Jonathan Newell discovers how Airbus and Altran are working together on replacing heavy electrical wiring harnesses with printed ink circuitry.
The aviation industry is constantly striving to reduce weight and thereby gain fuel efficiencies and reduced emissions. Now, improvements in printing technology has enabled the notion of replacing harnesses with printed circuitry to become a realistic possibility.
At this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards held in Hamburg during March, Airbus won the accolade in the Material and Components category alongside its partner Altran. The awards are held annually and recognise achievements by companies in aircraft interior innovations.
There were 91 nominations submitted from 18 nations, showcasing the latest innovations covering eight categories at this year’s event in Hamburg.
Printed cabin wiring
Jointly developed with Hamburg’s ZAL TechCenter, printed electrics is a new digital technology using conductive inks to print routes for data and power transmission to replace current harnesses.
Massively reducing the part count leads to a reduction of weight and manufacturing cost as well as a simplified architecture, while allowing for last-minute customisation. To make this future technology fly, a joint Airbus and Altran project team has developed a demonstrator for a first use-case on an Airbus A320 airliner – the printed Information Panel. This cabin interior panel displays passenger related safety and comfort information. The new concept could replace the current electrical harness with printed circuits on a flexible foil, making the first step to a harness free aircraft.
According to Geoff Pinner, Head of Cabin & Cargo Programme at Airbus, winning one of the aviation’s Oscars together with Altran for printed electrics shows that the company is continuously pushing the latest in innovative cabin design systems and innovate for its customers and passengers worldwide. “I congratulate the team on their fantastic job and on their well-deserved success,” he says.
Sébastien Renouard, Group VP AeroSpace Defense & Railway at Altran, added: “We are thrilled and delighted to have won the Crystal Cabin Award for the first time as it underlines our constant drive for innovation and cooperation spirit with our customers to develop the next generation technologies. Printed Electrics is an outstanding example for applying disruptive technologies and revolutionising cabin design.”
Technology for the future
Far from being limited to passenger information panels, the concept of replacing harnesses with printed flexible electronic circuitry for both power and data can be applied to other cabin functions. According to Airbus, in the future printed electrics technology could be introduced to the areas of cabling for air conditioning, data transmission and lighting.
As airlines continue to become more competitive in what they offer to passengers, there is an increasing need for more in-cabin connectivity. This extends to entertainment systems, lighting, seat position and climate control as well as on-board connectivity.
These functions place increasing demands on electrical installations and the move towards printed circuitry has potential benefits not only in terms of weight and bulk, but also regarding ease of installation and maintenance.
As with all step changes in applied technology for the aerospace industry, such new approaches will be subject to some degree of delay as the appropriate conformance certification and approvals are obtained.