Liebherr Takes Air Management To The Next Level
Bombardier’s new Learjet 85 is the latest in a growing line of business jets to feature an integrated air management system from Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation (Booth No. N5307). The company’s expansion into business aviation is in line with its aim to become the world leader in civil aircraft air systems.
As one of 10 divisions that make up Germany’s Liebherr Group, Aerospace & Transportation makes landing gear and flight controls as well as air and actuation systems at its Toulouse, France, facility. Current programs include the air-management systems for the Boeing 747-8, Bombardier CSeries, Comac C919 and Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliners as well as the Embraer KC-390 military tanker/transport, the nose landing gear and slat actuation for the Airbus A350, flap actuation for the Learjet 85, landing gear for the C919 and CSeries and the engine bleed air system for the new Airbus A320neo and its CFM Leap-X or Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines.
The traditional approach to air-management, according to Liebherr-Aerospace Toulouse board member Francis Lehmann, involved buying a plethora of separate systems to handle engine bleed air, air-conditioning, cabin pressure control, airframe and engine ice protection, fuel inerting air, cabin air quality and additional cooling for avionics, galleys, hydraulics and electronics.
That changed with the integrated air-management system that Liebherr developed for the Bombardier Global Express, Lehmann said at the opening last month of the company’s new air systems integration development and test center. Since then Liebherr-Aerospace Toulouse has built a market share of 40 percent in air systems for civil aircraft on platforms ranging in size from the Airbus A380 to Eurocopter and AgustaWestland helicopters. The Bombardier Challenger 300, Global 5000 and CRJ series all feature Liebherr integrated air-management systems while the two Globals and the Dassault Falcon 7X also use the company’s cabin humidification system. Other Falcon models have Liebherr air-conditioning, cabin pressure control and bleed air systems.
The new development and test center represents a $36 million investment in the Liebherr-Aerospace Toulouse site that is responsible for air systems development and production. It will support the development of future technologies as well as supplying the pressurized air and other facilities for testing production equipment in simulated operational conditions.
Lehmann said the company’s success in the air systems market has been based on mastery of the key system components such as air-cycle machines, high-pressure and high-temperature valves, heat exchangers, compressors, power electronics and control electronics. Non-core components are outsourced but the company builds components such as heat exchangers itself. “We used to buy them [from a supplier] but 10 years ago we decided to develop an in-house capability,” said sales and marketing executive vice president Nicolas Bonleux. Heat exchangers for aerospace applications differ in qualities and performance from those used in the automotive industry, “so there were a lot of reasons to develop the capability.”
Among the innovations Liebherr has brought to air management are air-bearing turbocompressors, which use pressurized air to support the rotating mass and eliminate the ball bearings and associated oil injection used in most compressors. As well as reducing friction and so improving reliability, the compressors improve cabin air quality by eliminating the potential for air contamination by oil droplets. They have been taken up by the automotive industry to supply the oil-free pressurized air required to feed fuel cells in electric vehicle propulsion systems.
The company has designed and tested next-generation systems such as air-conditioning packs for bleedless aircraft, Lehmann said. Liebherr is working on new filters for odor, virus and bacteria removal from cabin air. And in partnership with Thales it is exploring the integration of power and thermal management systems.
Bleedless systems, which use electrical power from engine-mounted generators to pressurize and condition cabin air as on the Boeing 787, are more attractive for aircraft with 100 or more seats, added Bonleux. Bleed-air systems drain a small percentage of the engine’s power output, but for smaller aircraft they are substantially lighter and more cost-effective.