Shaping the future of aerospace In focus: the Institute for Ceramic Research (IRCER)
Oerlikon has long had a connection to the central French city of Limoges and its university. Now that relationship is at the start of a new era. In focus: the Institute for Ceramic Research (IRCER, from the French Institut de recherche sur les céramiques). We met director Philippe Thomas and Head of Research for thermal spraying activities Alain Denoirjean.
IRCER’s multidisciplinary approach brings together teams of researchers and teacher-researchers from various scientific backgrounds (chemistry, physics, mechanics) in complementary research areas.
It is no coincidence that IRCER – with its 200 employees, founded in 1975 – has its headquarters in Limoges, a city known throughout the world for its traditional enamel and porcelain manufacturers. Around 15,000 students are enrolled at the local university, which is one of IRCER’s headquarters; the second is the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS: Centre national de la recherche scientifique). An institution under the umbrella of the Ministry of Research, CNRS is dedicated to basic research and is the second largest research organization in Europe, with around 32,000 employees.
IRCER’s modern main building is within a short walking distance of Oerlikon Balzers France, a specialist in high-end coating solutions for motor sports. IRCER itself has four research priorities, one of which is surface treatment. Philippe Thomas explains: “We work not only with the university and the CNRS, but also with various industry partners. They outsource parts of their basic research to us on a contractual basis. We even have joint, exclusive research institutes with two companies.”
Cooperation with Oerlikon and Safran is the culmination of two long-standing partnerships
In June, a press release was sent to the media: “Safran, Oerlikon, CNRS and the University of Limoges create a joint research lab and technology platform for surface treatment in southwest France,” was its headline (see next page). High-ranking representatives of the participating partners had signed a corresponding contract at the “Paris Air Show” trade fair. The two projects that are at the center of this: PROTHEIS, a joint research institute, and the technology platform SAFIR.
For Philippe Thomas and Alain Denoirjean, this is the culmination of two long-standing partnerships linking the IRCER with both Oerlikon and the French Safran Group operating in the aviation sector. “The fact that we are now realizing a joint institute with these two partners means that we can join forces and transfer our research directly to the aerospace industry!” PROTHEIS is reserved for basic research and innovation in the field of TLR 1–4 of the Technology Readiness Level* and exclusively for the project partners.
The SAFIR technology platform, on the other hand, will cover the areas up to TLR 6 (definition: prototype in the operational environment), depending on the research object, and is open to the entire industry. “This means that we can offer ‘saleable’ research while still improving coatings – which is essential for us,” says Alain Denoirjean. His enthusiasm is contagious, and he is looking forward to working in this new platform during the last quarter of 2020: “We will be able to work with the latest generation of equipment, including an INNOVENTA Kila from Oerlikon Balzers, and a Thermal Spray system from Oerlikon Metco, and with test tracks that we can work with under industrial conditions ... but unfortunately we still have to wait until the new building is finished, because we are talking about around 1,000 square meters of laboratories and offices!”
Alain Denoirjean (left), Head of Research
at IRCER, and Philippe Thomas (right), Director of IRCER
“The fact that we are now realizing a joint institute with these two partners means that
we can join forces and transfer our research directly to the aerospace industry!”
Focus: Functional limitations in the aerospace sector
And what exactly is being researched here? Alain Denoirjean explains: “We are working on functional limitations in the aerospace sector. For example, we want to explore how organic composites, which are used to reduce aircraft weight, can be protected against erosion and lightning strikes. Or how Thermal Barrier Coatings can be protected against CMAS infiltration. This is because calcium-magnesium-aluminum silicates (CMAS), i. e. sand or volcanic ash, penetrate into the coatings, which can lead to malfunctions in aircraft turbines that have to withstand temperatures of over 1,250 °C. But we also want to find out how very fine powders can be applied to surfaces with the help of liquids. And last but not least, how processes such as thermal spraying and PVD can be combined. And we want to do all this with the help of the new equipment, plus simulations, monitoring, tests and process diagnostics as well as data processing.”
Advancing the future of aviation
Oerlikon’s aerospace solutions range from high-end coatings and equipment to advanced materials and metal additive manufacturing. This makes Oerlikon an important partner for the global aviation industry. Gilles Widawski, President of Oerlikon France, explains: “We add value to the manufacturers by adding value to the parts. With this research partnership, we can combine our expertise with the R&D roadmap of one of the largest aerospace equipment suppliers, our customer Safran, and jointly advance the future of airplanes and helicopters.”
Partnership on joint research lab and technology platform.
Safran, Oerlikon, CNRS and the University of Limoges have the intention to create a joint research laboratory, PROTHEIS, and a technology platform, SAFIR. These two entities will help Safran enhance its surface treatment capabilities, to make lighter and longer-lasting products capable of reducing noise and nitrogen oxide emissions, compliant with the European regulation REACH and capable of addressing the requirements of all types of aerospace applications, now and in the future. Oerlikon expects the collaboration to advance its already strong support of the aerospace industry along the entire value chain. It contributes to the partnership with deep and long-standing expertise in advanced materials, surface engineering and high-end, industrialized equipment to increase the competitiveness in the industry. The research to be carried out will be guided by Safran’s requirements, as well as the R&D activities of Safran, Oerlikon and IRCER.