Hamburg’s answer to Silicon Valley for the aeronautical sector – ZAL – and Airbus Operations don’t just work together on projects financed by the aerospace industry, but also on some publicly-financed projects. ARTS expert, Gunnar Zawistowski, is supporting Airbus in those projects with his expertise in controlling, reporting, and securing research funding.
The technical network for the aeronautical sector, ZAL (German: Zentrum für Angewandte Luftfahrtforschung) brings together the region’s research and development activities for the sector under one roof. The ZAL Centre has grown significantly since it first opened in January 2016, with countless researchers from a variety of different businesses and institutes working together with the aim of strengthening the aeronautical sector with innovative ideas and, above all, to carve out a role for Hamburg as a driving force for the future. The ZAL Centre is what is known as a Public Private Partnership, combining expertise from industry, business, and scientific fields. Twenty-five partners work in an area of 26,000 square metres, including the Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Airbus Operations GmbH, Lufthansa Technik AG, DLR (the German Space Agency, the Deutsche Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V), the Hamburg-Harburg Technical University, the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Helmut Schmidt Military University, and the University of Hamburg.
For six core research and development themes:
the ZAL Centre provides the research platform, cutting-edge infrastructure, networking opportunities, advice on research funding and patents, and access to the Hamburg aviation cluster
With this project team, Airbus' main aim is to ensure that transparency is established within the Group at project level and across projects.
Me and three hundred other experts work at the Airbus Research and Development Department in the ZAL Centre, working jointly on developing innovative methodologies and technologies for the aviation sector, with the aim of introducing them into Airbus’s production facilities in the near future. The ZAL Centre offers the benefit of working and engaging in direct dialogue with first-tier suppliers, startups, and scientific institutions while working together to research a common goal, and roadmaps for the ZAL Centre’s core research topics are constantly reviewed and defined with Airbus, Lufthansa Technik, and the other partners.
Airbus is involved in the most diverse range of projects at the ZAL Centre. For example, the consortium carries out research at its acoustic laboratory (which is unique anywhere in the world) with a view to minimising cabin noise during flight. By using 128 controllable speakers, it’s possible to replicate engine noise during flight exactly, with structural modifications being undertaken and new materials such as vibration insulation being tested in the laboratory. The size of the laboratory makes it possible to test fuselages from short, medium or long-range aircraft, and it currently hosts an 8.5m segment of fuselage from an A320. The ZAL Centre’s acoustic laboratory enables Airbus to minimise costly in-flight testing and reduce the development time required by new products.
Airbus is not just active in testing noise levels at the ZAL Centre: they are also researching a new kind of “printing” process. Taking its inspiration from bus and truck painting in Japan, Europe’s largest aircraft manufacturer is now exploring the direct printing process, with a giant inkjet printer covering an area of 7m × 7m. Unlike established wrapping, airbrush and stencil printing processes, direct printing saves both time and resources, including a weight saving of up to five kilos. Inkjet printing was used for the first time on a Thomas Cook aircraft with the side panel being taking fifteen hours to print. Aviation experts at the ZAL Centre are now researching process optimisations to deploy the technology more efficiently in mass production.
The FAMOS Project, a joint undertaking between Lufthansa Technik and Airbus, is concerned with the surface structure of wings, taking its inspiration from nature in the form of shark scales. The ‘riblet’ structure is used to reduce air resistance, thereby reducing fuel consumption by approximately one per cent. If this were applied to the annual jet fuel consumption of the entire Lufthansa fleet, the savings would amount to approximately 55 million euro. At the ZAL centre, a robotic system is coating wings with the shark skin structure. The German government also supports climate-friendly projects such as this: in this case, the German Federal Ministry of the Economy and Industry (BMWi).
The above is just a small selection of the many research activities that Airbus is undertaking with its other partners at the ZAL centre. The ZAL centre is also highly committed to domestic and European research into aeronautics-specific research activities, both in theory and in practice. The main sources of support and funding are the German Federal Ministry of Economy and Industry and the European Commission, with German federal authorities providing around €152 million of funding for 2017. The aviation and space sectors invest twice as much in research and development as other industries, with 11% of the sectors’ revenues being reinvested in research, giving a total of €4 billion in 2016.
In addition to its engineering teams, Airbus also has a six-member finance team on site at the ZAL Centre, which is responsible for national and EU research projects for Airbus Deutschland. The topics that they cover include:
I supervise eight different projects with an average duration of between four and eight years. With this project team, Airbus' main aim is to ensure that transparency is established within the Group at project level and across projects. For this reason, I was also responsible for the development and implementation of a project-related EU reporting system and a dashboard. The system not only provides a consolidated presentation including KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of all EU-funded projects of Airbus Germany, but also shows the secured subsidies as well as the current budget/cost development on project level. Of course, the new evaluation system also supports me in my day-to-day work - be it in preparing reports for the EU Commission or for internal quarterly reporting for management. In addition, the reporting system helps in the evaluation of relevant data for EU-funded projects in the context of external audits.