Airbus flies at the top of the small world of aircraft manufacturers. In 2015, the European aircraft manufacturer recorded 1007 orders, well above its targets and the performance of its rival Boeing, which sold half as many aircraft. What is the secret of this success? Several technical and economic factors can explain it. But the race for innovation led by Airbus seems to be a key explanation.
Ahe Airbus frenzy for innovation is unfolding all over the place. Two examples from the European manufacturer's recently filed patents bear witness to this.
The removable cabin
It's the American magazine wired who first unveiled this patent deposited at theUS Patent and Trademark Office in 2013, but approved only a few days ago.
The concept imagined by Airbus is that of a removable cabin in which passengers would board in advance. The idea is based on an observation that everyone can make: when you take a plane, most of the time spent in the airport is spent waiting. This is due to the fact that planes rotate, i.e. they land to disembark passengers and then depart with new passengers to a new destination. During this time when the plane is on the tarmac of the airport, it is necessary to refuel, clean the cabin, refuel for the next flight, prepare for the arrival of passengers, carry out security measures and board the plane. It takes a lot of time when the plane is not flying.
Boeing's American competitor, Boeing, explained that by reducing the "turn-time"s, that is, the time between an aircraft landing and take-off, of only 10 minutes, this would improve the level of aircraft utilization by 8.1%. The "turn-time" is therefore a major challenge for aircraft manufacturers? especially since airlines only make profits when their fleets are flying.
The Airbus patent consists of transforming the cabin into a removable module, detachable from the aircraft, which would include a floor, the upper part of the fuselage and all the seats of the aircraft. In simple terms, when an aircraft lands, the cabin is detached and another is added with its passenger and refuelling quota. The system is similar to what is done to load a container on a cargo ship. This system will limit the time on the ground of the aircraft to the preparation of the aircraft, such as filling the kerosene tanks, rather than to the time it takes for the passengers to settle in. According to l'Usine Nouvellethis would represent a significant decrease in the "turn-time".
In time, this system may also be applied to bunkers and freight.
Here are some diagrams of the removable cabin patent and the equipment that airport infrastructures will have to provide:
The bionic interior
In early December, at a conference organized by Autodesk in Las Vegas, Airbus unveiled a project conducted in collaboration with the software publisher. The two companies used algorithms inspired by bone growth and 3D printing techniques to reduce the weight of an A320 bulkhead by 45 %.
Passengers in an aircraft pay little attention to the bulkheads of the aircraft. Yet this is a particularly thorny issue for manufacturers who are looking for the lightest and least bulky bulkheads possible. But also the strongest to support the weight of passengers and physical constraints in flight.
To meet this challenge, Airbus, in conjunction with software publisher Autodesk, used 3D printing techniques and algorithms based on cell structure and bone growth. According to Industry & TechnologiesAccording to the manufacturer, this new design, when applied to the entire cabin of an A320 and the current backlogs, should enable it to emit 465,000 metric tons of CO2 less per year, the equivalent of 96,000 fewer cars on the road each year.
Thanks to bio-inspired algorithms, the software used was able to generate tens of thousands of iterations to find the right configuration according to the established constraints. This is referred to as "generative" design. The bionic bulkhead, which will be flight-tested in 2016, is based on an assembly of 116 parts printed in an aluminium, magnesium and scandium alloy called Scalmalloy and developed by APWorks, an Airbus subsidiary specialising in 3D printing and advanced materials. Specially designed for 3D printing, this metal alloy offers excellent mechanical properties and high extensibility. This is the first time it has been used on a large scale, inside an aeronautical component.
As you can see, Airbus does not hesitate to be imaginative and to deploy the most innovative concepts. This is the key to its success. All that remains now is to have them certified by the aviation safety authorities before putting them into service.