Technology Scouts

Technology Scouting

Be prepared

Search, find, experiment!

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.

Computational fluid dynamics

Reducing noise and fuel consumption

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.

“Flow simulations are the fundamental technology used to optimize an aircraft's aerodynamics.”

Dr. Kai-Christoph Pfingsten, Senior Innovation Manager

Landing gear – how can we reduce noise levels?

The main source of noise emissions during the approach is the landing gear because wakes filled with vorticies build up behind all the cylinders, cables and wires, and emit noise. It was initially suggested that placing a shield in front of the extended landing gear would keep air currents away from the landing gear and thus reduce the noise pollution. No sooner was the idea put forward than the project began. "The flow simulation showed, however, that local fields with high air velocity form around the edges of these shields, which in turn generates noise – just in a different place," explains Kai. "Together with the DLR [German Aerospace Center], we are now investigating whether suspending a mesh in front of the landing gear could divert and slow down the air currents in such a way that noise emissions would be reduced. Thus far, it looks as if this technology might really help us reduce noise during the approach."

On-board internet – where should the radome go?

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."

MRO 4.0

Enhancing the shop floor with new technologies

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."

>50
potential solutions

for the MRO 4.0 project bring digitalization opportunities onto our shop floors

Tracking tools and equipment

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.

Always know where your equipment is
 
Localize and find your ground support equipment easily

Assistance systems make work easier

Digital tools are designed to make mechanics' work easier and free them up from jobs that don't add value. These days, the Fleet Services department no longer has to worry about searching for the right part number for a new seat cover or belt during a maintenance check. Instead, mechanics consult their iPad upon entering the aircraft and are shown the cabin's exact configuration, based on the tail sign. They then only need to select the seat that requires a new cover or belt, and in the blink of an eye the tablet shows them the right part number and starts the process of placing an order – provided the necessary parts are not already in the maintenance vehicle. "It doesn't take much imagination to transfer assistance systems – such as the ones we are already piloting in maintenance operations – to many other areas of production, and we are working flat out to do just that," summarizes Gerrit.

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