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The Future of Aerospace: What will the aerospace industry look like going forward?

Author : Andrew Gibson, Aerospace Sales Engineer, maxon UK & Ireland

25 June 2020

The skies are eerily silent, as flights are restricted, the aerospace industry is seeing its worst-ever global decline, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the industry resets to a “new normal”, there will be a continuing push for driving costs down and providing a greener operation. I have been considering how maxon meets the challenge.

Weight

Aerospace has used hydraulic actuation for many years due to the high-power density, despite the added weight of the hydraulic system and fluid. Still today, electric motors cannot match hydraulic motors for power density. However, that gap is closing as more powerful magnet grades are developed. As the push towards the more electric aircraft develops, we will start to see more hydraulic actuators being replaced by electro-mechanical actuators. Not only will the benefits be in reducing the weight of the aircraft, but also in the maintenance costs. 

The maxon design has always been based on high power density, but what does this mean? Our motors give a lot of power in a compact design. Let’s look at an example, for instance, a 120W brushless DC motor. maxon can deliver this amount of power in a package as small as Ø19mm by 58mm long and weighing in at 108g. When you look at other motors on the market, at equivalent power output, they can be as large as Ø57mm by 80mm long and weigh 1Kg. This would mean significant space and weight savings on something like a seat actuator where there would be multiples within a cabin. It would not only be weight saving on the motor, but also reduced material in the brackets that the motor mounts onto.

If, for every business class seat, you reduce the mass by 10%, (based on an average seat mass of 135Kg x 42 seats), you are saving nearly 570Kg per aircraft and a considerable amount of C02. If an average aircraft burns 0.2Kg of fuel for every 1Kg over 1,000Km, this equates to 114Kg of fuel saved per 1,000Km. Many aircraft are flying over 30,000Km per week. The numbers are staggering. 

Design

There are two schools of thought in the aerospace industry, one is to design a solution to a specification and the other is to use commercial off the shelf solutions. There are benefits and pitfalls to both. If you start with a blank sheet of paper, you can make sure the final solution meets the specification fully and there is flexibility in designing to fit within a space. However, this comes with the costs associated with design and development, prototyping and testing. Then there are the manufacturing costs, tooling up to produce the unit in volumes where it is difficult to really optimise the manufacturing process. 

If you start with a commercial off the shelf offering that is close to meeting the specification, that with some simple design tweaks could meet the specification, you will vastly reduce your non-recurring costs. maxon supply prototypes quickly, allowing the test programme to commence earlier, again reducing costs. Your product is then manufactured in a volume optimised production environment, many of the individual components will be manufactured in high volume, meaning the result will be a lower-cost product.

Durability

maxon’s product has a proven heritage in aerospace applications where it has been subject to high vibrations and shock, wide temperature variations and even the vacuum of space. Many of these have had very little modified from the catalogue product, some only the lubrication for the extended temperature band. These products are expected to last many years with little if any maintenance. 

We run the same quality assurance processes as the aerospace companies and are certified to EN 9100. 
So, as the aerospace industry moves forward to more electric aircraft, as well as looking to reduce the weight and as a result reduce fuel burn and become greener, there will be a host of applications where maxon drives can be utilised. We are ready. 


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