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Development and Manufacturing of Intelligent Lightweight Composite Aircraft Container

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INTELLICONT (Development and Manufacturing of Intelligent Lightweight Composite Aircraft Container)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2019-08-31

Air cargo containers (ULDs) have not followed in the technological advances of aircraft structures and systems. They still face rudimentary challenges pertaining to ULD and aircraft weight reduction, effective fire/smoke detection and suppression, flexible moving and locking hardware and enhanced flight safety, loading/unloading logistics and maintenance. INTELLICONT will develop, manufacture and validate a new intelligent lightweight aircraft cargo container with integrated functions for restrain, transportation, fire/smoke suppression, with sensing and wireless monitoring capabilities. The outlined approach entails development of a full composite ULD, manufactured by low cost, high output methods (pultrusion, RTM). A self-moving platform will allow the motion of the ULD inside and outside the aircraft. Low-cost and low-energy sensors in the container will track status (ID, location, locking state) and will detect critical events, fire/smoke, impacts and accidental misuse. The status of each container will be available to the crew through a wireless network, such that problems would be detected and proper measures would be taken. Lab-scale and full-scale tests will validate the novel ULD. The ambition of the project is to provide a major break-through in the state of the art of current ULD technology and aircraft cargo operations. INTELLICONT aims to be a game changer for the air-cargo industry with substantial broader impact on air-cargo handling operations.
During the first months of the project he specifications and the concept of the Smart Container design were defined in accordance with the requirements of the Topic Manager and the relevant standards. As far as the structural part is concerned the initially proposed design and optimization phases of the container have been completed, including solutions for accessibility to the interior of the container for maintenance purposes. The dynamic response of the container frame has been simulated by performing simulations considering impact events in the three main directions. The prediction of failure modes considering critical static and impact load cases has been completed. All composite material specimens were fabricated and delivered for testing. The whole material characterization campaign of specimens has been performed and completed.
Concerning the fire and smoke supression sub-system, one multi-criteria sensor located at centre roof of the container was specified, powered by a 28V battery and connected to the controller (RMC node) inside the container. The smart container will communicate with the central HMI system through wireless gateways and when fire occurs in the container, the flight crew will be notified by the HMI system within 1 min. The simulation results suggested that a huge improvement was achieved compared to cargo detectors used outside the container. With a higher activation threshold, detectors can effectively distinguish fire from nuisance smoke signals, so false alarms can be effectively avoided. In addition the combustion performance of the Macrolite panel was tested using Cone calorimeter according to ISO 5660. The heat release rate of Macrolite panel is at acceptable level, indicating good fire resistance and the passive fire suppression system for the Smart container was fully assessed using numerical simulation approach. The Smart container with passive fire protection is well sealed, the oxygen supply is limited so fire development can be passively controlled due to shortage of oxygen and ideally will eventually die out providing enough time for safe landing. Results also showed that the smoke leaked from the container will not cause fire hazard to passengers in upper deck cabin because of the positive pressure difference between cabin and cargo. In addition, the obtained internal pressure data from the simulation results assured that smoke accumulated inside the container will not lead to excessive overpressure, when the leakage size meets the requirement in the ISO 11242.
For the locking and transport functionality, a robotic platform was designed and manufactured in the form of a laboratory prototype. The robotic platform shall be able to move ULDs weighing up to 1.2 tons of mass, identify them using visual aids, perform precise motions across x and y axes with up to ±1.55o longitudinal slopes, monitor and transmit useful information. The locking system will restrain the ULDs along all axes, and in case of power loss or other system malfunction, keep them restrained and provide manual release to the user. A concise report of this sub-system was delivered, including facts on the preliminary design and on the development of its high accuracy localization system. Simulation experiments and their results were also provided.
The design and testing of the Remote Monitoring and Control (RMC) system was mostly completed as well. The RMC system includes inside the container, nodes that will be connected to various sensors/devices to receive/transmit data to a gateway. The gateway will then transmit the data to an HMI device. The work in the first period of the project delivered the initial architecture of the system, the software organization and the initial selection of components and their interfaces, usage, functionality, performance, resilience, reuse, comprehensibility, economic - technological constraints and aesthetics issues. The development of a working system prototype is on-going. As for the overall Smart Container manufacturing, feasible manufacturing routes have been chosen for each component based on its design, functionality and manufacturing requirements.
The project is expected to have drastic impacts on the objectives of the CleanSky, the future design and operation of passenger aircrafts and the operation and retrofitting of cargo airplanes. It is expected to be a game changer in the air-cargo and ULD industry with a broader societal impact.The reduced weight of the optimized full-composite construction of the container will produce substantial weight and fuel savings. The specified weight reduction of 20kg will result in a 20% reduction in fuel consumption. This enables a payback period of slightly more than a year. The new ULD will eliminate permanent aircraft loading systems from the loading deck floors. Existing systems mostly rely on a central actuation systems installed onboard and in airports, moving all containers in turn in a nearly serial manner. This is taking space but most importantly adds significant weight to an airplane, even if it carries no containers. By adding self-motion capabilities and intelligence to ULDs the permanent motion and loading systems can be eliminated, enabling substantial savings. INTELLICONT will eliminate the fireproof liners and permanent fire suppression systems from the cargo deck. The development of passive fire and smoke resistant containers, in connection with the proposed embedded fire and smoke detection and suppression capabilities will minimize or eliminate the need for fire-proof liners and central fire-extinguishing systems, thus further reducing the permanent aircraft weight. The redesign of the lower fuselage structures in future large passenger aircraft. Clearly, the previous weight reductions in the lower cargo bays of passenger aircrafts will pave the way for new lighter designs of the lower fuselage structure, producing additional future weight and fuel savings.