In the aircraft industry not only weight is an issue. There is also extremely high emphasis on safety. Plus airlines are increasingly demanding a brand-specific cabin design that stands out from the competition. All this calls for innovative solutions that combine functionality with flexibility.

Challenge: Displays combining more flexibility with less weight

In the cabin of a modern aircraft, there are countless wiring harnesses that transmit information, deliver audio and video signals to every seat, and support a variety of control functions.

A typical example are the displays, which prompt passengers to put on their belt and are used to inform about the availability of lavatories. They are part of every aircraft, but are designed differently depending on the individual airline. This not only requires individually tailored cable routing, but also calls for customer-specific display units.

Solution: Printed cables with integrated LED displays

With printed electrics, Airbus is breaking new ground and has developed an innovative solution in a joint project with Altran, which will open up completely new possibilities for aircraft wiring.

The principle can be explained in a few words: Self-adhesive plastic films that require neither cable ties nor fastening clips replace conventional wire harnesses. Using conventional inkjet or screen printing technologies, the required conductors are simply printed on them with an electrically conductive ink. But that’s not all: The display units and sensors at several locations of the cabin no longer require separate cabling, but are simply attached directly to the film.

This solution offers a whole range of vital advantages. Not only is it considerably lighter than any conventional cabling. It is also allows easier adaption to different customer requirements. Plus it supports efficient manufacturing processes using the latest automation technology, while speeding up final assembly and increasing reliability. In other words, considerable weight reduction meets increased flexibility and functionality wile offering simplified logistics and significant cost advantages.

The printed electrics technology was developed by Airbus in close collaboration with the engineering and R&D service provider Altran at the Center for Applied Aerospace Research (ZAL) in Hamburg Finkenwerder.

At the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2018, a first demonstratior of the project received the Crystal Cabin Award in the Materials and Components category sponsored by the city of Hamburg. The technology is currently undergoing extensive testing to prove its reliability in accordance with IATA’s strict criteria.

Potential: The end of wire harnesses

For Airbus, printed electrics are part of a long-term strategy to create flexible solutions that open up new capabilities and enable far-reaching customization of aircraft interiors. This technology also supports the realization individual customer requirements in a shorter time with less effort.

The further development of this technology aims at using printed electrics also in the field of higher electrical currents. Another goal is to even omit the carrier foil and apply printed conductors directly to the vehicle structure.

As of September 2019

Printed Electrics
in Numbers

weight savings compared to conventional cables
fasteners required
fewer components

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