversified aerospace manufacturer that produces metal, composite, plastic and other materials. The company also makes honeycomb core materials, explains Imad Atallah, the core group product manager.

He says Hexcel expects the total market for honeycomb within interiors to grow over the next decade, but only at the same rate as aircraft build rates,  or 3-5% per year. Nevertheless, Hexcel has expanded its honeycomb-core capacity.

During the last three years, the company expanded honeycomb manufacturing capacity in Casa Grande, Arizona, and at Duxford in the UK. Hexcel expects to continue investing in the next three years to support increasing demand and to both improve and optimize its manufacturing processes.

Atallah notes that Hexcel now has more than 50 years of experience in honeycomb; its products use a variety of material substrates, both metallic and non-metallic, and serve special applications in commercial aviation, military aviation and aerospace.

Hexcel honeycomb sheets and engineered core drop-in parts are widely used for secondary structures and interiors in commercial aircraft, including the Boeing 747-8 and 787 and Airbus A350. For example, its HexWeb engineered core packages are used extensively in leading and trailing edges and ailerons of the A350 wing. The company’s honeycombs also are included in major engine components such as the nacelles and thrust reversers of the GEnx-2B on 747-8s.

Atallah says Hexcel has led innovation in honeycombs for structural, acoustic and thermal applications, adding:  “Depth and experience in honeycomb has allowed Hexcel to provide innovative solutions to customers to address structural and weight considerations, as well as integrating structural properties with acoustic benefits in nacelle applications.”