Sending large packets of data to the ground from an aircraft or even a satellite is not at all straightforward. The spectrum of radio frequencies is over-subscribed and there is just no room for the extra radio traffic. That is a potential stumbling block for the many new businesses being set up to exploit advances around satellite- derived data technology and unmanned aircraft surveying or similar applications. Laser technology, proven in cD and DVD players, offers a solution. It lends itself to higher speed data transfers than radio waves and is not subject to radio frequency (rF) spectrum licensing. Yet keeping a laser beam fixed on a drone flying at 10 metres per second and being buffeted by air currents poses difficulties. A team of engineers based at Airbus Group Innovations in Newport, South Wales, has been trying to overcome the problem, working with Oxford University on project Hyperion, funded by Innovate UK. Installing a laser on the aircraft is impractical because of size and weight constraints. However, the team proved they could establish a data connection using a programmable reflective lens to steer the laser beam on to a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and then ‘bouncing’ it back to the ground. Project leader Yoann Thueux explained: “A modulated retro-reflector on the UAV encodes the data before the beam is then reflected back, transformed into an electrical signal. We use infrared light, which is invisible, safe, and travels further than visible light.” The really clever innovation was using a solid-state technology to steer the beam so accurately that it could maintain the data link connection. Yoann added: “The laser beam pointing has to be very accurate in tracking a device measuring no more than 50mm square on a moving uaV more than a kilometre away. We have tested this to 1.2 kilometres. With more laser power, we could go to longer distances. “We have had very good results. this laser technology is limited by weather conditions and we’re not suggesting it will completely replace low data-rate rF communications for control and safety. However, this technology will allow you to download a massive amount of data when you have good visibility.” This case study was originally published in Innovate UK: Aerospace SME case studies, 2015 and is reproduced here under the Open Government Licence v 3.
Alinea Law Ltd., in addition to creating bespoke legal solutions for SMEs, undertakes large and complex consultancy projects across a number of sectors including healthcare, defence, education, engineering, construction, and oil and gas. Over the last two years, director Geoff Caesar has led in securing a valuable Ministry of Defence contract for a key client. The client is Affinity, an organisation that supplies aircraft for military in-flight training and, along with its client, Ascent, delivers technical training for the MoD's aeronautical elite. Negotiating various complexities and creating the solid legislative foundations that underpin this Private Finance Initiative bid have presented Geoff and his expert team with a series of interesting challenges, all of which they have successfully overcome. It is a landmark contract win for both Alinea Law Ltd. and for Affinity.
Optical sensing technology has the potential to bring really big innovations in aerospace closer to reality – such as the next generation of composite wings and all-electric aircraft. Electrical sensors have been standard on aircraft for decades but are prone to electrical interference, so they need to be shielded from other wiring – and this adds weight. Optical sensors and their fibre-optic cabling solve the problem as they are immune to these effects and can also can handle multiple measurements more efficiently “They’re not even affected by a lightning strike,” said Tim Hall, senior project engineer at Oxsensis, a £1.3 million turnover company employing 22 people on the Harwell science and innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. But when it comes to hostile environments, there is none much harsher than on aircraft landing gear. Temperatures vary from -55°c to 85°c, dirt and debris are thrown up by tyres and the shock and vibration of a landing is actually much greater than anything felt by the passengers. “It’s a tough place for a sensor,” said Tim. so that is where his company’s optical sensor technology will be tested, in an innovate UK-funded project involving airbus and another sensor sMe, smart fibers, of Bracknell. “We’re quite a small company and it was a big privilege for us to work with a giant like airbus. Landing gear is a new area for us. to get their input on our technology development was really good.” The other outcome was more surprising: a competitor becoming a collaborative partner. Tim explained: “We’re both optical sensing companies but working together, as we did, we could actually see that our technology was complementary. Rather than displace each other, we could each produce something that was more likely to get on an aircraft.” Both companies were invited to join a follow-on project with tier 1 aerospace suppliers. Tim acknowledged that it would not have been possible without Innovate UK. “They made us and smart Fibres work collaboratively. Normally, airbus wouldn’t speak to us. and without the funding, we wouldn’t have been able to build a demonstrator.” This case study was originally published in Innovate UK: Aerospace SME case studies, 2015 and is reproduced here under the Open Government Licence v 3.
Applying chrome-based coatings has proved a very effective way of protecting aerospace systems and components from corrosion over the 40-year life of a typical aircraft. Unfortunately, these ‘hexavalent chrome’ compounds also cause cancer and are prone to damage the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes. The process is being phased out from 2017 under European REACH (registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals) legislation. That poses particular problems for smaller companies who lack the resources and scientific knowledge to research and develop alternatives – and it’s often their employees who need protecting most. The Challenge So 3 years ago Innovate UK offered up to £2 million funding for companies throughout the aerospace supply chain to get together to address the issues. The engineering and physical sciences research council was a co-founder of the project, which involved 17 partners, including 3 universities. The project aimed to: Establish new, common test methodologies for surface protective coatings Identify and demonstrate hexavalent chrome-free surface protection systems Improve science-based understanding of the coatings, surfaces and how to optimise them Set up a knowledge management and dissemination system The Consortium Rolls-Royce led the successful consortium exploring chemical processes that might offer alternative and viable ways to provide similar anti-corrosion properties. Among the participants was Birmingham-based SME Ashton & Moore, who started in the aerospace industry through applying coatings to fighter aircraft components during World War II. Dr. Keith Tucker, managing director, said: “Hexavalent chrome is in about 80% of things that we do. We hold approvals for 27 different prime contractors. If they don’t want their supply base to be drastically reduced, we must coordinate our efforts to find a common solution. “As a relatively small company with 100 people and a turnover of £3-4 million we don’t have the budget to do this kind of in-depth scientific research. “The project was really good because it kept us up to date with everything the primes were looking at. the sooner we know which way they are going to go; the more time we have to react.” Everyone appreciated that if they could point the way to new protective treatments and design practices, the UK would be in a strong position to influence international standards – and win global business. As hoped, with companies of all sizes supported by high-calibre academic thinking, a number are collaborating on allied topics. The aerospace industry has to apply very stringent safety considerations to any new or substitute technology. Brian Norton, managing director of Indestructible paint at Sparkhill in Birmingham, outlined the problem: “There are 8,000 parts in a car, but 3 million in an aircraft. It doesn’t matter too much if a car rusts. But if you get a rusty plane … well, there are no lay-bys at 35,000 feet. “To change a design concept is very difficult. And aircraft are built from such things as an aluminum body, a magnesium gearbox on an engine, steel and alloy turbine parts that spin. each of those uses a different chromate. “if you see a new airbus before being painted, it’s green. that’s strontium chromate. the project has dealt with strontium chromate paints and primers – and hard chrome plating on axles too.” Bryan Allcock, of Monitor coatings, based in North shields, Tyne and Wear, said the project had achieved all its major milestones: “As a business, we are more enlightened than we were before – on the legislation and the available alternatives. “Do we have a definitive solution? We’re probably a bit way off that yet. But that was never an objective of this project, which was to move things forward, put the REACH legislation into perspective from a technical and commercial point of view. “Without Innovate UK, it definitely wouldn’t have happened in the same way and it would have taken a lot longer. We are unpacking a piece of legislation, trying to find a technical solution, and you need to be incredibly focused and coordinated.” The consortium partners were: Rolls-Royce plc, Agusta Westland, Ashton & Moore, BAe systems (operations) Ltd, short Brothers plc, Ge Aviation systems, Goodrich Actuation Systems Ltd, Granta Design Ltd, Indestructible paint Ltd, Meggitt Aerospace Ltd, Messier Dowty Ltd, Monitor coatings Ltd, Poeton Industries Ltd, Aero engine controls. The academic partners were the universities of Loughborough, Manchester and Southampton. This case study was originally published in Innovate UK: Aerospace SME case studies, 2015 and is reproduced here under the Open Government Licence v 3.
From horseboxes to yachts, XCommNet’s super-fast internet bonding service is quickly becoming a necessity in luxury transport. The sky’s the limit, which is why XCommNet were thrilled to have the opportunity to trial their internet bonding solution on-board the aircraft of Excellence Aviation. Excellence Aviation specialise in maintaining private jets, they go beyond requirements to ensure that your aeroplane is as safe and as comfortable as possible. XCommNet hope that their unrivalled high-speed internet connection can become an integral part of Excellence Aviation’s bespoke services.
Aero-engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce earns half of its civil aerospace revenue from servicing engines, often on long-term maintenance contracts offering total support. It means that the manufacturer, not the operator, takes the financial risk on what the maintenance costs are likely to be. Being able to estimate the remaining useful, or safe, life of a component through innovation in diagnostics and prognostics could bring considerable cost savings to both operators and manufacturers. Innovate UK has funded a two-year collaborative R&D project in this area, ‘Assessment of on-wing engine health’, led by Rolls-Royce. Humaware, its business partner, was awarded £83,000 towards its costs. It is a five-man company based on the University of Southampton science park. Ken Pipe, Humaware’s managing director, is an international authority on predictive health monitoring and maintenance using Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM) data, and on certification of the processes. “It’s all about maximizing the value of an asset,” he explained. “the objective of prognostics technology is to move beyond risk-based, preventative maintenance to condition-based maintenance where you only change a component because it will become unserviceable if you don’t.” “Nobody risks an airliner failing,” added Ken. “But if you use prognostics, you only maintain when you need to– there is no waste of that resource. In aerospace that’s enormous because, apart from the cost of spare parts, there’s the cost of grounded aircraft being unavailable.” The challenge has been to prove that the prognostics can satisfy even the most stringent safety standards set by the certification authorities. Ken said: “Humaware’s contribution to the project was to develop a proposed certification process for gaining maintenance credits that could be approved by an airworthiness regulator. We could not have afforded to invest at that level or get the support of a large company like Rolls-Royce entirely on our own. “I’m very grateful for the support I’ve had from Innovate UK. it gets us involved in major R&D programs where you can do a significant amount of work.” Predictive health monitoring can be applied across a range of industries, not just aerospace but also rail and oil and gas. Humaware is currently involved in another Innovate UK- funded collaborative R&D project with London Underground. This case study was originally published in Innovate UK: Aerospace SME case studies, 2015 and is reproduced here under the Open Government Licence v 3.