A new encapsulation technology will not only better protect electronics against harsh airfield conditions, but is opening a world of possibilities to use digital technology to monitor and control airfield ground lighting. The potential is huge says Efla, a Finnish Airfield Lighting component producer and electronics encapsulation specialist.
Airfields are tough environments to work in. Often built in exposed locations, they can suffer extremes of temperature, be subjected to severe weather with rain, ice and even lightning strikes, and their runways and taxiways must withstand a constant physical battering from aircraft movements. If all that’s not testing enough, airfield operation involves the use of salt and deicing fluids, with kerosene an ever-present hazard.
Against this backdrop, most operators must maintain maximum airfield availability, sometimes round-the-clock, to stay commercially successful. And they must do so within some of the most stringent safety regimes faced by any industry.
A REVOLUTION IN ENCAPSULATION
With limited maintenance timeslots available, airfield ground lighting, or AGL, has to be robust and reliable, delivering peak performance every day with little intervention. Recent years have seen an AGL revolution with the adoption of LED technology that not only delivers substantial energy-savings, but offers dramatically longer lamp life than traditional incandescent fittings. Forget changing every airfield lamp at least once annually, LEDs offer 25,000 hours of life to run for years without attention.
But what of the supporting electronics? Delicate electronics components must be protected fully against environmental, physical and chemical damage. Yet conventional encapsulation to provide this protection brings its own challenges – the use of toxic resins and a rather bulky final product that does not always fit the small housings used on airfield installations.
All these demands are being met by a new encapsulation technology that enables electronic components to be to be integrated inside other basic products such as AGL connectors and transformers.
PUTTING SMART CAPABILITIES INTO AGL
Originally developed to provide an effective, environmentally-friendly and robust way to safeguard AGL electronics, compact encapsulation allows powerful intelligence to be built into basic AGL components for the first time. The possibilities for the future are limitless, from basic functions to make AGL more reliable and efficient, to advanced new ways to use digital control, monitoring and analysis to help airports achieve more efficient operations.
The potential is analogous to the revolution that’s sweeping the consumer electronics arena in which sophisticated control technology enables household heating and other systems to be monitored and controlled from mobile phones. It also takes advantage of the fast-developing big data analytics field that uses basic data gathered from the field to reveal new insights.
A first, and basic, application that proves the technology has already been developed in the shape of a standard AGL connector with integrated overvoltage protection. The compact, single component is easy to install and provides extra protection to keep LED lighting working in extreme conditions, such as a lightning strike.
AIRPORT COSTS SAVED, PASSENGER SATISFACTION BOOSTED
But the potential is far-reaching. The imaginative demands of airfield operators for sophisticated next-generation AGL installations that support their need for ever-more efficient operations can now be met more easily. For example, integrated data-gathering systems could feed data analytics to offer insights into operational conditions on the ground and enable operators to vastly improve their maintenance programs.
Fewer and shorter operational interruptions caused by the need for maintenance can lead to huge cost savings. Efla predicts that even modest gains such as 30% fewer operational interruptions, or maintenance tasks that are 10% quicker to turnaround, will result in substantial cost savings for the airport with a rapid return on investment. In addition, better control of airfield systems will be achieved by using monitoring and control components integrated in each AGL asset. All of which adds up to fewer flight delays, more satisfied passengers and more profitable airports.
Furthermore, such gains will even be available without the need to strip out and replace installed AGL systems. Efla is developing adaptor plugs and cables that will enable the necessary electronics to be retrofitted on working airfields.
THE ROLE OF DIGITAL-BASED SUPPORT
Of course, the technology itself is just one side of the coin; airfield operator skills also need to be kept fully up to date. In another industry initiative, EFLA is launching a sophisticated eLearning service that offers the most cost-effective way to enhance the skills of airport operations engineers worldwide.
Accurate installation and effective maintenance are vital to ensure that any AGL installation can fulfil its potential for a long, trouble-free life. The new eLearning service supports airfield engineers worldwide by enabling them to easily access detailed diagrams, written instructions and even step-by-step animations showing the correct installation procedures to follow. It also offer an eCertification program based on rigorous exams to prove their competence to airport operators.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Achieving the technology’s full potential will take a collaborative approach that combines the operational needs and ideas of airport operators with the engineering expertise, technology know-how and industry experience of vendors such as Finnish AGL component maker Efla. Being a relatively small and agile company with an entrepreneurial culture, Efla is able to react rapidly to airport operator demands.
Consequently, Efla is calling on those in the industry, including airport operators and AGL solution providers, to submit their own thoughts and requirements. For example, what electronics would need to be integrated and where?