Lightweight pipes for the aviation industry

Pipes made of high-performance thermoplastics by PFW Aerospace

The demands on pipes in airplanes are high: the space is tight, some of the pipes are bent over 180 degrees. The temperatures fluctuate between minus 65 °C and plus 250 °C. In hydraulic applications, they must also be able to withstand extreme pressures of over 17,400 psi. So far, it has been possible to withstand these stresses almost exclusively with some heavy metallic materials such as steel, aluminum and titanium.

Lightweight construction of piping systems

PFW Aerospace is no longer satisfied with this situation. In a research project lasting several years, the company, together with partners, has developed new processing methods for extremely resilient plastic pipes to be able to replace metallic pipes in many places. So-called high-performance thermoplastics are used here. These materials are not only significantly more heat-resistant than previous plastics, but are also resistant to aggressive liquids such as kerosene or hydraulic fluid.

But most importantly, the plastic pipes are up to 40% lighter than metallic pipes. An enormous savings potential that also benefits the environment, because every gram of weight saves fuel and reduces CO2 emissions – another example that ecological and economic goals in the aviation industry are congruent.

Joint investment

The new processing methods for high-performance thermoplastics were developed as part of a project funded by the Federal Aviation Research Program. In addition to PFW, other industry partners and research institutions of the TU Kaiserslautern were also involved. PFW has since invested a seven-figure sum in new production facilities.

The first lightweight pipes have been in use in the A350 since 2014. There they remove liquids from the cargo hold – for example when snow melts on the cargo. But this is only the beginning. PFW is currently working to ensure that fresh and waste water pipes made of high-performance thermoplastics will soon go into series production. In the long term, these plastics will be able to replace almost all pipes in aircraft with additional modifications.

3D navigation

The new Surround View 3D assistance system (Photo: AKKA)

As in vehicles, the so-called Surround View 3D enables a three-dimensional all-round view of the aircraft to be generated from any angle in real time. The system's computer graphics algorithm uses images from the externally-mounted cameras to create a three-dimensional image of the aircraft environment. Using a 3D mouse or touch control, the pilot can adjust the perspective dynamically and continuously.

More security and more entertainment

The system in this way supports safety when navigating on the ground and during take-off and landing. In addition, the 3D images can be transferred to the entertainment screens in the cabin, creating an exciting experience for passengers who can follow the aircraft in real time and in 3D while maneuvering.

Transferring the concept from the automotive sector to the aviation world was a major challenge: The developers at AKKA had to rethink all processes and components – from graphic algorithms, hardware porting and camera calibration through to the operating concept. They also had to meet new requirements in terms of high data volumes and real-time data processing.

The new Surround View 3D assistance system was presented to the public for the first time at the Interior Expo in Hamburg in April 2018.

Robots relieve pressure on engineers

AutoInspect: Digital parts inspection

Until now, aircraft engines have only been inspected manually for damage. The repairs were also done manually. The effort to find even small cracks – sometimes not visible to the naked eye – was immense and protracted. And the repair work was sometimes ergonomically stressful for the technicians, since many parts of the component are difficult to access. Lufthansa Technik has developed innovative processes in the AutoInspect and AutoRep projects that help with this work.

Faster, more ergonomic, more reliable

The keyword is automation. In a first step, LHT has developed an automatic inspection process over a period of four years. Guided by a robot and with the aid of modern optical measuring technology, the process detects and documents damage and deformations on engine parts. In a second research project, the company then designed two repair robots. They take the data from the inspection and carry out the necessary repair measures semi-automatically. One robot first mills out the affected area and a second robot then welds a precisely fitting patch.

As a result, the core repair – from detecting the damage to the repair – can be carried out by robots in a single, semi-automated process chain. Only rare and complex types of damage will still be dealt with manually by specialists in the future, for example the application of large patches on combustion chamber components. The advantages are obvious: Repairs can be carried out faster, which results in an increase in productivity of the maintenance teams and in the quality of repairs. And employees are freed from monotonous routine work and ergonomic strain.

The automatic inspection process has been industrialized since 2017. The entire automated process chain, including automated repair, is scheduled to follow in mid-2018. The technologies are to be further developed as well so that they can be used for other components in the future.


Urban air mobility: Escaping the traffic jam in the air

The CityAirbus by Airbus Helicopters

To this end, the company has developed a new type of aircraft: the CityAirbus. The battery-powered electric aircraft can take off and land vertically and will also fly autonomously in a later version. It can carry up to four people and works similarly to a taxi: passengers order a seat via app and can then board at a nearby landing point.

The CityAirbus thus responds to the flexible and individual needs of people in cities. And the electric engines allow for an emission-free and low-noise flight – an absolute must, especially in large cities.

Conquering the third dimension

Airbus has made urban air mobility a focus of its development work throughout the group. More than a hundred scientists, engineers and developers are working in a newly established corporate division – and are also exploring the closely related topic of unmanned flight.

At the same time, Airbus is helping regulatory authorities worldwide to determine how autonomous aircraft can safely fly over densely populated urban areas. To this end, Airbus is testing a drone-based parcel delivery service in the Skyways project, together with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. The service was launched in 2017 on the campus of the National University of Singapore. The results are meant to serve as a decision-making tool for governments worldwide as they further develop the regulation of drones.

CityAirbus takes off

The CityAirbus, the flagship of the Urban Air Mobility Program at Airbus, has been developed mainly in Donauwörth for the last three years or so. The engineers are also exchanging ideas with their colleagues in Silicon Valley, where Airbus’s think tank, A3, has been developing the demonstrator for an autonomous single-seat aircraft called Vahana since 2016.

The first flight of the CityAirbus is already planned for the end of 2018. Until then, a model of the aircraft can be admired at the ILA Berlin.


One-stop satellite mission services: The software comes from NRW

PLENITER® module

The range of requirements for operating a satellite mission is broad. Tasks and events are carefully prepared and planned, payloads aboard the satellite have to be controlled, the data must be processed and stored and the satellites must be coordinated in space. In addition, the entire system – on the ground and in space – is monitored.

Jack-of-all-trades for satellite missions

For these and many other tasks, the SCISYS software called PLENITER offers proven state-of-the-art technology that can be flexibly adapted to the requirements of a mission. The software suite consists of six individually combinable modules. Routine tasks are automated by implementing cutting-edge technologies. This noticeably relieves the highly qualified operators in the control center and allows them to concentrate on much more demanding tasks. PLENITER can be perfectly adapted to specific requirements and is also able to grow with future mission challenges. Thanks to various interfaces, PLENITER modules can be integrated into existing infrastructures and adapted to the missions carried out there – whether satellite communication, earth observation or research missions.

The know-how acquired in daily operations is also retained long term, because the software stores all data for mission operations in an archive. These data are permanently available and can be used for status reports and for planning and preparing future activities.

Used for better communication and a lunar mission

PLENITER already supports pioneering space missions today. In the control center of the German satellite communications mission Heinrich Hertz, SCISYS will implement a state-of-the-art and efficient operating concept for the entire ground segment based on PLENITER. SCISYS also provides a mission-planning solution for the planned mega-constellation of several hundred communication satellites for the OneWeb communications mission, the aim of which is to provide all people in the world with access to communication and therefore to knowledge. SCISYS has been a partner in the private lunar mission of the Berlin company PTScientists since 2016. The mission – which is also supported by Audi and Vodafone – aims to explore the moon with the aid of a lander and two rovers in a very specific area and carry out some experiments. SCISYS supplies PLENITER technology for monitoring and controlling the space segment and for real-time control of the two rovers on the moon via remote operation from Earth.

As a leading German system house for space control centers, SCISYS combines proven cutting-edge aerospace technology with the challenges of digital transformation. With its innovative solutions, the company focuses on future technologies – such as individual automation concepts for efficient mission operations and intelligent, scalable systems that pave the way for completely new services and applications in the dynamic aerospace market, with transfer potential for other industries.

Training for emergencies in the virtual world

In virtual reality, dangerous situations can be trained realistically and without risk.

The images of the spectacular landing have gone around the world. Pilots and aircraft crews have to be well prepared for these and dozens of other crisis scenarios and regularly train for them in flight simulators. These scenarios must be rehearsed and run through as realistically as possible. Together with its parent company TXT e-solutions, the Berlin-based company PACE is working on software solutions that make it possible to transfer a much greater part of training tasks to the virtual world than before.

Virtual training of pilots and crew

To this end, PACE has developed the software suite Pacelab WEAVR, which allows tailor-made training solutions to be created according to the modular principle. Depending on the training task, elements of virtual or augmented reality are integrated to make the exercises equally realistic and safe. The trick: All applications, from simple procedure training on the tablet to complex crisis exercises in completely virtual environments, are based on the same training data.

The potential is enormous: Up to three-quarters of the time spent on basic and advanced training of pilots or the crew could take place in virtual or augmented reality environments in the foreseeable future. This not only makes the training sessions more flexible in terms of space and time, but also significantly more cost-effective.

Training of maintenance personnel in virtual and augmented reality environments

PACE solutions also offer new options for the training and education of maintenance staff. Take engine technology, for example: Until now, complete engines usually had to be transported to the training location or the trainees had to be taken to the engine for training. In future, it will be sufficient to have only parts of an assembly on site – the rest of the engine is projected using a virtual 3D animation. The students and trainees can see all components via VR glasses and work on the engine in virtual space.

All PACE training solutions are developed in compliance with relevant quality standards such as EASA Part-147/145 for aircraft maintenance and repair personnel or NPA 2014-22 for new training methods and new training technologies.

The art of green 21st-century forging

Example of a forged TiAl blade © Leistritz

The place for titanium aluminides in modern engines is the low-pressure turbine. Where traditionally only nickel materials that can withstand the highest temperatures could be used, titanium-aluminide turbine blades weighing only half as much are now being used – and are proving their worth.

Isothermal forging – the solution for stubborn problems
The way to the first perfect forged blade – that is, a blade free of cracks and cavities – was not easy. The material is extremely brittle and cannot be formed using conventional forging methods. The key to success was the development of an isothermal forging process, a process with extremely precise temperature control that is adapted to the poor formability of the intermetallic material. The blanks are slowly and continuously shaped into their final form on a hydraulic press at a constant high temperature.

Green aviation made in Germany
Leistritz Turbinentechnik GmbH is the first and only company in the world to date that can forge titanium aluminide. This unique selling point once again demonstrates the global pioneering role of the German aerospace industry. In recent years, a new production line for this new class of products has been installed at the Remscheid plant and series production has been ramped up. The forged turbine blades are used in engines for the Airbus A320neo.

Titanium aluminides open up new horizons for the aviation industry. They allow engines to save even more resources and be more fuel efficient and cleaner, because any weight reduction will reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The new material thus makes an important contribution to achieving the aviation industry's ambitious climate-protection targets.



Transformation at the push of a button

The new actuator in the wind tunnel

In its wind tunnel, ETW measures the currents and loads to which aircraft are exposed during takeoff, landing and when cruising at altitude. Such tests are being carried out to determine the flight characteristics and operations of future aircraft under development under real-life conditions. However, ETW does not use real aircraft for the tests, but models which are on average 25 times smaller than their role models. In order to achieve realistic conditions in terms of fluid mechanics that are similar to those of a large aircraft, the models are tested at up to 4.5 times the atmospheric pressure and at low temperatures of -160 degrees Celsius in pure nitrogen gas.

Movement as if by magic

The tests at ETW are now standard in the development of new aircraft. The effect of adjustable control surfaces, such as ailerons or airbrakes, must also be tested. Up to now, their adjustment has been costly and cumbersome due to the inhospitable conditions in the wind tunnel. In order to change the position of the airbrakes, for example, the test must be interrupted, the channel opened and the model transported to a special climatic chamber, where the airbrake can be reset by hand. It takes about half a day and costs of €30,000 or more are incurred by the time the model is back in the cold wind tunnel. When investigating the effect of control surfaces on a medium-haul aircraft, this may add up to several hundred thousand euros and delays in the test program of a few days, which could be avoided by remote adjustment of the control surfaces.

A groundbreaking joint project by Deharde GmbH in Varel and ETW revolutionizes this complex process with the help of remote control that is based on shape-memory alloys: The team has developed a mechanism that allows control surfaces on the aircraft to be moved in the wind tunnel at the push of a button. In this process, the actuator, which is made of shape-memory alloys, is heated to a certain temperature and the surface takes on a different defined position as if by magic. What used to take half a day is now possible within seconds.

LuFo funding makes groundbreaking project possible

ETW and Deharde have been researching the use of shape memory alloys in the wind tunnel since 2016 in collaboration with Boeing and NASA. In January 2018, the project received the Boeing Performance & Innovation Award. The prize is awarded to teams that significantly increase Boeing's competitiveness and productivity.

A prototype of the new actuator has already been successfully tested in the ETW pilot wind tunnel. The goal is to use this method as the standard procedure for wind tunnel tests in a few years' time and make the costly modification measures superfluous. What is more: Deharde could also transfer the extremely robust and compact technology to other areas – to be used wherever space is at a premium or where aggressive environmental conditions would impair the function of motors. A striking example: ventilation louvers in a chemical storage facility or fire dampers in areas subject to explosion hazards.

The project was only made possible thanks to financial support from the German aviation research program LuFo. This success once again demonstrates the positive impact of research funding.


The spare parts warehouse of the future – automated and digital

The Digital Warehouse of Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services at Munich Airport

Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services (LTLS) is examining to what extent digital technologies can reduce costs and facilitate the work of employees in all areas of the warehouse: From receipt of the goods to their delivery to the aeronautical engineer at the aircraft. See Receipt of Goods: LTLS collects a wide range of data from more than 10,000 documents every day. Reading the data, checking and entering them into one's own databases is very time-consuming and error-prone. But not for long: Starting in mid-2018, the input forms will be filled automatically. This is made possible by a document analysis system with optical character recognition supplemented by an intelligent content analysis based on IBM Watson.

Even more transparency in the Digital Warehouse

The maximally efficient data collection is literally the first step. Next, LTLS aims to maximize the use of space. This sounds more banal than it is in an aircraft maintenance company: Large and bulky aircraft spare parts take up a lot of space and often have to be relocated. Thanks to a specially developed localization platform, large components in storage can be located automatically without booking and thus with significantly less effort. This also contributes to the transparency of the warehouse. Following a successful pilot project in Munich, the transferability to other locations will be examined.

Transport made easy

Given the sheer size of the warehouse, the employees have to walk considerable distances – which is time-consuming and expensive. As far as technically possible, LTLS relies on automation. Since December 2017, the mobile and flexible autonomous transport system has been transporting the aircraft parts directly to the employee's workplace.

Wearable scanners

Once employees have received the goods, they will be able to use digital assistants. LTLS is currently testing a smart data glove with an integrated 2D scanner. Employees no longer have to hold their mobile scanners in their hands, and the time-consuming input of data is no longer necessary. The company is now planning a further development that includes an integrated display, the pilot applications for which are to be launched as early as the first half of 2018.

Smart and digital applications made in Germany significantly strengthen Germany as an aviation center. This requires innovative team players. That's why LTLS relies on cooperation with modern start-ups to benefit from new ways of thinking and from uncomplicated, flexible approaches.

On the way to tomorrow's engine repair

"Befund 4.0" project makes the repair of engines faster

The maintenance of engines is time-consuming and demanding: the responsible technicians inspect tens of thousands of components each time and decide which ones are to be repaired or completely replaced. In doing so, they take into account a wide range of different data sources on the condition of the engine – from manufacturers' manuals, statistics and owner specifications to statutory regulations.

MTU Maintenance intends to replace this complex process with a completely new knowledge-management system. The company is pursuing two goals with the pilot project Befund 4.0, which was launched at the beginning of 2018: First, all available data concerning a single component are to be combined in a central knowledge-base template. In future, technicians will no longer have to switch between different documents and will be able to concentrate on the evaluation. Secondly, the virtual and real world are to be merged when it comes to engine repair – the information will be displayed on tablets or smart glasses so that the technicians have a complete overview of the component as they are working on it. This further reduces the time required.

MTU Maintenance is carrying out the Befund 4.0 project in collaboration with the Brandenburg University of Technology. The major development work is taking place in Berlin. In addition to the innovative atmosphere in the start-up metropolis, Brandenburg Invest (WFBB) and Investitionsbank des Landes Brandenburg (ILB) provide the project with ideal funding conditions. The development phase will run until July 2019, followed by an evaluation and certification by the German Federal Aviation Authority – so that the future of engine maintenance can begin.

Subscribe to