Components of today's aircraft systems usually require a power supply and a data interface. The required power and data networks in the aircraft have now led to immense cable lengths, of up to 500 km for the A380, weighing several tonnes. However, weight reduction is a constant challenge for aircraft manufacturers to reduce fuel consumption as well as pollutant and noise emissions.
The amount of data that needs to be generated and distributed in an aircraft continues to increase based on trends:
- Cabin Connectivity: Due to the trend towards more passenger comfort, the number of cabin systems and their data requirements are increasing rapidly.
- More-Electric-Aircraft: For weight reasons, hydraulic and pneumatic actuators are being replaced by electric ones. Parallel to this, the number of sensors, actuators and controllers to be networked for monitoring and controlling the systems is growing, and with it the amount of data to be distributed.
- Predictive maintenance: There is a great potential for cost savings with the monitoring of system components with health monitoring systems, which, however, requires further data transmission.
In order to transport this amount of data, more communication channels are required, i.e. more cables. Power Line Communication (PLC) offers a very interesting alternative, as the data is transmitted via the power distribution networks, making separate data cables, plugs, brackets, etc. unnecessary. This saves substantial weight, space and complexity, as well as production and maintenance costs.
Another possibility for safety-critical systems is to use the power distribution network via PLC as a secondary and dissimilar communication channel in addition to the primary communication network (e.g. AFDX, CAN, ARINC, ...) for data transmission. This redundancy can increase the reliability of the data transmission and higher design assurance levels (DAL) can be achieved for the systems without the need for additional cables.
CC ISN is researching the PLUS (Power Line Data BUS) PLC technology for highly reliable real-time communication in aircraft, working closely with Diehl Aerospace and other partners from the European aircraft industry in various international framework programmes (H2020, CLEANSKY, LuFo, etc.). The PLUS technology has already been awarded a prestigious global innovation prize (Crystal Cabin Award 2017).