Offering alternatives

posted on 2nd October 2019
Offering alternatives

The technology used in ground power units (GPUs) and pre-conditioned air units (PCAs) is changing, particularly in terms of the lengths to which manufacturers will now go in order to minimise the environmental emissions their equipment generates. But not all customers are ready to go electric – so suppliers are continuing to offer a range of diesel and battery-powered equipment

There is no doubt that the aviation industry and its stakeholders are committed to contributing to a cleaner and greener environment, and this is having an important knock-on effect on GSE manufacturing and operations.

Stricter emissions requirements imposed by national and regional governments are likewise having their impact. Therefore, equipment that can reduce carbon emissions at airports is in high demand.

One part of the solution may be electrically driven GSE. This is where equipment such as ITW GSE’s 400Hz solid-state GPUs and PCA units come into play. These units do not produce any carbon dioxide emissions at their point of use. They also have a high level of efficiency and a very low noise level to the benefit of airport staff and boarding passengers (for more details of ITW GSE’s eGPU, and on the move towards cleaner ground support equipment in general, see the Green GSE feature in this magazine).

Since the introduction of the company’s modular PCA in 2010, demand has been increasing and ITW GSE has brought approximately 1,200 PCA units to the market. Over the past three years, 400 of its PCA units have been delivered to customers in North America.

“At ITW GSE, we believe that the modular design and the Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) of major components of our PCA, together with the maturity of the market, have been decisive factors to that increasing demand,” says Poul Elvstroem, vice president sales and marketing at ITW GSE. VFD ensures step-less regulation of a PCA’s discharge temperature, which again leads to big savings on energy costs and CO2 emissions.

He continues: “We see no reason why this development should stop. Plus, the R22 type of refrigerant is currently being phased out due to stricter legislation, and according to [what we hear from] the market, it is becoming more and more difficult to source spare parts like compressors and other components. Therefore, major players are considering replacing older equipment.”

While ITW GSE has seen increasing interest in non-polluting equipment, it has seen a commensurate decline in the demand for diesel-driven units. Legislation moving the market away from Tier 3 diesel engines to the Tier 4 version in North America encourages less-polluting operations, but purchase prices are also relatively higher, notes Elvstroem – and, there are no important additional customer benefits, he suggests. Therefore, customers are naturally looking for other solutions.

In Europe, new legislation will soon put an end to other diesel motors currently in use. From 2020, all new motors for GPUs should comply with the Euro5 level, Elvstroem points out. “We therefore foresee that the market will completely switch to line-powered or battery-driven GPUs within the not-too-distant future.”

Other factors are impacting the way GPU suppliers such as ITW GSE develop new products. There are three main drivers, says Elvstroem: legally imposed changes (like the switch from Tier 3 to Tier 4 engines), customer-driven evolution and technology-driven changes.

New and better component parts are being developed on an ongoing basis, enabling companies like ITW GSE to consider new product designs. Elvstroem observes: “Since ITW GSE has actively chosen to be a front-runner in the industry, we have made considerable investments in product development over the years.”

But that is not sufficient by itself, he goes on. “We have also added more staff to our R&D [research & development] team, including PhD students who bring the latest knowledge and new ideas into the organisation. This has led to new ways of perceiving things or of exploiting the available technology and components in our products for the benefit of our customers.”

Customer feedback

ITW GSE customers tend to be very loyal to the company, Elvstroem states. And in terms of recent further outreach, the company has enjoyed its biggest increase in footprint of late in the Americas and in the Asia-Pacific region, where it has supplied Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport with approximately 100 pieces of GSE. In Europe, it has supported big projects like the new Istanbul Grand Airport, delivering close to 150 power coils and 110 PCA units to the Turkish gateway.

Both loyal, longstanding customers and new clients can offer valuable feedback to a GSE supplier. At ITW GSE, “Customer-backed innovation is a cornerstone of our philosophy. Listening to customers over the years has led to several improvements that have helped us maintain and develop our position as one of the most capable and reliable GSE players,” Elvstroem asserts.

As one example, he points to fact that, “The patented Plug & Play voltage compensation system for our 400Hz units is very simple to use, but it makes a huge difference in providing optimum voltage at the aircraft plug.

“Another example is the ITW GSE Power Coil that incorporates a 400Hz power supply and a cable retriever in one single housing. Plus, the VFD control of vital components in our PCA units is worth mentioning. And then, last but not least, we have the ITW GSE 7400 battery unit that was created in collaboration with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, which also tested our first such unit.”

The process of working closely with customers continues. For instance, ITW GSE recently hosted a ‘Go Green On Ground’ seminar with participants from more than 40 countries – a mix of end-users and ITW GSE distributors. During the seminar, customers took to a stage to tell the audience about their experiences with using the ITW GSE 7400 battery-driven eGPU.

Clean technology: low emissions and less noise

James Ackland is the sales director – infrastructure at Smart Airport Systems, the Alvest Group company that seeks to provide ‘sustainable solutions’ for the aviation industry. One of its key missions is to help in the process of reducing noise and polluting emissions at airports, and as such its role as the global distributor for Powervamp products to be deployed at airports around the world is important.

Ackland notes that Powervamp manufactures a full range of ground power solutions from 28V DC through to 400Hz. Its Coolspool range now includes Combination units that offer the flexibility of a constant 28V DC power supply for avionics and software programming, with the addition of high-discharge batteries for turbine starting.

And other improvements are on the way. Powervamp’s new-generation 400Hz 90kVA fixed electrical ground power (FEGP) unit will be unveiled at inter airport in Munich in October. The PV90-4 comes with “the latest technologies to provide even greater efficiency and the lowest harmonics, while maintaining a modular design to ensure maximum operation time at the apron and simple maintenance functions”, Ackland informs. The PV90-4 also provides a wide range of communication options to allow monitoring of the status of the units and easy feedback on power usage.

Smart Airport Systems’ focus on ensuring low emissions fits well with the Powervamp ethos. “Customer requirements remain focused on cleaner technology,” says Ackland. “Electric ground power units provide airports with the ability to increase revenue streams, while minimising emissions.

“Worldwide regulations are still focused on reduction of carbon dioxide emissions,” he points out. “For airlines it is the ability to minimise APU [auxiliary power unit] and engine usage that provides the true reductions in emissions and cost. Smart Airport Systems focuses on innovative technology in FEGP, PCA and autonomous vehicles to achieve this goal.”

Quick and effective communication between staff and equipment on the apron is also becoming an increasingly important function, Ackand says. “Being able to accurately monitor the status of equipment and power usage is incredibly important to ensure 100% availability and accurate billing of the power supplied.”

Varying needs

Bertoli is a Parma, Italy-headquartered provider of power generation and distribution systems, including GPUs for the aviation industry. It offers a portfolio of GPUs with power outputs ranging from 60kVA to 180kVA with 400Hz, equipped with Perkins, Deutz, Cummins and Iveco engines.

According to sales engineer Luca Marchiani, frequency converter GPUs remain in demand at major airports where jetways are in use, while at medium-sized and smaller airports the demand remains very much for diesel-engined GPUs that represent “the preferred solution for handling companies”.

At Bertoli: “Currently, we manufacture only diesel-engined GPUs but we are also evaluating [the possibility of producing] frequency converter GPUs; this is a great challenge for us.”

But: “We have improved and increased the size of our R&D department, with the aim to respond quickly to the requests [we are receiving] for highly customised machines.”

On the subject of R&D, Marchiani notes: “Bertoli is a company that makes innovation a strong point. For this reason, we collaborate daily with our suppliers in order to find new solutions for the needs of the market.

“Another factor that drives us to improve is the requests of customers who ask us for more and more special products; they remind us indirectly that technology is constantly evolving and we must continually improve.”And R&D is bringing its own rewards. “We have expanded our portfolio, adding to existing models a 28V DC GPU that can supply DC output without a TRU system.”

(A transformer rectifier unit, or TRU, converts the traditional AC power of a GPU into the DC power that is required by various electrical systems.)Product expansion has taken place alongside market penetration. “We have increased our presence in Italian airports, as well as in Africa,” Marchiani observes. “We have worked a lot over recent months in the South-east Asia region and I think we could soon be acquiring some important new customers.“We are also looking with a lot of interest at the Russian market, without forgetting our existing loyal customers.”