Light as Air
In 2011 there were 15,556 passenger planes and almost as many private jets in operation worldwide. If predictions prove correct, this figure is set to double in the next fifteen years. At the same time there is a marked trend towards equipping aircraft cabins with additional features that provide comfort at the push of a button. This will require an increasing number of small electric motors which, of course, must be as reliable, light and powerful as possible. Drives from FAULHABER are predestined for this area of application – and this is not only the opinion of Robert Varonier who coordinates activities in this market segment for FAULHABER. We spoke to him about the present and future of the motorised flying experience.
Who needs a motorised touchless toilet seat?
Some passengers in business jets or flying first class place particular importance on not having to touch the seat. This is why an automated toilet seat with sensor and motor was presented at the air trade show in Hamburg last year. This may be a somewhat unusual example of the constantly increasing range of comfort features, but it clearly demonstrates the underlying trend.
How would you characterise this trend?
The trendsetters can be found in private and business jets where there is virtually no financial limit to equipment and features. Here tables and holders for tablet computer are raised and lowered at the push of a button, and window blind systems are automated. Equipment and features that prove successful in this segment are often adapted for use in first class and then later in business class. For example, we saw these years ago when motorised seat adjustment was first introduced. Premium economy class, which is now offered more and more frequently, is likely to be next to adopt a number of comfort technology features.
Which requirements must motors used in aircraft cabins fulfil?
The most important requirement is reliability. Nothing must fail or break during a flight. And, of course, this also means that the maintenance intervals should be as long as possible. Weight is the second most important requirement. Every kilo increases fuel consumption, which is why airlines demand equipment that weighs as little as possible. Electricity consumption is not really an issue for airlines – the fans of the air-conditioning system alone probably use more electrical power than all of the motors in the cabin put together. However, a high power density, i.e. a lot of power from a small mass and therefore also from a small amount of electricity, is of course very important.
What does this mean for FAULHABER?
When it comes to drive solutions, the lists of requirements from airlines and cabin outfitters could almost be mistaken for our product brochures. They put in a nutshell how our products stand above those of our rivals, especially with regard to power density, reliability and maintenance intervals. In fact, you could say that normally an aircraft will have been taken out of service long before a FAULHABER drive needs to be replaced. Recently, airlines have tightened their specifications considerably, and that throws open new opportunities for us.
Can you explain that in more detail?
Today, the majority of motors in aircraft cabins are found in the first-class and business-class seats. Originally, the manufacturers of the seats were primarily automotive suppliers. In this branch, the motors used are for the most part mass-produced items that, however, no longer satisfy the new requirements. This is where our motors, which were previously "too good" for this application, come into play. We can deliver precisely that what customers need – particularly as we offer functional drive systems consisting of motor, gearhead, brake and encoder.
What are the benefits for the customer?
The individual drive components are optimally matched to one another, work perfectly together and thus achieve a very high level of efficiency. We use, for example, extremely high-quality planetary gearheads. The encoders detect the movement of the shafts in high resolution and therefore allow very precisely regulated and smooth adjustment. The brakes are particularly important in cases where locking is required. And, of course, all components meet our high quality standards. We have 60 years of experience in maintaining a leading position in our particular field of technology.
What experience has FAULHABER so far had in the aviation industry?
We have, for example, been supplying drives used for adjusting first-class seats for more than fifteen years. The window shutter in the business class of the Airbus A 319 is powered by a brushless motor that weighs just 192 grams – our 3242 BX4 model. FAULHABER motors can also be found in many safety-critical applications, such as in the locking mechanisms for cabin doors, for emergency exits or for the pilot's seat which must be fixed at a certain position during take-off and landing. Another application is the adjustment of valves which regulate the pressure in the air-conditioning system.
Where do you see potential for additional motorisation?
The onboard entertainment systems of the business class – individual, fold-down screens – are increas ingly becoming motorised, and something similar may also be in the pipeline for the economy class. In addition, more and more passengers want to use their own tablet for which there are now also motorised holders. In the higher-class area, tables and partition walls, which are being installed more and more, are equipped with motor drives. Lowerable armrests to allow unobstructed access to the seat are also increasingly used. Last but not least: Manufacturers of business jets and especially Arabian airlines are most definitely interested in the motorised toilet seat mentioned previously.