50: Aeronautics :strong links with industry

When the UTC-Roberval Lab was created, back in 2000, by the merger of the LG2mS (Mechanical engineering and for Materials and Structures) and some other research units, it was placed under a joint hierarchy: UTC and the CNRS. So, what are key features of the Roberval research Lab? Firstly, we can cite the noteworthy, excellent reputation of the research scientists’ teams and the strong links they have built with a variety of industrial sectors.

50: Aeronautics :strong links with industry

From a “more electric” aircraft to an all-electric aircraft

Full Professor Vincent Lanfranchi - who has already received several " 'Best Paper' awards - is a senior lecturer-cum-research scientist at UTC. He heads, M2EI (Mechatronics, Energy, Electricity and Integration) one of the 5 research teams at the UTC-Roberval Laboratory and is currently examining, notably, the feasibility for an all-electric aircraft.

"T he Roberval M2EI research team, with 35 staff, comprising both tenured scientists and PhD students, is focussed currently on "everything to do with energy, electric and mechanical physics.

In short, issues with energy conversion processes, as embodied in actuators, generators or sensors but also questions of energy storage", explains Prof Lanfranchi. This sort of activity is to be found in macrosystems, such as locomotives, aircraft ... but also in microsystems, where, indeed we can be faced with micrometre scaled movements. Another strong feature of the M2EI team is its pluridisciplinarity, notably with it possessing additional proven skills in magnetic and thermal engineering, e.g., Alstom in railroad engineering, Safran Group in aeronautics and the Renault Group in car-manufacturing. Renault is one of the historic partners in particular in regard to projects for all-electric cars with some ongoing "joint theses" but also collaboration in the past. "I myself was one of the co-inventors with a patent claim registered for the Zoë electric propulsions unit" recalls Prof Lanfranchi, who now, with his scientist colleagues at M2EI is turning his focus to electric aircraft.

In the beginning, we talked a lot about "more electric" aircraft, "where the actuators that move and position the flight surfaces were fully mechanical devices. As aircraft bodies grew in size, the mechanical control systems becalmed increasing difficulty to maneuver for the pilots. At first we naturally turned to hydraulically assisted activators. But when electric technologies had become mature, the aircraft assembly companies saw a way here to benefit from increased safety factors by backing up the hydraulics with electric actuators", he underscores.

Today these aircraft companies are faced with a new challenge- designing and assembling tomorrow's airliners. The first question that comes to mind is - should we continue with the same geometry as today's classic wing-borne aircraft or could we shift to drone designs, for example. Prof Vincent Lanfranchi sees this later solution as valid in the mid-term prospects but other solutions are already on the drawing boards, because "we can divide the power needed to fly the machines, through an appropriate choice of the number of electric motors and propellers, battery-connected", he explains, adding enthusiastically "with an all-electric aircraft on the near horizon, we are in the same phase of exploration as the Wright brothers".