Foto: Vestergaard Company

Automation will increase flight safety

Monday 02 Mar 20


Henning Si Høj
Industrial PhD
DTU Electrical Engineering
+45 23 49 91 17

Research at DTU

  • Automation research is carried out in the Automation and Control unit at DTU Electrical Engineering.

  • The unit employs a staff of approximately 45.

  • Among other things, the research includes intelligent autonomous systems, modular robots, mobile robots, and fault-tolerant control and regulation.

  • In the autumn of 2019, DTU offered an MSc programme in Autonomous Systems for the first time.

  • The Automation and Control group hosts the DTU Robo Cup every year, which is a competition where autonomous robots need to solve a number of tasks.

About Vestergaard Company

  • Vestergaard Company is a Danish family-owned company, founded in 1962.

  • The company is headquartered near Roskilde and has offices in the United States, France, and Thailand as well.

  • Approximately 340 employees are engaged in the development and production of the company’s deicers as well as water and toilet solutions. When deicing aircrafts, it is essential that the operator avoids contact with the aircraft as this will result in additional pre-departure checks and ultimately delay risks.

  • The company has produced more than 1,500 aircraft deicers.

PhD researcher will contribute to automating aircraft deicers in the coming years. Security is top priority.

Every year, the snow, ice, and cold of the winter months present great challenges to traffic in the northern hemisphere. This also applies to airplanes, where ice and snow need to be removed before take-off. Especially in large airports, deicing entails an extensive and expensive contingency response system where both machines and crew must be ready for quick callouts when the weather suddenly changes to frost or snow conditions.

The deicing is done with a deicer, which can best be described as a large truck fitted with a heating unit, a large fluid tank, and a long, mounted boom with a nozzle at the end. The machine is operated manually by an operator who has received one month’s deicing training. It is important that the operator can keep the correct distance to the surface of the aircraft, as any contact will result in additional pre-departure checks to the inconvenience of both passengers and the general air traffic. The demand for automated systems is therefore high.

Great automation prospects

Airplanes are deiced in two processes. Firstly, ice and snow are removed, and a thick glycol-containing fluid is then applied, which attaches itself to the airplane and prevents new ice formation. The boom must be at a height of approximately one metre from the airplane and its wings to make the process as efficient as possible, both in terms of using the least possible fluid and to perform the deicing quickly. One of the world’s biggest manufacturers of deicers is the Danish company Vestergaard Company.

We can see great prospects in systems aimed at assisting the operator and automating parts of the deicing process. We thus focus on automating the process of keeping the nozzle in the correct position in relation to the airplane, so that a minimum of deicing fluid is applied while still maintaining safety,” says Elo Svanebjerg, Technical Director in Vestergaard Company.

However, we don’t have all the necessary competences to enable us to implement the automation internally and we’ve therefore partnered up with DTU to solve the task,” he says.

The solution must be viable

The collaboration between DTU and Vestergaard Company has resulted in the employment of PhD student Henning Si Høj.

As my first task, I’m preparing a detailed digital model of a deicer to get an overview of how the different parts of the machine work separately and together. For example, it’s important to know how the wind and other factors influence the movement and dynamics of the 12-metre long moving boom with the nozzle used for the actual deicing,” says Henning Si Høj.

Based on the model and data from the sensors already mounted on existing deicers, Henning Si Høj is to prepare the necessary algorithms on which the automation will be based.

This process also includes finding the right combination of sensor techniques to be used in future to ensure that the boom is able to read the surroundings correctly and know precisely where the airplane body and wings are located,” says Henning Si Høj and adds: “In a task like this one, it’s particularly important to find a viable solution. Here 99.9 per cent isn’t good enough—it must always work 100 per cent.”

Both Henning Si Høj and Vestergaard Company are confident that they will achieve their goals and have the first prototype ready for testing at airports in the near future. “Having assistance systems aiding the operator in the future will increase both the safety and the sustainability of the deicing process,” says Elo Svanebjerg.