Leonardo’s products draw on a culture of technology based on deeply-rooted knowledge of materials and their uses developed over many years, together with a strong focus on the future. The company’s technological know-how ranges from processes for working with basic materials through to design of the most advanced applications in a variety of fields: platforms on land and in space, aerostructures, and electro-magnetic applications for microwave systems (radar) and for low observability infrared (IR) and radar systems.

Leonardo is developing new materials – primarily composites – and associated production processes to improve their mechanical properties for aeronautical applications and to reduce production costs. The company is committed to researching materials and multi-functional structures combining mechanical properties, system functions and specific physical, chemical and mechanical properties. Materials research programmes involving promising new technologies are developed to assess their application to new products, especially in the field of avionics.

The new frontier of research into composite materials is represented by materials with a thermoplastic matrix – not only to be used in the construction of the internal parts and secondary structures of aircraft, but extending to their use in primary structures (wings and fuselage). The principal benefits these materials offer over conventional thermosetting materials are the possibility to melt and reshape them repeatedly, lower cost, and greater quality and reproducibility in production.

Leonardo has established expertise in manufacturing processes (calendering, extrusion, forging, mechanical or chemical milling, drilling), heat treatments and surface treatments (such as anodic oxidation and painting), with a special focus on reducing the environmental impact of surface treatments and painting by eliminating harmful substances (REACh – Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals). The company dedicates significant research to automation of various phases of the production process, such as stratification, curing in the autoclave, control, finishing and assembly.

This area is concerned with the study and development of:

  • Aerospace and defence applications for graphene (such as low radar observability, ballistic defence, thermal operation)
  • Meta-materials and meta-surfaces used for engineering the material’s electromagnetic response (optics, RF), for miniaturisation of microwave components and management of the propagation of radiation emitted by radar antennas and for communications
  • New composite materials offering improved chemical, physical and mechanical properties and greater workability, explored for use in aircraft and aerospace applications
  • New materials that could be used in applications requiring high-volume production, such as additive production and injection moulding.

The Leonardo Labs tasked with developing skills in the field of materials across all business areas are: