Researchers from Fraunhofer ENAS have come up with new manufacturing processes that automatically print electrical conductors directly onto aircraft components.
According to the researchers led by Dr. Ralf Zichner, there is no waste during production, and the print templates can be adapted quickly and flexibly.
Moreover, the classic laying of the cable harnesses is eliminated and the aircraft manufacturers save space and weight.
An aircraft’s fuselage is replete with copper cables that run through the vessel similar to veins in the human body. These cables are known for transmitting electrical signals for temperature-measuring sensors, LEDs in ceilings or electronic connections in seats. During their installation, individual cables are combined into harnesses.
“The process of producing and installing cable harnesses is currently 100 percent manual. This is very time-consuming and expensive,“ says Zichner.
The ENAS researchers are thus making use of electrically conductive silver ink which can be applied by screen or inkjet printing in layers of only a few microns directly onto lightweight aerospace materials.
In addition to the use of printing technologies for the production of printed conductors, the scientists have also integrated microcontrollers, diodes, capacitors, resistors and other electronic components into aerospace modules.
High-temperature resistant thermoplastics are an important component of lightweight, stable fiber reinforced plastics (FRP), which are indispensable in the construction of aircraft.
Thermoplastics can be reshaped or formed in a specific temperature range; they also cool down quickly after processing and can be processed at a fast pace.
“In aviation, though, there has previously been a lack of concepts for the cost-effective production of functionally integrated thermoplastic structures,“ notes Tobias Joppich of Fraunhofer ICT.
Together with partners in the LuFo V-1 program, Fraunhofer ICT has developed a new component and production concept with modular stiffening elements for cargo holds.
The lightweight construction experts produce these from fiber-reinforced high-temperature thermoplastics in a hybrid molding process, a combination of forming and injection molding processes.
According to the researchers, the lightweight components are flame retardant, stable, can be automated in large quantities and are easy to assemble.
The new concept can also be applied to other aircraft components, including the body shell, clips or internal components, such as seat structures.
Image and content: Fraunhofer ENAS