Dr Kai-Christoph Pfingsten
Lufthansa Technik AG
Cancer researchers have already succeeded in using nanorobotics to shrink tumors. Self-learning algorithms independently trawl through the flood of medical data to report any anomalies. In logistics, service robots are capable of sorting out 200,000 parcels every day. But what does all this have to do with aircraft maintenance? A whole lot, actually!
Everything that sounds as if it comes from the distant future is just routine business for our team of technology scouts. Day in, day out, it deals with exactly such forward-looking topics in various areas of research. Team members are expected to keep their eyes and ears open to discover technologies that are being developed in a vast array of disciplines, delve into them, scrutinize them – and consider whether they could perhaps be used somehow at Lufthansa Technik.
Nanorobotics and engine repairs make for an interesting duo. The use of self-learning algorithms in engine blade diagnostics is already a pretty specific potential application for day-to-day work in our engine workshops. Robots that work on a component alongside a member of staff have already become a reality in some of our workshops.
Programs such as "MRO 4.0" and "Aerodynamics" are the blossoms of our endeavor to use future oriented technology. Our customers will pick the fruits.
Aeroacoustics – more commonly known as "aircraft noise" – and fuel consumption are both factors that every airline is keen to reduce. Both are mutually dependent, as the better the aerodynamics of an aircraft, the quieter it is and the less kerosene it consumes. Flow simulations are the fundamental technology used to optimize an aircraft's aerodynamics. Kai is supervising 15 projects that are examining how retrofits can improve the aerodynamics of an aircraft. Topics range from reducing the noise emissions from landing gear during take-off and landing right through to finding the satellite antenna's perfect position on the fuselage to provide on-board internet. Good ideas are always worth a try.
Although the radome on an aircraft's fuselage always has an adverse effect on aerodynamics, it is essential as a cover for the antenna that receives satellite transmissions. Findings gained from recent flow simulations are once again being harnessed to determine where best to install the radome on the fuselage and optimize its design from a flow mechanics perspective. "Parasitic drag is almost halved when the radome is installed on the front third section of the fuselage rather than in the middle", says Kai. "Thanks to the simulations, we are now also able to prove that a cleverly chosen installation point for the radome has a greater influence on the aircraft's kerosene consumption than airlines previously thought."
Technology manager and program leader Gerrit is coordinating the MRO 4.0 project bringing exciting and mature digitalization opportunities onto our shop floors. "What these projects have in common is that they all boost efficiency," explains Gerrit. "And I'm not just focusing on one area here. I'm keen to see technology put to good use across all our repair areas – from engines to base maintenance."
for the MRO 4.0 project bring digitalization opportunities onto our shop floors
Searching for tools takes up valuable time, so being able to lay your hands on them easily makes a huge difference. In this regard, digitalizing workshops means tracking tools and equipment. Staff in the Ground Support Equipment department, for instance, can already locate any equipment that features a drawbar or ignition switch straight away. Thanks to the use of appropriate hard- and software, searching vast hangars and outside areas for the right towbar is now a thing of the past. Trackers, gateways (antennae) and established hardware are used to pinpoint equipment and special visualization software has been developed in-house. All trackers are fitted with on-board sensors that can be flexibly configured as needed and extended using existing external sensors such as those found in vehicles (via CAN bus). As a result, the system can display all relevant data and even be programmed to issue messages and initiate actions autonomously. To achieve this, existing sensors are incorporated and networked and external sensors are brought on board, too. All this makes it possible for staff to identify the location and condition of a tool or piece of equipment.