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.
Following another, recent merger, with UTC-LEC, the 5 research teams specialized to cover the domains: computational mechanical engineering, acoustics and vibrations, materials and surfaces, mechatronics, energy sources and uses, electricity, system integration and, last but not least, industrial systems: products/processes. Let us look at the team for Computational Mechanics, to illustrate their scope and scale of their activities. Prof Jérôme Favergeon — who has directed the UTC-Roberval Laboratory since 2015 — explains, “What we do is to develop robust test phase computational techniques we use to elaborate methodology with some original, specific digital models for the purpose of optimizing complex multi-physics problems. Our Acoustics and Vibrations team is investigating all sorts of unwanted noise and/or vibrations found building structures and in vehicles that first need to be identified, then characterized and finally treated using digital models and experimental setups to optimize vibro-acoustic behaviours”. In regard to the Materials and Surfaces team, ” they essentially examine three families of materials: composites which prove to be of great interest to the aeronautical sector, metallic alloys and nano-charged polymers which in short is equivalent to integrating nano-materials into polymers. The aim here — whatever the materials involved — is to better understand their structures at various scales and to determine how they will behave through time. In fine, we predict expected operation life span for them”, he details. Next we have the Mechatronics team, in full Mechatronics, energy, electricity and integration with two main lines of activity: “on one hand, miniaturized, small mechatronics systems with low power ratings, and on the other machines that require powerful electric supply — such as we find in all-electric vehicle power propulsion motors and the Industrial Systems team who do research into product/process thematics as found in manufacturing lines and associated design work and develop “tools and methodologies used for integrated robust design work on products and processes to ensure manufacturing line-design-industrialization assembly digital continuity, as well as multidisciplinary collaboration all of which research works is in line with the concept of Industrie 4.0”, adds Prof Favergeon.
As far as the links between UTC-Roberval and industry are concerned, they go back a long way in time, plus being numerous and varied. To begin we can cite the CIFRE industrial theses defended at UTC-Roberval, i.e., which are financed by an industrial host partner. These PhDs are supervised by several of the Robert research scientists and can be found in a number of fields, first among which is transpiration, with a number of sub-themes — automobiles, aeronautics, railroad, naval… followed by energy topics (which of course is a contributor to transportation) for example for propulsion units in all-electric vehicles and finally we have health-care sector technologies, in a collaboration with another UTC Lab — BMBI (Bio-mechanics and Bio-engineering).
Some of our industrial partnerships are more formal, notably in the framework of the 15, or so, Government vetted Institutes of Technological Research (IRTs) that exist today in France. As Prof Favergeon underscore, “UTC is a partner to Railenium, a rail-road IRT (notably working for the French SNCF national railway company). Other partnerships are signed outside pre-established structures. For example, there is a project underway with the Paris region “metro” consortium, RATP, to investigate rail wear phenomena and other projects are being discussed with SAFRAN for the inclusion of composites in aeronautics. And a final from of partnership — and maybe we can see this as reflecting the high-profile image UITC enjoys from the industrialists’ point of view — the setting up of joint laboratory structures with objectives to carry out “academic research whilst serving the needs for innovation of the industrialists”, he explains. “A case in point here is the creation of a joint lab set up with Deltacad, in a close liaison with the Roberval Industrial Systems research scientists. This lab is devoted to “the whole area of digital mock-ups and general digitization of industrial enterprises. There will be a similar case for a joint lab we plan to launch with ArcelorMittal in Autumn 2019”, concludes Prof Jérome Favergeon.
“I have always had a passion for aeronautics and aerospace activities” , explains Coraline Arzelier, a UTC student engineer majoring in Mechanical Engineering. “And, since I completed my CCs in mechanical engineering, I am now fully convinced that this is the field in which I want to work later”. It was the very attractiveness of the field, with its ever increasing industrial demands that prompted UTC to instate an “aeronautics certification”. “French aeronautics industries rank second in the world”, states Patrice Simard, a lecturer-cum-research scientists in the UTC-Roberval Laboratory and in charge of this certification process. “It is therefore important to continue to offer a competitive level of training, because the demand is enormous in terms of needs for engineering qualifications”. The future certification will be launched in Autumn 2019; and will match the demand.
“No supplementary training commitments will be requisite, but students’ choice of course modules will be oriented to as to enable future graduates to valorize their UTC diploma and skills”, adds Patrice Guillaume, also matriculated in the major Mechanical Engineering. He is sure of the outcome: “The certification will give me a better personal visibility and enable me to secure the job I want more easily”.
The process will also help to attract highly motivated students like Coraline, to UTC, who adds “A lot of my university activates revolve round aeronautics; the certification will now allow me to demonstrate to possible recruiters that I do have experience and a relevant knowledge and skills base”.Several well-known industrial companies have accepted to oversee and accompany this ambitious project: Ariane Group, le CNES (French space agency), Safran-Zodiac, etc. As Patrice details it — “We have the support of the local aero-club and we have a good working partnership with the aviation ‘old wings’ association Cercle des machines volantes, With our involvement in the “conservation plan for former aviation”; we are contributing actively to the regional aeronautics aggregate”.
ACCESSIBLE CERTIFICATIONTO DOUBLE DEGREE SCHEMES
For UTC students registered for a double degree ” this certification is also an excellent way to valorize skills acquired at Cranfield University (UK). Diane Nguyen, a UTC student majoring in Mechanical Engineering and for a double degree with Cranfield, immediately perceived the interest of this certification for a future career in the aeronautics sector.
“My personal training route at UTC, given the pluridisciplinary nature of the CCs, the sheer diversity of the projects we are assigned, the placement opportunities all enabled me to orient my professional aspirations towards aeronautics. I took part, to illustrate this, in the flightworthy reconstruction of the famous Latécoère 28 — [NdT 1927 Model flown in 1930 across South Atlantic by Jean Mermoz] , with the association aeronautics CCs in a partnership with the le Cercle des Machines Volantes association. Likewise, most of my project work was on aeronautical structures, such as fuselage vibration, wing profile studies … and I also obtained my pilots license via the association UTCiel.
My double degree with Cranfield now allows me to specialize in the calculations and design needed for various aeronautical structures, with continued training on theoretical aspects (aerodynamics, composites, aircraft systems …) all directly applicable to any internationally scaled aircraft industrial projects.My dream to work on and with aero planes came true recently when I was hired by Safran Aircraft Engines, as a design engineer working on the M88 jet engine that equips the French Rafale fighter.
Why create a Chair for Hydraulics and Mechatronics at UTC? “The basic reason was to “dust down” and spruce up some old technology, viz., hydraulics, a technology going back to the1920s with the arrival of new technologies, notably Computer sciences and EDP”, explains Éric Noppe. The creation also matched needs expressed by mechanical engineering industrialists. The developments due to computer science and EDP are enormous, and it is the case in mechanical engineering. That indeed led to the coining of the word mechatronics. “First used in Japan in the 1980s; this term embodied the idea that mechanical systems are not just assembled mechanisms and parts but they also integrate a control system, with automation, sensors and electronics”, recalls Éric Noppe.
Does this industrial chair have any special feature? The Chair holder was recruited for his expertise in a specific field, viz., hydraulic power transmission systems and has two assigned missions: one lies in a teaching commitment and the other in R& D. “The Chair is ‘piloted’ by an ensemble of committees and by the industrialists who finance operations whilst fully respecting the university missions, i.e., the academic teaching and research. Our job is to teach the students, to develop their knowledge base and to explain new concepts even if the general chair orientation is provided by the industrial partners”, underlines Éric Noppe, who also cotes the Chair of Glass Windows, totally financed by the Saint-Gobain Group. In the case of the Chair of Hydraulics and Mechatronics, and because there is no major company in this field, the funding came via several actors: the Region Hauts-de-France, UIMM (professional sector trade union for metallurgy …) and the CETIM ‑technical centre for mechanical engineering industries). This technical centre, created in 1965, was set up in 1971, in the nearby town of Senlis and with UTC, created in 1973, has have collaborated seriously at a constant level of interaction, ever since they both came on the scene in the early 70s. This collaboration which is both pedagogical and in partnership contract research continues as well as ever before, witness the fact that their framework agreement will be renewed in 2019.
One of the stakes and challenges today? “Well, notably to give young people the desire to train for this technology in order to meet the needs of industrialists and professionals of power transmission systems. Hence the project to build a hydraulic drone”, he adds. As he sees it, a drone project had two lives. “The first step consisted in capturing the students’ attention by proposing an innovative design; that was a success. The second step, ongoing today, is to collaborate with UTC-Heudiasyc, the CETIM and ARTEMA the professional trade union for mechatronic industrialists, to develop a service-oriented drone employing a hydraulic power transmission system”, he says.
After envisaging a 4 propeller-driven drone in the 300–500 kg range — a sort of taxi drone for a Smart City setting — with a payload of the same order — they had to reduce their ambitions in order to comply with flight regulations for this sort of machine. The model will now be a 25 kg one and the demonstrator should be ready and flying within a year. What could be its concrete applications? Monitoring of sensitive sites, events or buildings/bridges, etc. Hence the clear and keen interest shown by numerous industrialists.
So, what are your research priorities ? We have there essentially — first, assembling and analyzing the behaviour of composite materials and polymers, second, investigating mechanical behaviour and operational resilience and sustainability and third, all issues involved in surfaces, in particular contact mechanics and tribology (science of friction). Of course, in reality, these three areas overlap and interact.Prof Aboura explains: “The first mentioned priority is especially oriented to analysis of the relationships between processes/ properties. The second looks notably at material behaviour, whatever the origins, in connection with the micro, or mesostructures of these materials. The final priority theme looks at surfaces, in particular at problems arising due to friction, parts rubbing together. We also examine the relationship process/properties for metallic materials as assembled using 3D additive fabrication” (3D printing), he adds.
The Material and Surface research team’s partnerships go beyond purely academic work. This is borne out by the strong links with the Safran Group that started back in the 1990s. That was when the Group began considering using composites — a combination of fibre strengtheners in a polymer matrix- with 3D reinforcement, in their new engines. “This led to an ambitious research programme being launched by Safran to gain expertise in the assembly of 3D woven reinforced composites. Once the Group had identified the various laboratories in terms of their specific skills, both nationally and internationally, the Group then set out to understand the mechanisms that can trigger material damage and to draft scenarios for possible catastrophic failures occurring. Three families of reinforcement were chosen for testing and analysis: stitching, or tufting, orthogonal weaves or interlocked woven layers”, emphasizes Prof Aboura.
This turned out to be a highly rewarding collaboration, since the SAFRAN GROUP finally opted for this architecture, given its extraordinary level of damage tolerance, for the intake compressor blades and the cowling shield of its LEAP engine. So how successful is it? It was introduced in 2016, equips all Boeing 737 Max, 50% of the Airbus 320 NEO and a Chinese passenger aircraft, the Comac C919. What are its advantages? 15% reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, close to 50% decrease in NOx emissions and a significant drop in engine noise. It gradually replaces the CFM56, the most sold jet engine in the world, developed by Safran Aircraft Engines and General Electric.
SAFRAN is an international high-tech group engaged in the designing and assembly of aircraft engines, aeronautical, space and defence equipment.
- Corporate annual turnover 2018: 21 billion euros
- R & D budget: 1.5 billion euros, fy 2018
- Number of patent claims lodged in 2017: 850
- Number of personnel: 92 000
- Ranked N° 1 in the world for short and medium range civil aircraft jet engines
- Ranked N° 1 in the world for helicopter mounted turbine engines
- Ranked N° 1 in Europe for tactical drones
On what sorts of materials do the UTC-Roberval Material and Surface research scientists work ? “Well, they focus mainly on three classes of materials. 1° metallic alloys, 2° polymers and 3° 3D composites. In the special field of material optimization, as needed for transportation, the key word is to identify, assemble and use weight-saving structures, to comply with the European targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions”, explains Salima Bouvier. Where aeronautics is concerned, these environmental concerns have motivated the setting up of several materials-intensive research programmes.
What are the paths you explore to find and develop weight-saving structures? “Certain metal parts can be replaced by composites with organic matrices, and these are lighter. This proves possible when the systems are operating in a cold zone. When, however, we move to a hot environment, in regard to material properties, we need to revert to metallic alloys and even ceramics”, underscores Prof Bouvier. The drawback to these new materials is their cost. So, you must think about reducing costs as much as possible? “Indeed, the cost of procuring, preparing, assembling and installing certain alloys such as nickel-based alloys is high to the point that certain segments can be replaced by titanium alloys, even though this entails bi-material assemblies”, she details.
Evolutionary trends today in of material solutions for aeronautics marks the outset of current research into bi-material assembly processes, for example titanium and nickel by welding, or, a composite and titanium which calls for a mechanical assembly. This is a major challenge for the aeronautics sector. Witness the Optimum project with welding of titanium and nickel. It is a long term projects financed by the French national research funding agency (ANR), FRAE (the French Research Foundation for Aeronautics and Space), the Region Hauts-de-France, Airbus Industries and ACB, one of the equipment manufacturers specialists in material welding techniques for the aeronautical sector.
The team made two observations. Remind us, please, what was the first? “We realized”, explains Émeric Ostermeyer, “that fabrication processes generate enormous amounts of data. We decided, consequently that we should examine the question of how best to reuse, accumulate and build onto the knowledge encoded in the data”. And your second observation? “The programmers, in this instance those who create parts machining programmes spend a lot of tile doing basic routine activities and thus less time on the higher added value work”, he adds.
What is the guide-line idea behind the project? ” It consists of analyzing all the data collected during the fabrication phases using data mining techniques, and what we call machine learning” processes so as to automate — wherever possible — the routine work in fabrication and to spend more time on the more complex issues”, he insists .
Who are the partners to this LUCID FUI 21 Project, launched in 2016? There are 4 partners: Safran Group, Hexagon Group NCSimul (software editor), Ventana Taverny, who work mainly for aeronautical and aerospace and UF1, a more ‘general scope’ company. These aeronautical partners have expressed a very strong demand for “traceability in respect to the parts that structure an aircraft engine today, for example, the compressor fan assemblies or turbine blades. It is of utmost importance that we know which machine, which programme was used to fabricate every single engine part, with total compliancy in the digital continuity, as we say”, recalls Alexandre Durupt. ““We use the expression “digital continuity” when we make an information transfer from software A to software B in an automated manner — the human operator only being there to ensure and certify correct transfer” details Émeric Ostermeyer.
Let us take the case of the Safran Group. “They have some 500 machine tools in operation. The vert organization of the machining programmes becomes very complex. A great many software packages are involved. Firstly, we have the fabrication packages which are computer-aided (CA) which prepare and edit the parts fabrication programme; then we have the software that transfers and converts the programme into executable machine language and lastly we have the programme test simulator which is run before fabrication is actually launched”, concludes Alexandre Durupt.
“The 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”.
The team on Acoustics and Vibrations, with 17 staff members comprising both tenured scientists, postdocs and PhD students is the smallest of UTC-Roberval’s five research teams. “We train and graduate some 20 engineers each year. We have our own specialty slot. Besides UTC and its Roberval Lab, there are currently two other acoustics and vibration schools in France: one in Le Mans, the other in Lyons”, explains Prof Perrey-Debain. More will doubtless follow since “the offer today falls clearly short of demand expressed by the industrialists”, he adds. All the more so that collaborating with industrial sectors is an integral part of UTC’s DNA, and particularly so at the UTC-Roberval Lab, who show the largest annual business turnover of all the units at UTC, via UTEAM Compiegne — the in-house contract research company and ESCOM (Organic and Mineral Chemistry).
One specific feature that Emmanuel Perrey-Debain enjoys hollering about, “loud and strong”. “We work with real matter and o problems that face the industrialists and our remit is try to find solutions to their problems whilst continuing to enrich the associate academic knowledge base”, he emphasizes. A case in point is the HEXENOR project that began in 2012, under the European Clean Sky Programme aimed at making aircraft cleaner and less noisy. What is the objective shared by UTC and its partners? It consists of designing and assembling a muffler/ silencer unit specially aimed at helicopters, in order to reduce the noise level generated by the engine. Also worth mentioning, the themes of several PhD theses that have recently been presented (or which are ongoing). One, now completed, is about “aero-vibro-acoustics”, viz., how to predict and prevent (minimize) noise and vibrations due to turbulent fluid flows. The results here are applicable to other areas, among which buildings, automobiles, aeronautics …
Another ongoing thesis, financed by Airbus Helicopters relates to the air-conditioning units that produce high frequency noise that is highly disturbing for the flight crew. “Wouldn’t the Grail here, for helicopter and also for airline pilots, surely be to be able to work in the cockpit without having to wear earphones?” surmises Prof Emmanuel Perrey-Debain, to conclude.
A cylinder by the name of Prométhée [Prometheus], almost 2 metres long, standing on its test bed near the UTC Fab’Lab, is one of the five rockets developed by this Association UTspaCe. “While at UTC we learned a lot about mechanical engineering and UTspaCe allows us to apply these skills and knowledge to the space technologies, asserts Guillaume Buron, President of UTspaCe. “Our UTC students are totally invested this work and have spent lots of time and energy to understanding and applying some very high-tech engineering”, adds Emmanuel Doré, a lecturer-cum-research scientist working at the UTC-Roberval laboratory.
The students involved have benefited from help offered by Jérôme Blanc and Philippe Pouille, both lecturers-cum-research scientists also at the Roberval Lab. “Their help came in the form as advice based on their experience and expertise in design and assembly engineering”, explains Emmanuel. “They also made some of the rocket parts and did some machining alongside the students”.
Building a rocket requires some cutting edge technological skills. “The students learned about rocket design, communication, creativity, rigorous work and above all how to work on their own”, declares Emmanuel Doré. “In the UTC engineering core programme we set the students to work on some mini-rocket assemblies, where they are supervised bv elder, majoring students”, adds Guillaume. The experiment rockets here required more skills and they were set aside and reserved for the majoring students themselves”. What is the target for the projects? C’space, an international get-together proposed by the CNES (national French space agency) with assistance from Planète Sciences and the French Army on its Tarbes military base (South West France in July, when UTspaCe will be able to proceed with the planned launches. You can follow the 4 launch sequences on Facebook and Instagram!
- Poppins: with a decent braking system using a rigid ribbed parachute
- Flash: nominal flight planned
- Hermès: will release a drone that will return and land on the launch pad
- Prométhée: equipped with an inertial disk to enable release of a module at a pre-established angle with respect to the horizon.
- Phoenix: capable of reaching a speed of Mach 0.9 (launch planned for 2020)