Skip to main content

Development and Manufacturing of Intelligent Lightweight Composite Aircraft Container

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - INTELLICONT (Development and Manufacturing of Intelligent Lightweight Composite Aircraft Container)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-02-28

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.
In WP1, a standalone specialty previously validated micromechanics-based progressive failure analysis code was utilized for the accurate extraction and calibration of the composite properties. Effective composite properties were successfully compared with the previously theoretically derived (D4.1) and the experimentally measured properties. Extracted material properties are important for the project continuation and its successful outcome as they consist the required input for the numerical simulation of the Smart Container which will guide further testing of components and structures. The material characterization tests were contacted according to the respective ASTM and ISO standards as required from the project description. In summary, all mechanical properties were characterized, the bulk of them physically and a small percentage of them virtually. The impact testing of Macro-Lite panel specimens was also conducted, according to the AITM-1-0057 test method, as per project requirements. In WP2, UMAN team has presented a detail design of the fire detection and suppression for the smart container. We further assessed the fire suppression for the smart container and we presented a detail plan for the prototype testing, to be used as a guideline for Performance Testing fire testing. In WP3, the design of the Robotic Platform was completed, focusing on the most critical components of the system (wheels, actuators, bearing units, etc.). Drawings from a detailed CAD model were provided, showing the distribution of the different subsystems in the RP. The external dimensions and the actuation subsystem of the RP were detailed, and the design steps and challenges were described in detail. All selected components were shown in detail in CAD form. A detailed 3D simulation of the RP was developed in the multibody simulation environment MSC Adams to facilitate several design and sizing decisions. The simulation is very detailed, and includes 3D kinematics and dynamics of the wheels and of the platform, the effects of friction, and of the actuators, while the environment is modelled as level or tilted and includes the gap and disparity between the aircraft floor and the loader. This allowed us to validate the entire design and its feasibility. In WP4, after the initial development phase, the RMC system underwent several laboratory tests. The tests were performed according to requirements described in relevant Deliverables of the Intellicont Project. The components selected including the sensors and the circuit boards are the same as the ones that are going to be installed in the containers during the system’s pilot testing. The integrity and robustness of the measurements were assured by performing each series of measurements at least 3 times, according to the standard laboratory test practice. In WP5, we completed the sensors’ integration, the election of frame’s fiber configuration, the design of support brackets, the definition of the final design of PET rigid foam which acts as counterpart between the base-plate and the Container when the definitive design of the frame is set, the purchase the straps/belts for manual handling, the definitive design of the access into the baseplate, to be able to replace batteries and carry out maintenance operations and the final design of the fire-resistant door. Additionally, we completed the integration of the ICT platform/interface components (batteries, wires, communication systems) in the Container’s design, detailed CAD drawings of the components to manufacture including tolerances, the order and purchase of the pultrusion molds, the manufacturing of the L-shaped pultruded profiles (FRP frame manufacturing), the FRP frame manufacturing, the machining the roof, floor, wall panels, container parts and PET foam counterparts. The machining of the aluminum baseplate and overall assembly is on-going.
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.