New applications in aviation, typically operating in severe environments and extended hours, tend to impose cost constraints and stricter reliability requirements, in addition to ensuring safety compliance.
Fremont, CA: The transformation to electrical and multi-electric aircraft (MEA) is dependent on a key technological factor other than strategy and investment. This concerns what is termed 'reliable power electronics' – the mesh of state-of-the-art semiconductor devices and converter modules, the actual basis and enabler of a revolution in electrification.
Power electronics brings with it some unforeseen challenges for aviation in terms of optimum implementation and the need to build trust between aviation technologists and the industry as a whole in their use.
Some shortcomings and challenges
There is definitely a critical need for a standardized and reliable testing environment on which OEMs and airlines themselves can rely. This is due to the fact that the Prognostics and Health Management (PHM) of power electronics, both at device and system level, fall short of the techniques and methods that could provide efficient life-long management and optimal predictive maintenance.
The mission profiles of the critical applications of power electronics are not really represented in the qualification and laboratory tests. There are several high-performance post-manufacturing reliability and qualification tests, such as environmental, electrical, and mechanical stress tests, which are carried out by manufacturers to ensure their reliability in-field time. However, these are mostly carried out only under single environmental conditions, with the test set-ups, rigs, and systems designed accordingly.
Unidentified failure mechanisms
Significant challenges need to be overcome, including the growing functional complexity, the increasing population of components and the intricate control algorithms that include existing electronic systems and software architectures.
New applications in aviation, typically operating in severe environments and extended hours, tend to impose cost constraints and stricter reliability requirements, in addition to ensuring safety compliance. Similarly, unknown failure mechanisms and thermal problems can be exaggerated in this industry context by continuously increasing the power density in converters and by increasing the integration of power electronic systems.
There are uncertainties regarding the reliability performance of new Wide-Band Gap (WBG) materials and packaging technologies, including SiC (Silicon Carbide), GaN (Gallium Nitride), and HEMTs (High Electron Mobility Transistors).
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