(Photo: Vestergaard/Martin Fjord)

Automation will increase flight safety

Thursday 16 Jan 20



Elo Svanebjerg
Vestergaard Company
+45 46 42 22 27



Vestergaard Company is a Danish family company, founded in 1962. The company has 340 development and production employees in Denmark.
Young researcher will contribute to automating aircraft de-icers 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. 

The de-icing is done with a de-icer, 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 de-icing training.

Especially in large airports, this entails an extensive and expensive contingency response system with both machines and crew that must be ready for quick call-outs when the weather suddenly changes to frost or snow. There is consequently a high demand for automated assisting systems so that the operators only need to undergo short training while still being able to maintain the required safety in the work. Here, distance is not least an important factor, as touching the surface of the airplane means extra control before take-off, with resulting inconvenience to both passengers and the other air traffic.

Great prospects in automation
Airplanes are de-iced 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 de-icing quickly. 

One of the world’s biggest manufacturers of de-icers is the Danish company Vestergaard Company A/S.

“We can see great prospects in systems aimed at assisting the operator and automating parts of the de-icing 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 de-icing 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,” says Elo Svanebjerg. 

Not enough that the solution works 99.9 per cent 

The collaboration between DTU Electrical Engineering 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 de-icer 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 de-icing,” says Henning Si Høj.

Based on the model and data from the sensors already mounted on existing de-icers, Henning Si 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 perceive the surroundings correctly and know precisely where the airplane body and wings are located,” says Henning Si Høj and adds: 

“In an assignment like this, it’s particularly important to find a robust solution. It must always work 100 per cent, here 99.9 per cent isn’t good enough.” 

Both Henning Si Høj and Vestergaard Company are confident that they will achieve their goal and have the first prototype ready for testing at airports in the foreseeable future. 

“It’ll increase both the safety and sustainability of the de-icing process when the operator is assisted by auxiliary systems in the future,” says Elo Svanebjerg.