Safety and productivity innovations for aerospace and aviation industry

Paul Boughton

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is showcasing 15  technologies to boost safety and productivity in the aerospace and aviation industry.  

These technologies are featured at the Singapore Airshow at Changi Exhibition Centre.

Showcased by A*STAR’s seven science and engineering research institutes, the advanced technologies are categorised into four key areas: airframe; maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO); electronics and communications and aviation logistics.

Among the A*STAR innovations include:


* Fast curing technology for aerospace sealants and adhesives.

Existing sealants used to repair fuel leaks, install windshields and windows to seal out moisture in aircraft  typically takes a few days to fully cure at normal room temperature. Short wave infrared (IR) radiation penetrates deeply into materials and ensures a more uniform curing through heating. IR radiation is currently used in devices such as heat scanners and sensors. The new and simple curing process, which does not compromise the integrity of the sealants, takes only one to two hours instead of seven days to complete. This means that it uses only 3-5% of the normal time taken by current aerospace industry curing processes, translating  into increased productivity and operational efficiency, and could result in significant cost savings.

* Modelling of electromagnetic interactions in an aircraft

The ever-increasing demand for communication, navigation, and entertainment leads to  heavy adoption of high-speed electronic devices and wireless networks inside the airplane. While wireless communication removes the weight of connecting cables and reduces maintenance fees, it worsens the electromagnetic environment inside the aircraft. Because of this it has become increasingly important to simulate and analyse electromagnetic interactions inside the airplane’s closed environment for reliable aircraft operational functions. The A*STAR-developed  advanced simulation technology accurately models the electromagnetic interactions in a closed environment.

Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul (MRO)

* Advanced metal forming technology of high performance materials

Conventional high performance materials such as chromoly steel, nickel-based alloy and titanium alloys are used for aerospace engine components. The fabrication cost of these materials is high as these tough materials are difficult to form into components of various complex shapes. A novel yet flexible forming technology is being developed to bend and form high-performance materials and thin-walled components of light-weight materials without secondary process, saving time and material cost by 14% and 40% respectively.

* Applications of Laser Aided Additive Manufacturing for Repair of Engine Components

Laser Aided Additive Manufacturing (LAAM) technology can be used to accurately repair damaged parts and directly manufacture nickel-base and titanium-base superalloy 3D components. These tough materials are difficult to repair due to cracking, oxidation and the need to maintain grain size and micro structure integrity. Due to the low heat input and high automation level, LAAM technology has shown its significant advantages over traditional repair processes such as Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding and thermal spraying.  Traditional repair processes cause distortion and peel-off arising from low bonding strength. LAAM technology yields several productivity improvements. Manpower training takes only two weeks compared to a minimum of half a year before  an operator is qualified and experienced for repair work. The deposition rate with localised heating also increases. Current TIG method requires four days to achieve consistent quality for a part compared to 20 minutes. Less material is removed, saving machining time. Current TIG cladding requires about 54% material removal compared to 20% for LAAM.

* Health monitoring and diagnosis

A contactless health and diagnostics check is used for detection of early corrosion surface cracks (including length, width and depth) of less than 1mm and defect detection in composite parts against disbond, de-lamination impact damage. With the rapid scan rates of 0.06m/min – 1.2m/min, non-visible surface cracks can be detected reliably and accurately, minimising potential downtime and improving operational efficiency. Unlike the current ultrasonic methods, this monitoring and diagnostic system is able to detect cracks under paint and thin non-conductive coatings. It does not require a medium to transmit signals into the materials under test.

Electronics and Communications

* Solutions for flight circuit boards and robust memory system and integrated circuits

Many industries such as oil exploration, aerospace and automotive require electronic circuitry that operates at high temperatures.To address these upcoming needs, A*STAR’s Institute of Microelectronics (IME) Rugged Electronics Programme develops sensor interface electronics that can reliably measure various physical parameters at soaring temperatures of up to 300°C and at environmental pressure of up to 30Kpsi. IME researchers are exploiting the low leakage current feature of Silicon On Insulator-CMOS process to develop circuit devices aimed to work at temperature of 300°C. IME’s new approach will address the limitations of conventional Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistors (MOSFETs) to enable high resolution sensor interface circuits that can deliver critical data in harsh environments.   

* Non-volatile memories for high performance, radiation hardened aerospace applications

Leading the way is the next-generation  technology that uses non-volatile memories for on-board flight applications and sensor networks of structural health monitoring systems. Non-volatile memories aim to provide error-correction codes specially designed for memories exposed to high temperatures and high radiation emissions.This high-performance electronics applied to aircraft components allow condition-based repair and maintenance, instead of routine-based repair. Using such integrated damage monitoring systems can help to decrease the cost of repair and maintenance by up to 20%. To fully realise this advantage, memories needed for such application should have a large capacity, the ability to operate in high temperatures, low power consumption, and be resistant to radiation. Current memory devices based on conventional flash and Static Random Access Memory (SRAM) technologies tend to perform poorly. The non-volatile memories—Spin Transfer Torque Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory and Phase-Change Random Access Memory technologies are two core competencies that A*STAR’s Data Storage Institute has developed. More than 30 patents have been filed for this area.

* Next Generation Cabin Communication Platform

In-flight entertainment and communication services are fast gaining importance for airline operators in their bid to attract customers by providing best possible services. However the size, weight, and power constraints of aircraft systems, coupled with rapid advancement in the multitude of communication and entertainment technologies mean that traditional methods of dedicated systems for each supported technology are no longer efficient. A customisable Software Defined Radio (SDR) enables the use of a common platform to be utilised across different aerospace communication systems, such as Global Systems for Mobile, Code Division Multiple Access, and Wireless Local Area Network present in the industry.  As the number of users for different access technologies changes, it can intelligently reconfigure the resource distribution among different base access point functions, ensuring  maximum number of users.

Aviation Logistics

* Automated Control and Self-Recovery System of Airfreight Terminal Operations

To build a world-class fully automated airfreight terminal, A*STAR SIMTech successfully completed an automated control and self-recovery system that executes and controls the transfer of containers across multiple material handling systems. The airfreight terminal contains over 80 different material handling systems which span over eight levels and was designed to handle 800,000 tons per annum. A solution that allowed for automated control and self-recovery system was developed. This system can execute and control the transfer of containers across multiple material handling systems, an on-line origin-to-destination route configuration, operating vehicles in four different modes (Auto, Semi-Auto, Manual and Maintenance), handling of containers of different containers, and transfer optimisation of equipment capable of handling two to six containers. Over more than 10 years of operations, this automated control system has been proven and its capabilities enhanced. The project clinched the 2003 Institution of Engineers Singapore (IES) Prestigious Engineering Award.

 "Amidst the global economic uncertainty, the aerospace industry also faces global challenges with fluctuating fuel costs and the need to optimise operational efficiencies. Science and technology can be tapped to push technological breakthroughs and tackle issues of cost efficiencies, productivity and safety for the industry. Collaborative R&D is a cost effective platform to achieve this,” said Dr Raj Thampuran, Executive Director of the Science  and Engineering Research Council of A*STAR.

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