Modern aircraft production: Of rivets and transport robots

Drilling robot accelerate and improve production

Drilling robot accelerates and improves production

Airbus manufactures the landing flaps of the worldwide bestsellers A330 and A350 in Bremen. Correspondingly, the volume of work for the new colleague is huge: the stationary robot drills up to 5,000 rivet holes per day. And it gets better: in the future, an electromagnetic spindle will be used that drills more finely with alternating feed movements than was possible with previous manual and semi-automated processes. The unwanted drilling chips that occur in the process are such small particles that they can be completely extracted by suction.

And it goes fast, too: the fully automated process reduces the machining time for titanium components by about half. In addition, the new drilling technology generates less heat. The consequence: tools wear less and the material used is less stressed. The maintenance effort for the electromagnetic spindle is practically zero.

Autonomous transport robot in operation

In addition to the new drilling robot, Airbus in Bremen is now also using an autonomous transport robot. It supplies the workers at the landing flaps with small tools and consumable parts in every situation. And thanks to a navigation system, Airbus Bremen gave it complete freedom of movement in the production hall.

Just the beginning

The innovative drilling technology was funded by the German government as part of the Eitec aviation research project and worked on as part of an R&T project at Airbus. Following its successful deployment in Bremen, the technology will also be used at other Airbus locations and for other aircraft parts in the future.

The first of its kind

edm aerotec GmbH has developed and launched an ultralight helicopter that establishes a completely new helicopter class

CoAX 2D is the somewhat bulky name of the new helicopter. It offers space for two people and weighs just 280 kilograms. This makes it one of the ultralight aircraft, not allowed to weigh more than 472 kilograms. So far, this category only includes motorized aircraft, gliders and gyrocopters, in which the rotors are driven exclusively by the airstream and which require a runway to take off.

Innovative design with decisive advantages

The newly developed helicopter from edm aerotec is establishing a completely new class of ultralight helicopters. It is the first ultralight helicopter certified in Germany whose rotors are powered by an engine and which can take off and land vertically. Its development and approval were driven forward by the company in close consultation with the German Federal Aviation Office (LBA) and the German Ultralight Aircraft Association (DULV).

The CoAX 2D looks different from the first glance: the main rotor consists of two rotor planes arranged one above the other, each consisting of two rotor blades rotating in opposite directions. This means there's no need for a tail rotor. This novel configuration has significant advantages. The absence of the tail rotor reduces noise by 80 percent. In addition, the entire engine power is devoted to the main rotor, which, compared to conventional helicopters, results in 30 percent more power for the main rotor and correspondingly greater lift. In addition, operation becomes easier for the pilot, as the tail rotor usually compensates for the torque of the main rotor, and the pilot has to control it additionally. This in turn saves time and money in pilot training. And the costs for maintenance and repair are also many times lower.

From Thuringia to the world

The application possibilities are manifold. The new helicopter is ideal for pilot training. In addition, it can be used for simple transport or in the agricultural sector for the distribution of pesticides, for example.

The new helicopter received German type certification in 2017. For its unique design, it was awarded the German Aviation Innovation Prize in 2018, among other prizes. And the first flight schools in Germany are now training pilots with the new helicopter. One model each was also delivered to China and Japan. Global sales are to be further boosted in 2019.

Carbon fiber 4.0 for aircraft parts

With Fiber Patch Placement (FPP) technology small and complex components can be produced from carbon fiber using robots

Even today, components with large surface areas such as carbon fiber wings and fuselage parts can be manufactured in series by robots. But automation has its limits, especially when parts with complex shapes are to be manufactured.

Carbon fiber behaves like fabric

The crux of the light carbon-fiber fabrics: they are a textile material – like fabric from which clothing is sewn. Imagine covering the surface of a sphere with a piece of fabric – a complex task that requires overlaps and cuts. However, this is precisely what must be achieved if, for example, aircraft windows, engine sections or bent tubes are to be made of carbon fiber.

Up to now, engineers have manually put the thin carbon-fiber layers in the correct arrangement and thus formed the components. This takes a long time, often several hours for each individual component. Profitable production in high quantities is not possible this way. This is aggravated by the fact that the increasing demand in air traffic makes higher production rates necessary – this can only be achieved with automated processes.

 

Robots build aircraft parts

Cevotec has now achieved the impossible. With its Fiber Patch Placement (FPP) technology, the start-up company has developed and launched a process on the market with which even small, complex components can be produced from carbon fiber using robots. Imagine it this way: The material made of carbon fiber is rolled up like packing tape. A robot cuts small pieces – so-called patches – from this tape. The size of the patches is adapted to the component size and its complexity. A robot arm then deposits the patches and forms components that an engineer has previously designed on a computer. The engineers can design the parts and calculate the optimal arrangement of the patches using a specially developed software. The software also programs the robot movements for the subsequent production process.

The advantages are considerable. Compared to manual production, the process saves up to 50 percent of carbon-fiber material. Thanks to extensive sensor technology and the associated process control, the necessary quality controls are also carried out during the manufacturing process – so complex follow-up controls are greatly reduced or eliminated. And the time for production is reduced many times over. Moreover, the process makes it possible to mix different materials and to work with adhesive films or copper wire, for example. Aircraft parts can thus often be manufactured in a single production step.

Development continues

The Cevotec team has been working on the new process since 2014. It was supported by the German government’s EXIST program. The first industrial plant was introduced to the market in 2017. Cevotec is currently working closely with leading air carriers to develop new manufacturing processes and components that will be launched in just a few years.

Autonomous all-rounder

The newly developed ZALamander robot from the Hamburg ZAL (©: ZAL_DReinhardt)

One meter wide, 50 centimeters high. Four wheels that allow navigation in all directions. A rectangular box reminiscent of a suitcase. This is what the aviation robot of the future, which the engineers at ZAL GmbH named ZALamander, looks like. Its unimpressive appearance must not obscure what the device will achieve one day. It is still primarily an experimental platform on the basis of which new functionalities are tested and feasibility studies carried out.

All in one

The new robot is a true all-rounder. It can transport materials to the workplace, monitor safety zones and identify risks, carry out quality checks in production or during maintenance, and, in the future, perform work itself using an additional robot arm. Aircraft manufacturers currently use their own individual robots for all these different steps – or carry them out manually. The robot developed by ZAL GmbH is suitable for all of these tasks.

ZALamander owes this versatility to the cooperation in a yet-unique team. Experts from the fields of construction and robotics participated in the development, as did experts on the subjects of artificial intelligence and 3D printing. This means that all areas are taken into consideration in tests and studies – an essential basis for developing the mobile all-rounder.

Practical test pending

A first use in practice is already being planned. Airbus would like to use the robot for safety purposes. The experts at ZAL GmbH are currently working with colleagues from the Airbus R&T department Assembly Innovation to develop a concept for the deployment of the security robot: Very heavy aircraft components are moved with cranes during production. In the future, the new robot is to travel underneath a crane during such transport and monitor the safety area there. If it detects people who are there in contravention of safety regulations, it sounds the alarm. The first tests for this and other applications are already taking place.

The robot can be seen at the ZAL Innovation Days (https://zal-innovationdays.aero/), which will be held on February 27 and 28 on the topic "Robotics & Advanced Automation." With ZALamander, the ZAL in Hamburg once again proves that it is a prime example of successful cooperation between state and private sponsors and develops groundbreaking aviation technologies throughout Europe.

 

Old technology rediscovered

A model of the composite cycle engine of Bauhaus Luftfahrt

Although they are much heavier, piston engines work much more efficiently. In the closed piston chamber, pressures and temperatures are reached that are not possible in turbofans. Bauhaus Luftfahrt wants to combine these efficiency advantages of piston engines with the weight advantages of turbo engine – with a clear vision: to meet the climate protection targets of Flightpath 2050. The EU Commission wants to reduce CO2 emissions from European aviation by 75 percent by 2050 compared to 2000.

The composite cycle engine from Bauhaus Luftfahrt offers previously unimagined savings potentials.

Increasing the efficiency of engines

The new concept is called a composite cycle engine. From the outside, the engine is reminiscent of a conventional turbofan. The clever thing is found inside. There, the high-pressure part of the engine is replaced by a piston system. This results in extreme pressure and temperature conditions, which enable significantly higher efficiency for the engine.

The numbers are impressive: the composite cycle engine enables peak pressure ratios of over 300, where state-of-the-art turbofan engines generate a maximum of 60. Compared to the technology level of the year 2000, fuel consumption is reduced by about half – in other words, a large part of the Flightpath 2050 target can be achieved with this technology alone. And even if further efficiency increases for turbofans by the year 2050 are taken into account, the composite cycle engine still consumes around 15 percent less fuel.

Vision in progress

 

Bauhaus Luftfahrt is developing this innovative engine jointly with MTU Aero Engines and has already conducted several feasibility studies. Further research work will follow to clarify technical issues that have not yet been solved, such as the actual interaction of piston and turbo components. The next target is a demonstrator engine – a model was already on display at the ILA 2018. The partners’ goal is to have the first aircraft with the composite cycle engine in the sky by 2035. In the future, the engine should be available for all types of aircraft – a promising prospect for green aviation.

The composite cycle engine could also be seen at the ILA 2018.

 

CO2: Don't waste it, reuse it!

The innovative CAPHENIA process can significantly reduce CO2 emissions from the transport sector.

Enormous savings potential

The Bavarian start-up CAPHENIA GmbH intends to implement precisely this idea: to develop a fuel for aircraft from CO2. In the new CAPHENIA process – to put it simply – natural gas and CO2 are converted into fuel in a reactor with the help of electricity from renewable energies. This can replace petrol, diesel or kerosene from fossil sources. By reusing CO2 emitted by industrial plants, for example, this fuel saves up to 30 percent of CO2 emissions compared to conventional fuels.

 

Synthetic fuels are most valuable in air traffic, where renewable alternatives like those available on the road or on rails are lacking. Electrification of aircraft with more than 100 passengers is not feasible in the medium term. And in contrast to biofuels, synthetic kerosene does not require land that would compete with food production.

The objectives of aviation are ambitious: aviation aims to halve its net CO2 emissions by 2050 compared to 2005. In addition to increasing the efficiency of aircraft and biofuels, innovative technologies such as synthetic fuels are a promising option. CAPHENIA GmbH is a pioneer in this regard: the CAPHENIA process will be ready for the market in a few years, and the existing infrastructure at airports can generally be used for synthetic fuels.

Testing starts

CAPHENIA GmbH has already registered almost 200 patents in conjunction with the new process. As a next step, a first reactor is planned to test the process on a large scale. For Germany in particular, the process offers the opportunity to once again become a global technology leader. What's more: even the production of the synthetic fuel would be possible in Germany and could create jobs and added value.

 

Nothing but steam

The new fuel-cell concept from Airbus at the German Aviation Innovation Award ceremony

Aviation wants to halve its net CO2 emissions by 2050 compared to 2005. This is the goal of the international community of states within the framework of the UN aviation organization, ICAO. At the same time, air traffic is growing by several percentage points every year. To make aviation greener, all potentials must be exploited. Hydrogen is one of them.

Innovative concept for hydrogen propulsion

One of the Airbus concepts is called "hydrogen to torque.” Put simply, several fuel cells generate electricity in this process. One example of how this technology could be used is in an auxiliary power unit (APU) in the rear of an aircraft. Unlike the large engines below the wings, which give the aircraft the necessary thrust, an APU primarily supplies energy inside an aircraft. In ground operation before takeoff, for instance, it generates electricity to operate the onboard electronics and the air conditioning system.

Demonstrator shows how it works

Airbus has developed a demonstrator together with the Center of Applied Aeronautical Research (ZAL) in Hamburg and demonstrated that the concept works. With the ZAL, the city of Hamburg sponsors pioneering innovations in the civil aviation industry in the Hamburg metropolitan region. Airbus' innovative concept demonstrates the successes that have been achieved here. At the ILA 2018, Airbus received the German Aviation Innovation Award from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in the "Reduction of emissions" category.

Airbus has now filed its first patents. However, it will be a few years before the technology can actually be used in aircraft. In addition to further development work, approval issues must also be resolved.

 

Engines are going digital

The newly developed Pearl 15 engine

The newly developed Pearl 15 engine is used in the latest generation of large business jets and uses more digital technologies than any other engine before. This includes a monitoring system, for example, that for the first time records several thousand parameters of the engines and important add-on components during operation in real time. Using specially developed algorithms, it is possible to detect any maintenance requirements while still in the air using complex calculation procedures. Thanks to secure, bi-directional communication channels, the new monitoring system also offers new possibilities for remote diagnosis: It not only sends relevant data for maintenance to the responsible engineers, but can also be configured from the ground. It allows data to be monitored in a live stream and compare them with those of the entire fleet. This most advanced engine monitoring system in the world uses digital capabilities to make intelligent decisions and aims to ensure maximum engine availability.

At first glance, the leap towards digitalization only seems interesting for technicians and engineers, but most of all it offers customers the advantage of even greater engine availability. But people in the vicinity of airports and the environment also benefit permanently from the new engine generation that was developed with the help of the latest digital tools. The engine is 2 decibels quieter, emits 7 percent less CO2 and 20 percent less nitrogen oxide while delivering up to 9 percent more thrust at the same time.

 

Part of a larger vision

The latest engine generation is part of the Rolls-Royce vision of the intelligent engine. The company wants to revolutionize aircraft engines using cloud-based analysis and big data. The goal is for engines to be able to communicate with each other one day and even adapt to the context of their current use: Certain characteristics of the respective operation, possible restrictions and the needs of the customer. Reactions to the environment become possible without human intervention. This is the next systematic step towards the vision of the "Intelligent Engine", in which the boundaries between physical products and services are becoming increasingly blurred. Ultimately, this concept will lead to engines learning by themselves and eventually being able to heal themselves to some extent.

Technology from Brandenburg

The Rolls-Royce plant in Dahlewitz plays a key role here. This is where the new Pearl engine family is developed, tested on test benches, built and looked after when in service. The practical test program during development, in which the engines are subjected to extreme conditions at various locations worldwide, is also controlled from here. These include tests at temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, heavy rainfall or direct lightning strikes. The tests ensure that the engine functions reliably even under extreme conditions.

The new engine was certified by EASA in February 2018 and is currently undergoing final flight testing. In 2019, the first Bombardier Global 5500 and Global 6500 aircraft will be delivered to customers worldwide.

The new engine of the Pearl engine family is the culmination of Rolls-Royce's more than 100-year history in aviation. The company's engines power some 5,000 aircraft worldwide.

Engine parts in the dishwasher

The first automated cleaning system for engine heat exchangers world-wide

On average, engine heat exchangers are hardly larger than a briefcase and look like a ventilation shaft at first glance. There are heat exchangers at several points in the engine. One of their functions, for example, is to transfer heat from oil systems to the ambient air.

Faster and easier on the environment

On average, the components must be thoroughly cleaned every five years. Previously this was done manually. Due to the narrow fins of the heat exchangers – just picture a ventilation shaft – the work involved is painstaking. As a result, this required a great amount of time: Cleaning this small component alone took an average of 16 hours. If the heat exchangers were very dirty, they even had to be scrapped and replaced with new ones.

Since July 2018, Lufthansa Technik has been cleaning the parts in a newly developed facility employing an automated cleaning process – virtually the world's first dishwasher for engine heat exchangers. The results are impressive: Even heavily soiled heat exchangers are as good as new after cleaning and up to their original performance specs. The cleaning system can be adapted to heat exchangers of all common engine types – from 20 centimeters to two meters in size. The time saved is considerable. Instead of the previous average of 16 hours, cleaning now only takes about an hour. Thanks to full automation, employees can save some work steps and concentrate on more demanding tasks.

What's more, unlike in the past, the cleaning process requires no chemicals at all. It uses steam. Where previously residues of chemical cleaning agents had to be disposed of in a complex and costly process, now the only waste produced is waste water that can be easily disposed of, which is of great benefit to the environment.

The system only takes an hour to clean heat exchangers

On the way to digital maintenance

Lufthansa Technik developed the cleaning process on its own. Furthermore, the cleaning system will also be part of Lufthansa Technik's Digital Shop Floor. This means that data can be collected for further optimization and the cleaning process can be monitored virtually. This supports the goal of reinstalling a heat exchanger in the engine as quickly as possible. The new system is thus another milestone on the road to tomorrow's digitally networked engine maintenance.

 

Next Level Agriculture

The hybrid modem by Telespazio VEGA

This form of precision agriculture is not completely new. However, its widespread use often fails due to the poor Internet connection in some rural areas, because an uninterrupted connection to the Internet is essential if tractors are to be located and the equipment is to be controlled precisely.

Stable Internet connection in rural areas – even beyond agriculture

Telespazio VEGA Deutschland, together with the German Agricultural Society (DLG) and tractor manufacturer John Deere, has therefore initiated the agriloc project. Between 2014 and 2018, the partners researched ways of compensating for the weak or missing Internet coverage in rural areas. In June 2018, Telespazio VEGA Deutschland was able to present a hybrid modem that can transmit and receive data both via mobile phone networks and satellite. Depending on availability, it uses the best signal source. Combined with a satellite-based steering system, it can be permanently installed in tractors and other vehicles in the future while older machines can be retrofitted.

In addition, Telespazio VEGA Deutschland has developed a system called Fullsat, which enables farmers to have fast Internet access via satellite – simply indispensable. The system is easy to set up, ready to use immediately and costs no more than a smartphone. It has been tailored to the needs of farmers and has been successfully tested by the DLG. In the future, the modem could also be a solution for private households in rural areas that have a poor Internet connection.

 

Expectations exceeded

Originally, the project partners were only interested in a demo project. But the actual results far exceeded expectations and the prototypes will soon be transferred to product development. Farmers can already read a DLG test report on the Telespazio VEGA product for Internet via satellite.

The project was carried out as part of the ESA Integrated Applications Promotion Program (ARTES 20) and made possible with funds from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The new technologies can be transferred to other applications around the Internet of Things in the future. They can, for example, be used to precisely monitor solar energy systems or production facilities. In logistics, they enable vehicle tracking, and in the field of robotics, they open up new possibilities for machine-to-machine communication.

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