Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rüdiger Haas talks to TRANSFER magazine, providing an overview of the important developments in aerospace technology in recent years and also outlining current challenges. In the interview, he explains the peculiarities of knowledge and technology transfer in the aerospace industry, even offering some personal predictions for the future.
Professor Haas, you’ve stayed loyal to space technology since your time at college. Can you give us an overview of the development milestones during this time and the ones that were important to you on a personal lev-el?
While I was studying at Stuttgart University and during the years that followed, aerospace was a driving technology behind German industry. Research results and new developments emerged that defined an era, especially in the aircraft industry. I’d point to the short takeoff and landing airplane VFW 614. The revolutionary positioning of the engines meant it could even take off and land on poorly reinforced runways. In terms of helicopter developments, for a long time, the benchmark in civil and military helicopter construction was set by the MBB BO 105 with its hingeless rotor system. The multirole Panavia 200 Tornado proved that a consortium in different European countries was in a position to turn a com-plex weapons system into a technical and logistical success.
But it soon became evident that individual countries, and that includes the Federal Republic of Germany, are not in a position to deal with the huge development effort and costs associated with future aerospace projects on their own. Another example of collaboration between European states is the joint development of the A300, the first widebody aircraft completely manufactured in Europe. Even today, Airbus aircraft serve as a symbol of a success story that became a threat to the American civil aircraft construction industry, and its significant market share.
In space travel, European rockets may have enjoyed limited success but they did teach Europe a lesson or two about different aspects relating to technical systems and production issues, and this was crucial. The experience gathered in this area fed into the development of a new rocket design. To this day, the family of rockets this resulted in – the Ariane – is a standard means of transport for taking all kinds of payloads into space.
In 2009, you set up the SITIS Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems, a Steinbeis Transfer Center whose main activities include aerospace engineering. What sort of requirements do your customers come to you with in this area?
The emphasis at SITIS lies in aerospace technology. The research emphasis has been on improving cost-efficiency in flight, especially under the influence of Airbus. The economics of flying are about achiev-ing faster cruising speeds, optimizing cruising range, and making maximum use of seating capacities – while still paying particular attention to noise and emissions. An essential part of this relates to the use of new materials and the new processing techniques or production possibilities this involves, taking test specifications and construction regulations into consideration. SITIS is ideally equipped in this area of research, with the very latest production technologies, measure-ment techniques, and testing procedures. There’s also close collaboration in this field of R&D with aeronautic regulatory bodies like the EASA and the LBA (Luftfahrtbundesamt).
Aviation should become safer and more environmentally friendly. What role do production technology and materials engineering play in achieving this objective?
A decisive role! Increasing aircraft payloads generally call for lightweight construction, without shifting the structural boundaries of stress. This can only be achieved by using new materials, especially fiber composites and hybrid designs. Using these new materials in the airframe or wings requires completely new processing techniques and production technologies. It’s especially important to examine damage to parts resulting from the processing technique. If microscopic cracks are created by not adapting the processing technology properly, the materials can fail, especially with parts subjected to dynamic stress in flight. It’s a similar story with engine development. Improving efficiency and thus saving fuel is only possible now because of the tremendous advancements that have been made in metallurgy in recent years. The magic phrase here is nickel-based alloys – these are recently developed materials that make it possible to improve the bypass and pressure ratio in the engine. This results in a dramatic reduction in fuel consumption.
Few doubt that transferring knowledge and new technologies into business is imperative. What do you believe are the challenges of this kind of transfer in the aerospace industry?
Especially in the aviation and aerospace industry, transferring knowledge is an absolute prerequisite for the success of a product – and thus for a company. Even bigger companies can’t cope by themselves with the myriad of tasks that are involved in developing a new airplane these days. We’re now noticing a clear trend toward clustering. It’s a simple principle: Everyone does what they do best. The result is a completely new-generation supply industry. And the result of this is a new landscape of so-called anchor companies – like Airbus, Luft-hansatechnik etc. – plus small and medium-sized suppliers, service providers, and alliances of development companies with specialist tasks. This landscape is flanked by the relevant scientific research activities at universities, the major re-search institutions, plus application-based research and development being undertaken by Steinbeis Enterprises.
Where do you see future developments in aviation and aerospace taking us? What impact will these have on the services offered by your Steinbeis Enterprise?
The way we see it, the trends in aerospace technology are totally clear. Improvements in structural mechanics and lightweight design are making it possible for aircraft and space vehicles to carry heavier payloads. The starting point here is primarily the development of new materials. When it comes to polluti-on, the main priority is to make efficient use of fuel or improve the efficiency of engines. To improve aerodynamics, mo-re attention will be paid to bionic systems in the future, as in “nature sets a perfect example.” Work is already being done on completely new airframe concepts, especially on the wings. Quite possibly, the tasks SITIS works on may have to be redefined. New production technologies for special materials also have to be validated through appropriate testing and approval procedures. We believe this would be the optimum transfer support for the aviation and aerospace cluster.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rüdiger Haas is the director of SITIS, the Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems, which is a Steinbeis Transfer Center at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences. The emphasis of the work done at this Steinbeis Enterprise lies in the fields of modern tool and molding design, energy efficiency, medical technology, and the aerospace industry.