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blog | eVTOL Aircraft: Technical Challenges, Application Opportunities and the Role of Motion |
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2 minute read

 eVTOL craft hovering

Recently, the buzz in the aviation industry has revolved around electric air-taxis, aerial ridesharing, unmanned aerial cargo delivery and more. These concepts all rely on a class of aircraft known as eVTOL, short for electric vertical takeoff and landing.

Similar to a helicopter, but without the noise and emissions, eVTOLs can take flight, hover and land without requiring an airstrip, clearing the way for versatile new transportation possibilities. With many eVTOLs in the design and proof-of-concept stage, these lightweight, sustainable aircraft haven’t taken off just yet, but when they do, they are sure to change the aviation industry in a big way.

The market for eVTOL aircraft promises to grow very fast. eVTOLs provide new opportunities for urban air mobility, supply chain efficiency, emergency response and more. That’s why many eVTOL manufacturers are already competing to achieve success in the commercial, civil and military markets.

Technical challenges

eVTOLs are a new kind of vehicle. Because they use electric motors, eVTOL designs can be much more flexible compared to helicopters with rotors powered by internal-combustion engines. For example, built into many eVTOL designs are motors that allow the wings to move so that the propellers lift the vehicle off the ground then rotate forward to propel the vehicle toward its destination. Motion is critical to the design of these aircraft, as the wing structure changes to move the vehicle vertically or horizontally.

Beyond the motors that power the propellers, eVTOLs require a very specific type of electric motor to orient the electric propulsion system and to move the ailerons, rudders and elevators that control the aircraft’s heading and attitude. A dozen or more motors may be required, placing a premium on compact, lightweight, powerful motor technologies that won’t burden the aircraft with unnecessary weight or compromise its aerodynamic design. These requirements call for frameless motors with very high torque density, customized to meet the exact performance and fit specifications of each application.

As manufacturers take on the challenge of designing an effective model and then mass producing it, they will need engineering partners who can prototype and produce electric motors optimized to drive the actuator systems that control wing and propeller orientation, flight control surfaces and other systems. Once the design is finalized, eVTOL manufacturers also need to trust that their motion supplier can rapidly and cost-effectively scale production of these specialized motors to meet the demand.

Application Opportunities

eVTOLs will likely become commonplace and frequently used for moving people and goods in a flexible and energy-efficient way to complement fixed-wing aircraft and ground transport modes. As large airlines, freight movers and dozens of new startups invest in these smaller, electric-powered aircraft that don’t require runways or roads, they envision better serving customers while supporting environmental initiatives, defeating road congestion, operating more efficiently, and generating new revenue streams.

Imagine, for example, the ability to fly passengers from John F. Kennedy airport in New York to catch a connecting flight at LaGuardia — a short-haul trip that would take an hour by rail or on congested roads, but less than 10 minutes by eVTOL. Or imagine delivering retail goods, spare parts and other cargo directly from the warehouse to any point in a large city in minutes, with no traffic delays.

While the primary goal of eVTOLs is to move people and goods quickly and safely, another crucial benefit is their efficiency. Most ground transport is still fossil fuel-based, and will be for several years. Traffic congestion exponentially worsens the pollution ground vehicles create. Turbojet, turboprop and other fossil fuel-based aircraft — besides being limited by the need for airstrips — are expensive to produce, noisy, and their emissions cause well-documented harm to local air quality and the global climate.

Electric aircraft, by contrast, offer a new and unique opportunity for companies to improve their speed and efficiency on much more flexible routes up to 100 miles or so without damaging the environment.

The role of motion and how Kollmorgen can help

eVTOL opportunities are feeding momentum with manufacturers, but final regulations have not yet been issued by the major international aviation authorities. eVTOLs are not expected to take to the skies until 2025 commercially and 2028 in urban areas; but in order for these aircraft to be ready by then, manufacturers need to be working today to design them and develop the ability to build them effectively and efficiently. This is where Kollmorgen comes in.

Getting to market requires proving that eVTOLs can operate safely. Manufacturers are looking for reliable products and production, including purpose-built frameless motors that minimize weight and size to fit specific installation footprints while maximizing torque density and operational reliability under all conditions of flight. eVTOL designers and manufacturers also need to know that their motor suppliers offer consistent product quality and reliability, long-term manufacturing capabilities, and sustainable, long-term engineering support.

Kollmorgen is a trusted manufacturer of frameless motors ideally suited to electric aviation, with a proven, 20-year track record of supplying motors to the U.S. military for use in its drone programs. With their complex flight-control characteristics, eVTOLs can require many frameless motors, often with widely varying performance and form-factor specifications. Prototyping, manufacturing and scaling production for that quantity and variety of motors is no small task, but it is one that Kollmorgen is prepared to take on.

eVTOLs may be a vehicle new to many, but aviation motor design and production is a core competency and even a passion for Kollmorgen. In a rapidly emerging market, with fierce competition, Kollmorgen’s aerospace-specific engineering expertise and manufacturing know-how can make the difference for reducing risk and accelerating the development of innovative eVTOL designs. Kollmorgen can optimize frameless motors for ideal fit and performance in each application, providing fast-turn prototyping, rapid scale-up to full production, and dependable supply and support.

Kollmorgen’s highly reliable frameless motor designs are unsurpassed for torque density in a compact footprint, electromechanical efficiency, and consistently reliable quality. And Kollmorgen’s engineering expertise, optimized production processes, global delivery and long-term support are your assurance of success. All of these advantages have been proven for decades in the adjacent market for military UAVs, and we’re ready to deliver for the next generation of electric aircraft to help realize the promise of safer, cleaner, more efficient transit of people and goods.

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