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. 

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. 

PROF. JEROME FAVERGEON WAS APPOINTED DIRECTOR OF UTC-ROBERVAL LAB. IN 2015. He suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed the merg­er with UTC-LEC in 2018. UTC-Rober­val now has a staff of 170, i.e., mak­ing it the largest research unit, out of eight, at UTC. The new struc­ture has 5 research teams.

A great many stu­dents choose to do engi­neer­ing stud­ies in order to work in the field of aero­nau­tics, which is a pas­sion for them. And it is an area with plen­ty of pro­fes­sion­al recruit­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties! UTC’s aero­nau­ti­cal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion allows its grad­u­ates to val­orize their skills on this attrac­tive and promis­ing market-place. 

“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”. 


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. 

With 25 years’ expe­ri­ence behind him in indus­try, notably with Das­sault Avi­a­tion and the Renault Groupe, Éric Noppe was appoint­ed in 2010 to the Chair of Hydraulics and Mecha­tron­ics. He is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a project for a hydraulic trans­mis­sion drone in a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the UTC-Heudi­asyc lab, the CETIM, and ARTEMA (pro­fes­sion­al trade union). The plan is to have a demon­stra­tor fly­ing with­in a year. 

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. 

Zoheir Aboura, full Pro­fes­sor since 2007, heads the Mate­ri­als and Sur­face research team at the UTC-Rober­val Lab. The team com­pris­es 42 tenured staff (plus PhD and post doc students). 

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

Full Pro­fes­sor Sal­i­ma Bou­vi­er is Direc­tor of the UTC Engi­neer­ing Depart­ment, which was cre­at­ed fol­low­ing a merg­er of two UTC course majors: Mechan­i­cal Sys­tems Engi­neer­ing (GSU) and Mechan­i­cal Engi­neer­ing (GM). She has been work­ing per­son­al­ly since 2015 in the Mate­r­i­al and Sur­face Research team (UTC-Rober­val lab) on a project Opti­mum, financed by the nation­al research fund­ing agency ANR, in a part­ner­ship with Air­bus Indus­tries and the Region Hauts-de-France. 

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. 

Senior lec­tur­er-cum research sci­en­tist; Dr Alexan­dre Durupt is the sci­ence offi­cer in charge of the Lab­Com DIMEXP at the UTC-Rober­val Lab­o­ra­to­ry and co-super­vi­sor, with Dr Julien Le Duigou, for a the­sis pre­sent­ed by Émer­ic Oster­mey­er on the project Lucid, with some note­wor­thy aero­nau­ti­cal partners. 

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. 

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. 

“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”. 

Full Pro­fes­sor Emmanuel Per­rey-Debain since 2015, heads the Acoustics and Vibra­tion research team at the UTC-Rober­val Lab­o­ra­to­ry. He also co-super­vis­es, with Prof Emmanuel Lefrançois, a CIFRE indus­tri­al the­sis financed by Air­bus Heli­copters on the noise gen­er­at­ed in air con­di­tion­ing systems. 

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. 

Flu­id mechan­ics, tra­jec­tom­e­try… the mem­bers of the UTC stu­dents’ asso­ci­a­tion, UTspaCe plan to max­i­mize the ben­e­fits of their engi­neer­ing train­ing to serve a some­what mad­cap project — the suc­cess­ful launch­ing of no less than four dif­fer­ent rock­ets in July, 2019! 

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) 

Le magazine

Novembre 2023 - N°61

Activité physique, nutrition & santé

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