Q&A with Dianne Chong
AeroDef Manufacturing & Composites Manufacturing 2016
Dianne Chong spent nearly 30 years at McDonnell Douglas and The Boeing Company before retiring in 2015 as the vice president of materials, manufacturing, structures and support at Boeing. During her career, Chong provided support to all major defense and commercial programs and has been a functional department head in materials and processes, liaison and process control.
Chong serves on the executive committee for the AeroDef Conference and Exhibition. She recently provided some insights on the challenges and trends in aerospace and defense manufacturing.
Q1. What would you say are the three biggest challenges affecting aerospace and defense manufacturing today? How is the industry addressing these?
A1. I feel the biggest challenges are staying current with developing technologies, ability to transition technologies to production in a timely way and utilization of all technologies in a cost-effective way.
However, these challenges are not unique to the aerospace industry. The industry deals with the research and development of these technologies in multiple ways. They have their own R&D groups, including subsidiaries investigating these. They partner with suppliers, educational institutions, and partners as well.
Q2. Over the past few years we’ve heard about the use of composites and advanced materials in aerospace design, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 XWB. What are the benefits of today’s advanced materials and where do you see the industry going in the future as it relates to materials?
A2. The requirements of the products and platforms will always drive technology development in all areas. In the aerospace industry, as with other industries, one of the requirements is decreasing weight while maintaining technical integrity. Aerospace structural materials development is focused on improvements in strength, modulus and durability while decreasing weight. Our knowledge of – and ability to tailor – advanced materials will allow us to optimize these properties and improve life-cycle costs associated with these products.
Q3. Boeing has announced a new microlattice metal they describe as an "open cellular polymer structure" and say is actually lighter than air. What is the actual viability of materials such as this for practical use? Could we see planes which are lighter than air in the future?
A3. The viability of any materials that are used is dependent on the ability to cost-effectively manufacture parts and assemblies from these materials. A lot more development would be required to ensure that parts made with an open cellular structure to understand what could be fabricated, the behavior of these parts in use, and how cost-effective it would be to use this technology. There could be some limitations in certain areas of the platforms that would not allow the use of this technology. However, the possibility of using this for as much of the platform as possible to lighten structure does exist.
Q4. The product life of airplanes tends to be measured in decades versus years. In what ways are advanced materials affecting that lifespan?
A4. The desire to extend the use of aerospace products has always existed. The lifetime of any product is estimated in years, but is actually determined by usage hours, conditions of usage, and maintenance. Understanding these factors allows us to target the development of advanced materials that can provide extended product life-cycles.
Q5. Another hot topic we hear about is 3D printing, or additive manufacturing. How is this used in the aerospace industry? Do you think we will ever see a completely 3D printed plane?
A5. I think that all industries are exploring and learning how 3-D printing can help them. Areas of interest are using the technology to print a variety of materials to provide cost-effective ways of fabricating parts and the identification of how the technology can be used for current materials and parts. The ability to print an entire plane would depend on how well the technology can be adapted for use with a variety of materials. The developments that have been made in other industries can contribute to the understanding of how we can apply this to very large structures.
Q6. You have an extensive background in metallurgical engineering; how do you see the materials challenge for additive manufacturing as it applies to aerospace
A6. There is a lot of work being done at various companies (aerospace and non-aerospace), universities, and government agencies that investigates how additive manufacturing can be applied to a broad range of materials. AM does offer opportunities to produce parts from different alloys than those currently used. However, more research is needed to understand how producible the process in the production of these parts. Work also needs to be done on the stability of the parts during and post-fabrication processing or once in use.
Q7. For nearly 30 years you’ve been an engineer with both McDonnell Douglas and Boeing, what would you say to other women who may be interested in the engineering field?
A7. I would encourage them to pursue careers in engineering and to learn as much as they can about what engineers do in various jobs and industry, and why they like engineering. They can do this by speaking to people in the field or exploring websites/blogs of engineers. They can also learn a lot about occupations through various technical societies such as SME. They should also speak to female engineers as much as possible to have them answer questions about work-life balance, raising families, and any challenges that are unique to women in a profession that is still male-dominated.
Q8. You sit on the Executive Committee for the AeroDef Manufacturing with Composites Manufacturing event. How does this event further support and advance manufacturing for the aerospace and defense manufacturing markets?
A8. This event provides information and access to suppliers that are unique to the aerospace industry. Because of the focus on aerospace manufacturing, representatives from the industry can easily access targeted information and network with multiple contractors and suppliers at a single venue.
About AeroDef Manufacturing
AeroDef Manufacturing is a leading technical conference and exposition for the aerospace and defense manufacturing industry. Produced by SME, in partnership with industry OEMs, its mission is to foster innovation across the extended enterprise to reduce costs, expedite production times and maintain U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. Learn more at aerodefevent.com.