THE AIRFRAME ADVANTAGE:
Schübeler Comes Home
In December 2018, Microdrones acquired Schübeler Technologies as part of its global expansion.
Since its founding in 1997, Schübeler Technologies has built a global business by providing advanced fan propulsion jets and light-weight composite materials fabrication.
Microdrones President Vivien Heriard-Dubreuil says, “As part of our continuous improvement culture, we are always researching the development of new flight platforms that are even more purpose built for mapping applications.”
“The changes have been positive for Microdrones,” said Daniel Schübeler, CTO Schübeler Technologies. “We have always been and remain Microdrones supplier of key physical parts. We now have our Schübeler CEO and COO, Sandro Pinent, who is a mechanical engineer and who is a real wizard when it comes to computer simulation and all of the highly technical stuff. Our relationship today with Microdrones allows us a lot of freedom, the ability to think strategically, to think about new products.”
“It is important for us to have Schübeler in-house so we can leverage synergies with other departments and build prototypes faster. With Schübeler in the fold, an exponential increase in flight times and long ranges in UAV platforms is not only possible, but probable.”Vivien Heriard-Dubreuil, Microdrones President
Through it all, Schübeler has remained Schübeler. “Our original modeling business is still there,” Schübeler said. “That’s still the most fun part of the business. And it is very demanding, but it also triggers ideas. People see these applications and they say ‘This is what I need for my other applications.’”
“Then we have several industrial customers, quite big ones, demanding quantities of very special products. We can do 50 to 100 pieces right here.” Being part of the larger Microdrones organization means Schübeler is prepared to meet customers’ needs even as the demand grows into the thousands of units. “We tell them, ‘We can go with you, grow with you,’ because we have numerous production possibilities now within the Microdrones company.”
Schübeler delivers a full range of products, “starting with low-pressure, high-volume-flow, propeller-driven systems. Then we go to the axial fan, which generates higher pressure, lower-volume-flow, high-exhaust speed. Then we go to a mixed flow compressor, where the air does not go straight through but it has a radial component. You can generate even more pressure; that’s for industrial applications, or if you want incredibly high exhaust speeds, something like 180m per second. And then we have a pure centrifugal compressor like the turbocharger in your car, that sucks air from the front and then it goes into a kind of volute and comes out at the sides. So we master all these types of machines and we have customers for all of them.”
A Range of Activities
Schübeler Technologies serves a diverse and expanding client base, which will likely influence Microdrones platform developments in the future. Schübeler explained, “We have the racing car industry coming to us, because they have an urgent need for cooling. They lack space, they want light-weight and reliable components. So here we are applying our products as cooling systems. We work with NASCAR, F1, LMP1, endurance racing, DTM, all kinds of cars and big-name manufacturers.”
Other areas of activity include underwater propulsion systems. “We did something called a stream rudder for an unmanned, underwater vehicle,” said Schübeler. “This is another quite successful project, all based on the same concept—the electrically driven turbo machine.”
Schübeler said he sees vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) as a promising direction for drones in the near future, which, as it happens, is right up Microdrones alley. Not one to mince words, he said, “We are pioneers in this field. We did the first VTOL drone in 2010. It’s a tilt wing.” Schübeler described an important co-operative initiative between Schübeler, Microdrones and RWTH Aachen University, which saw the development of the experimental VTOL airframe.
“It flew, it was a successful project, and then DHL, the logistics company, approached us. They wanted a drone for package delivery, but they wanted more than just a multirotor system. They wanted to go up, over a hill in the Alps, which is challenging.” The DHL Parcelcopter 3.0 was born. “DHL used it. It did more than a hundred flights, in severe conditions: snow, rain, cold, carrying a 2kg payload.”
“So we did VTOL when nobody had done it before.” Key applications for VTOL, Schübeler said, include corridor mapping, inspections and possibilities for urgent deliveries, such as blood delivery, medicine and disaster relief. “I want to see new airframes,” he said, “for mapping bigger areas. Our fundamental mission is to extend flight duration on the same batteries. We want more efficient aerodynamics and reliability, the ability to operate in extreme environments, in lousy weather, high winds, rain, sleet and snow.”
Over the next two years, Schübeler said his company will also take a deeper look into propulsion systems, with motor expertise now in house. “With these tough applications, you run into thermal and mechanical challenges; there is always opportunity for continuous improvement in motor design and production.”
Heriard-Dubreuil added, “This is the kind of innovative thinking that is integral to the culture of Microdrones.” Schübeler said, “We have all the capabilities now. We have the calculation methods, we can simulate motors, we can build the prototypes here and we can produce them in quantities.
“What do our customers need to know? Our drones are reliable. They are reliable tools, they work. You can put expensive stuff under a Microdrones system.”
Heriard-Dubreuil said, “Our goal is to systematically expand our lead in technological development. Every component of our end-to-end solution is critical for optimizing applications and guaranteeing the best possible data for the end user. It is important for us to have Schübeler in-house so we can leverage synergies with other departments and build prototypes faster. With Schübeler in the fold, an exponential increase in flight times and long ranges in UAV platforms is not only possible, but probable.”
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