Cesare Angeloni, Business Unit Manager at OCEM Airfield Technology, a division of Energy Technology Srl.
“Operational excellence is what makes airports safer and more environmentally friendly.”
OCEM has almost a century of experience in airfield lighting. How has the airfield ground lighting market evolved during that time, and how has OCEM changed along with it?
We have been active in the global market for exactly 100 years — Multi Electric Mfg. was incorporated in Chicago in 1917 — which has given us a deep understanding of the evolution of over the decades, from customer experience to changes in technology, from system operations to new installation techniques.
During the industry’s early days the pilot’s needs and limitations were paramount. It was the pilot’s perception — his or her visual point from the cockpit — that was the driving force in developing excellent visual-aid landing systems, both for military and for civil aerodromes.
Over time, and especially starting in the 1980s, increases in air traffic and an accompanying focus on safety have made ground operations more and more important for setting standards and design requirements. On the landing side, technology was evolving so that illuminating devices like xenon discharge lamps could be used for the approach sequential flashing systems. The need for command reinforcement during taxiing paved the way for stop bars, guidance signs and a wide set of specific products and systems.
In recent decades, the amount of attention paid to the availability of airside infrastructure has increased tremendously due to the increase in air traffic, coupled with urban space constraints. This has pushed manufacturers to study and bring to market longer-lasting technologies and systems that allow for preventive maintenance. These demands inspired production of individual lamp monitoring and LED systems, which were brought to life at the beginning of the 21st century. OCEM was an early pioneer in applying LED technology to AGL, and continues to develop new LED products. Individual lamp monitoring systems were using technology that had already been proven for controlling light fittings, which in time enabled a seamless integration with taxiway sensors. This led to ground vehicle routing techniques, such as “follow the greens” applications.
With the introduction of in-ground electronic systems such as LED technology and individual light control and monitoring systems (ILCMS), AGL systems can now inherently provide an unprecedented set of data, sensing noise, vibration, speed — and even detecting foreign object damage (FOD).
These disrupting technologies have been introduced by a very dynamic, niche AGL market that is eager and able to develop new technologies for the benefit of airport ground and landing operations. The only real limitation is the imagination.
How is OCEM drawing on this history and experience to help airports meet demands in sustainability, safety and reduction in power consumption?
Safety remains the number one factor for aviation authorities when it comes to any type of decision. Still, aviation authorities must also satisfy increasing traffic demand and improve congestion of operational critical areas. This mean sustainability and power consumption are also high priorities.
For safety, of course compliance with international standards is paramount, as these standards determine the photometric performance that visually aids pilots in landing and taxiing. Less obvious considerations might be the mechanical reliability of the airside fittings, and installation and maintenance of the equipment.
One of the biggest things airports can do to both reduce power consumption and address these safety concerns is to make the switch to LED.
LED allows a dramatic cut in field maintenance, which in turn represents a dramatic reduction in field interventions. This both reduces personnel exposure to possible electrical hazards during lamp replacements, and cuts down on the likelihood of human error, such as vehicle incursion or tools left on the airside.
Regarding consumption, the magazine Airports International recently published a study conducted by OCEM and the international airport operator SEA that demonstrated substantial savings could be achieved by introducing a new technology that modulated the AGL brilliance to a range of 0.9 to 2.2 amp. No disruption to the airport infrastructure was reported. We believe seeking innovative ways to make sustainability work and reduce the airside carbon footprint is not just a moral obligation, but also a way to optimize existing infrastructure.
To sum up: sustainability is smart, but safety is still king.
Indeed, many airports today are making the switch from halogen to LED lighting technology. In your experience, how should they approach this transition?
“LED-ification” is all about optimizing the maintenance cycle, which includes minimizing airside incursions and maintenance interventions. This both increases safety, as we explained above, and minimizes costs. OCEM’s goal whenever it helps airports transition from halogen to LED is to do so without disrupting the existing infrastructure of conduits, cables, manholes, transformer pits and substations.
The most important asset in any airport is the runway, as even minimal disruption to runway availability brings everything to a halt. For decades, AGL manufacturers have worked with standardization bodies to identify, specify and develop best practices and technologies that allow airports to maximize the availability of this core asset.
Working with existing infrastructure, OCEM’s latest innovation has allowed further optimization via ultralow current feed to the light fitting. This technique created a new record in current consumption at an existing airside without any disruption of current regulators or primary or secondary cables.
For airports considering making the switch, the most important thing is to know that OCEM’s LED technology allows them to complete the transition while maximizing current infrastructure and minimizing the AGL maintenance costs and operating expenditures. There’s no reason to wait!
We have established that LED is one of the most important technological revolutions in AGL systems of the past two decades, and that there are both operational and environmental benefits to switching. Once airports make the switch, how can they unlock the full benefits of LED to help achieve their performance targets?
AGL systems based on LED technology represent large networks of electronic devices potentially connected by some sort of communication network. Of course this brings challenges and opportunities, but today the benefits are often not fully realized, due either to constraints in the existing infrastructure or adherence to regulatory standards that were developed for halogen.
There are a few ways to help remedy this:
- Light-speed control on multi-phase current regulators. OCEM has been manufacturing three-phase regulators using core optical networks for pure sinewave generation. This core technology is developed targeting mission-critical high-voltage systems capable of nanosecond switching speeds. These regulators allow the best balance of current uptake from the phases of the medium-voltage switchgears, reducing the losses due to unbalanced feeds from the main power supply.
- Ultralow current power supply. As previously mentioned, OCEM lights can be powered not only to the standard current interval, but also down to 0.9 to 2.2 amps without any trade-offs in optical performance. This solution was developed with the specific goal of leaving the existing infrastructure totally untouched and providing the lowest power consumption possible. Of course not all country-specific regulatory boards would allow deviation from the standard fixed 6.6 amps, but we have found the standardization entities to be highly responsive to this type of innovation.
- Runway digitization. OCEM has developed and made available to the market, on the basis of an open industrial standard, an LED AGL network that operates on a long-reach SELV (safety extra low voltage) parallel feed. Use of SELV indications is often not suitable for products designed according to IEC or FAA regulations, meaning such systems can only be deployed in a limited number of countries or for specific applications. This network enables the individual fitting positioned in the middle of the runway — or even one in the far-reaching approach masts — to not only monitor and control the light fitting, but also to provide several types of information, such as vibrations and temperature. The speed of the open network architecture enables airside operational functions that today are usually only possible with complex and expensive systems. The control interface of this network type is also an open standard and can be fully integrated into any air traffic control (ATC) system with the highest degree of security.
These solutions only represent the “visible” part of LED AGL. Our dedication to LED technology and to continuous improvement includes embracing the challenge of supporting night vision augmentation systems. Given the extremely low power consumption and the minimal environmental visual impact, this is perhaps one of the most promising leaps in AGL systems development that OCEM is making available for civil and military applications.
OCEM has developed these insights by serving more than 1,100 airports worldwide. Although every project presents unique challenges and opportunities, can you describe some factors or conditions that have proved to be especially demanding?
Indeed, our long history and more than 1,100 airports has provided a great deal of experience. Many of the regions we serve have been exposed to political and social turmoil, which are challenges which go beyond our control, but that we must consider in order to provide our customers with the proper risk avoidance and mitigation plans.
From a technical point of view, if there is one thing we have learned in all of our years in operation, it is that there is no silver bullet in AGL system design. No one solution fits all our customers’ needs because existing infrastructures, deployment programs and ATC software integration vary between airports.
Fortunately, the experience we have gained from carrying out so many airport projects also allows us to determine the best solution based on the customer’s unique needs. We can help choose the right products and fine-tune the proper design and specifications. OCEM has always differentiated itself by offering a broad product portfolio that addresses these diverse needs.
In recent years, two distinct trends have emerged as game changers in the deployment of AGL infrastructure: speed of construction technology and high-end integration. Recent construction technologies, including trenching and core drilling methods, have moved forward with amazing speed, and the deployment of both inset and elevated AGL fittings must keep up. To help deploy AGL safely at these unprecedented speeds, we offer detailed manuals and technical training for airport electrical teams. We also communicate with the installation teams so we can provide customized assistance to help facilitate their work.
Moving away from the runway and up to the tower, new software tools are available which provide support for tower operators. These tools are often designed to satisfy unique requirements that differ significantly from one installation to the next.
In order to seamlessly integrate ATC software packages — often from several different producers— OCEM’s goal is to facilitate developers and system integrators by providing open software interface with OCEM’s ALCMS. For these reasons we believe the most demanding AGL challenges are yet to come.
Investing in cutting-edge technology is necessary to stay ahead. After pioneering LED in the early 2000s, how will you continue to help airports mitigate their environmental impact, given the continuous growth in global air traffic?
OCEM’s dedication to the environment is inherent in all we do, starting from our ISO certifications (ISO 14000 — environmental management) and continuing all the way to our disciplined design optimization.
OCEM has also collaborated on “big science” projects since 1943, including helping to develop fusion energy technology (JET United Kingdom, JAEA Japan, ENEA Italy) and to power particles accelerators (SLAC USA, CERN Switzerland).
The standards and expertise arising from these projects have informed OCEM’s approach to AGL — a perspective and an advantage not shared by most other AGL players.
Finally, how do you envision the typical airport of the future?
Operational excellence is what makes airports safer and more environmentally friendly. We envision networks of airports working together to develop and adopt best practices, and to develop international standards that reflect this excellence.
After all, it’s not enough just to depart from a great airport. You want to arrive at one too.