Domin aspires to being the company that revolutionises power and motion control – the company that eliminates centralised hydraulic systems from aircraft. MANIFEST, its NATEP project, may be the way it happens.
Hydraulic systems are ubiquitous, under the skin of most machines, near-invisible legacy workhorses with undeniable success. The trouble is they’re heavy, need complex pipework and run on energy generated centrally and controlled locally.
Domin, the Bristol-based engineering firm, believes its breakthrough electro-hydrostatic actuation technology can increase the efficiency of hydraulic systems by as much as 400%. Thanks to NATEP, it has demonstrated exactly that.
“We’re disrupting the hydraulics industry for the better, making companies and products more efficient,” says chief technology officer Simon Jones. “Together we’ll save one gigatonne of CO2 every year by 2030.
“Our technology is less than half the weight of equivalent electromechanical actuators (EMAs), and finally enables the removal of the central hydraulic system, with the potential for 550kg weight saving per aircraft.”
The Domin-led NATEP project called MANIFEST, which stands for micro-electric actuation systems for more-electric aircraft systems, set out to show the benefits of putting electric powered and signalled actuation local to the point where it’s used on an aircraft.
Other innovators have tried to do the same thing with electromechanical systems, but with limited success, particularly in applications where problems arise from shocks and vibrations, dirt and loading.
Domin’s industrial partner, Apex Additive Technologies, developed parameters in additive manufacturing (AM), which Domin uses extensively, to find the best materials for their functions. Applying the Apex parameter sets to parts can cut their build time in half or more while improving the part’s performance.
For MANIFEST, the partners tackled the hostile environment of braking systems for their OEM end-user. “We miniaturised hydraulic systems, pumps and valves using AM to create micro-pumps, high-speed rotary valves, and on-board energy storage in a standalone unit that can bolt onto a structure,” said Jones.
“To a geeky engineer, it’s really interesting – a sweet spot at the intersection of customer need, innovation, new technology and a solution for the More Electric Aircraft.
“The exciting thing for us is we’ve proven out these core technology building blocks for generating, modulating, using and storing energy as an integrated system.”
With the MANIFEST project finished, Domin plans to adapt its solution to more applications on an aircraft. A big target is flight control actuation, as well as main landing gear where Jones hopes one day to see a “beautiful blue Domin unit”.
Moving into other sectors, Domin has received a substantial grant from the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK which will enable the company to bring the technology developed in MANIFEST and other areas to market in the automotive sector. Domin is working with an end-user to develop an active suspension system for electric vehicles that is expected to yield a 10% boost in range.
Over the last year, the company has doubled the size of its design office in Bristol and consolidated three other sites – including a production unit reshored from Poland – into a new 10,000 sq ft near Bristol, half of which is dedicated to R&D projects such as Manifest. Its workforce is expected to double to about 100 in the next six months, with most of the newcomers highly qualified engineers.
“NATEP as a framework and as an organisation has been critical to our growth through this period,” said Jones. “It’s a great construct of providing funding and organisation, and support from our technical manager, Eric Bray – not just technology-wise, but also meeting growth and business development challenges.”
NATEP’s relatively short and sharp focus is one of its strengths, he said. “In aerospace, a lot of innovation happens in the supply chain. Funding that directly is hugely impactful.”