Andrew Gibson of maxon motor considers the challenges facing the post-crisis UK aerospace industry
What will the aerospace industry look like in the near future? With flights having been restricted for months and the skies silent, the aerospace industry is seeing its worst ever global decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the industry resets itself to a set of new conditions, there will be a continuing push for driving costs down and providing a greener operation.
Andrew Gibson, an aerospace specialist at maxon motor has been examining the current state of affairs in the industry and considers the role maxon will play in meeting the cost and environmental challenges to come.
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, the industry 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.
maxon designs high power density compact motors. For example, the company’s brushless DC motor can deliver 120W in a package as small as Ø19mm by 58mm long and weighing in at 108g. Comparable motor can weigh as much as 1kg. The weight reduction alone would mean significant savings on, for example, seat actuators where there would be multiple units within a cabin. It would not only be weight saving on the motor itself, but also reduced material in the brackets that the motor mounts onto.
There are two schools of thought in the aerospace industry, one is to design a system to specification and the other is to use commercial off the shelf products. There are benefits and pitfalls to both. If you start with a blank sheet of paper, you can make sure the final product 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.
The alternative is to start with a commercial off the shelf product that can be customised to meet specification. Taking such an approach has the potential to vastly reduce your fixed costs. In this instance, maxon is able to supply prototypes quickly, allowing the test programme to commence earlier, again reducing costs. The 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.
Electric motors used in aerospace applications need to go through more stringent approvals. maxon has an environmental testing process where the products are exposed to high levels of vibration and shock, temperature cycling and even high altitude testing for the space industry.
With such processes in place and product flexibility, maxon is ready to support the aerospace industry as it moves into more challenging territory where costs and environmental factors take higher priority and the industry shifts to the concept of “more electric aircraft”.