Well catered for
Stephanie Taylor explores how new in-flight catering technology will impact airline operations and the passenger experience.
According to a 201s study conducted by Global Industry Analysts Inc, the in-flight catering services market will be worth US$17.6 billion by 2020. Key drivers include increasing air passenger traffic, but when it comes to new solutions in this sector, safety and hygiene challenges remain a concem.
An undoubtedly flexible piece of catering equipment on board, the trolley is clearly ripe for innovation, with its typical structure being modified to address the aforementioned concems by companies including Diehl Aerosystems, SkyTender Solutions and Zodiac Aerospace.
Diehl has used the trolley as a way to solve the issue of power consumption in the galley, which Ronny Knepple, head of energy systems for Diehl Aerospace, says accounts for up to 50% of the total electrical energy consumption on board.
„The demand for energy in a modern passenger aircraft is continuously increasing, whereas power generation by the engines remains limited,“ avers Knepple. „Our Distributed Autonomous Cabin Power (DACAPO) concept is remedying these impacts.“
The retrofittable trolley, which contains what Knepple describes as a „miniature power plant“, won the Crystal Cabin Award in the Greener Cabin, Health, Safety and Environment category at Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in 2014.
For the duration of the flight, it takes over the supplying of power in the kitchen.
„Energy is supplied by propylene glycol as fuel,“ elaborates Knepple. „Due to its use as a cooling agent and in de-icing installations at the airport and in the aircraft, an adequate infrastructure and a well-proven supply chain already exists. Thus, it is easily possible to exchange the trolleys during typical tumaround times.
“The core component of the trolley is the fuel processor system developed by Fraunhofer. By using propylene glycol as the energy source, hydrogen is obtained in a catalytic process. In addition to the storage tank for propylene glycol, the trolley incorporates a fuel cell in which the generated hydrogen is converted into electricity by reaction with oxygen. The waste products of this energy conversion process are harmless water and heat.
„Decoupling the cabin power supply from the avionics – meaning all electrically operated, flight-critical systems – also contributes to improved safety,“ concludes Knepple. The first ‚power-on‘ was demonstrated successfully in March of
The only challenge is the use of hydrogen on board a passenger aircraft. Knepple confirms, „Currently, joint working groups of EUROCAE and SAE are working with the authorities to define standards that would allow the certification of new technologies utilising hydrogen.“
Elsewhere, Zodiac recently launched its new Cool Trolley solution after three years of research and development. lt features a thermodynarnic design which uses the maximum potential of dry ice to keep the trolley’s contents between 0°c and 8°C for up to 14 hours. This means airlines can carry meals on a retum journey, thereby reducing waste and improving the efficiency of the in-flight catering process.
„The Cool Trolley is fully insulated, has sealed doors and flaps and no thermal bridges to the outside,“ explains Bart van Berkel, VP sales, Zodiac Cabin Equipment. “There are no electrical systems and no batteries; no tray positions or content space lost; no additional inserts or loose parts.“
The design is based on the company’s Hybrite S standard trolley platform, patt of the Hybrite S line which was introduced in
2015. A typical full-size Hybrite S trolley weighs 16 kg, considerably less than Zodiac’s previous models, but the Cool Trolley
weighs 20.5 kg. However, the aim is to make savings elsewhere, as previously explained.
SkyTender Solutions is in a similar situation. Isha Maker, the company’s SVP sales and marketing, acknowledges that SkyTender’s full-size trolley, which received FM certification in June this year, is heavier than other offerings, but argues that „one needs to look at the entire lifecycle of the product. lt simplifies all aspects of in-flight catering.
“There are three water tanks in the trolley,“ Maker explains. „You can use either two or three with hot or cold water. You’re using that same water to make apple juice, diet cola or iced tea, so you don’t have to take a 100% load of each drink. The caterers can save on palettes and palettes of space in their warehouses and solve issues surrounding costs associated with overcatering, which is a problem many airlines face today.
„If you press a button, an extendable head drives up. There’s a touchscreen selection for the drink of your choice, which is mixed into the glass within five seconds whether it’s hot, cold or carbonated. lt is portion controlled, and everything’s RFID chipped so airlines can document the amount of drinks they’re dispensing,“ Maker continues. „This helps in the future with order management and forecasting.“
In the same vein as the Cool Trolley, you can also use the water in the tanks of SkyTender’s trolley over multiple flights rather than throwing out half-full bottles at the end of the journey (to comply with regulations). As weil as being more environmentally friendly, both Zodiac and SkyTender’s solutions are saving airlines money, because every tonne of aviation waste needs to be incinerated, which is an expensive process.
Initially, SkyTender’s product was designed and presented as a cocktail machine, but was then adapted to suit a broader commercial use.
Both trolley designs take ergonomics into consideration. Zodiac points out that as weil as placing the lock and handle higher on its Hybrite S trolleys so members of the cabin crew have to bend less, they also have rounded comers to avoid any injuries to both crew and passengers. „Moreover, due to optimal insulation, the outer parts do not freeze, resulting in a very crew-friendly application of dry-ice cooling,“ concludes vanBerkel.
Maker claims that SkyTender’s trolleys help with onboard service time. „Compare the time it takes someone to pour a drink out of a bottle. With our solution, once you’ve pressed a button, you can already be asking the next passenger what they want to drink.“
She clarifies that one water tank slot can also be used for snacks, that there’s a place for alcohol minis using little racks and that a slanted draw can hold a bottle of red and white wine, and champagne. Maker says the total burden on the crew is far lower due to fewer and less cumbersome movements during service.
Finally, Maker declares that SkyTender’s trolley can improve the quality of the drinks served in flight. „Onboard water quality is a huge issue, but if you load the water from the caterer and use our purification system, you eliminate buying bottled water and still have high-quality mineral table water,“ she says.
Furthermore, Maker extols the virtues of the two coffee systems offered by SkyTender, which overcome some of the challenges of providing onboard coffee – for example, water quality, brewing temperature and maintenance cost. „Coffee makes up approximately 30% of consumption on board, so to serve this demanding, brand-conscious segment, we have integrated contemporary coffee systems as weil as liquid coffee, allowing for a wide range of brands.“
SkyTender has also worked with Bucher Leichtbau to create a complementary galley insert for hot and cold drinks, adding a selfservice dimension that was shown at the World Travel Catering and Onboard Services Expo (WTCE) in Hamburg this year. SkyTender is now in talks with a couple of airlines about trialling both the trolley and the galley insert.
Maker’s last point picks up on another trend which is being influenced by what’s happening on the ground, and that’s the move towards fresher food. Lufthansa Technik is currently developing, in partnership with hs2 engineering, an Induction Cooking Platfonn aimed at enabling a fresh onboard cooking experience for the first time.
Christiane Grude, Lufthansa Technik’s head of product planning and development, original equipment innovation, acknowledges, “The size is pretty large and the solution requires experienced staff to handle it … it fits into a standard galley
(ARINC size 4) and fulfils all of the latest safety requirements.“
The idea for Lufthansa Technik’s platform was bom in 2015. A prototype was produced within six months and was shown to the public for the first time at this year’s AIX. lt has already been installed on VIP aircraft.
„The cooking platform we developed has an intuitive user interface and modular structure,“ notes Grude. lt also features an integrated fume hood with an odour filter system. Combining a rice cooker, pan and toaster into one solution, the platform can cook soup, steak, eggs, bacon and congee using the various tools at different predefined temperatures.
A spokesperson for Cathay Pacific, which currently has a separate steam oven, toaster and skillet on board, confirms that the airline has „been working with different suppliers on the development of galley equipment using inductive cooking technology“ to complement the equipment it already has installed in the first-dass galley.
The combining of standard kitchen appliances into one solution is the ultimate aim of Natural Machines, the company behind Foodini, a 3D food printing solution where users place fresh ingredients in stainless steel capsules, after which dishes as diverse as breadsticks, ravioli and pizza can be created by the machine before they’re cooked.
Lynette Kucsma, co-founder and CEO of Natural Machines, describes how the product came to fruition. „One of the original co-founders had a vegan bakery. For her, the cost of shipping products to other countries was high, so her investment wasn’t even in the ingredients or the labour that made the cakes. The idea became that rather than manufacturing centrally and shipping Lufthansa Technik’s Induction Cooking Platform has been made using brushed stainless steel for housing parts; composite polymers for the lid cover, range hood and handle; and ceramic glass for the control panel and cooking field.
final products out, the final products should be made on site. The best way to do that is to create a mini manufacturing plant, which is what we’ve clone. With Foodini, we’ve shrunk a major food manufacturing facility down to the size of a kitchen appliance.“
Foodini also allows the owners to design how they want their own food to look. „3D printing software is very complicated, so we couldn’t have that in a kitchen appliance,“ Kucsma remarks. „lnstead, we created our own software called Foodini Creator that allows chefs and users to create their own a dishes. Tht way it’s not a bottleneck where we have to create the dishes or the end users have to have technical capabilities. We’re trying to make it easy for people to be creative.
„We have clients like bakery franchises that design standard templates for Valentine’s Day and then on-site people can customise it with their names. Adding a name to the software is similar to typing it in a Word document,“ Kucsma continues. This would really enhance the travel experience for passengers on special occasions, and Kucsma confides that her company’s technology has indeed attracted interest from the airline industry.
„Airlines won’t use the version ofFoodini we have out today, because we’re missing a key component which is important for them, and that’s the ability to cook. We’re already testing that technology and taste testing with consumers. It’s been very positive,“ she notes.
„When you have a confined space, the more functionality with the device, the better. The way we’re designing our cooking appliance, you can even cook things whlch don’t need to be 3D printed. That way you’re mashlng up the functionality of various appliances. lt begs the question in the future: ‚Do we need a stove, an oven, a microwave and a 3D food printer?‘ Probably not, because you can get it all in one device.
„I think with airlines it becomes interesting, because they can earn a few points in terms of the way they control allergens and even calories,“ comments Kucsma. „People could even design their dish from the screens in their seatback or from their personal electronic devices. I know, right now, meal services are done at one time, but if you’re using 3D printing – with the cooking as weil – passengers can almost order something when they want without putting too much additional strain on the staff to do that.“
Efforts to automate elements of the in-flight catering process are not just focusing on activities on board the aircraft. In 2015, Cathay Pacific Catering Services ( CPCS), which supplies many different airlines, developed an automatic tray-setting machlne with Hong Kong-based Lanco.
„After two years of design, we built a 23-metre-long automated machlne whlch assembles one third of Cathay Pacific’s economy-class meal trays,“ a CPCS spokesperson discloses. „Comprised of 11 stations whlch process each step of setting a meal tray, there are camera sensors to make sure they are facing upwards.
“To ensure equipment and food quality, stations are also designed for staff placing salads or desserts onto the trays manually. Tue machlne also serves as a final checkpoint to make sure the trays are perfectly set before inserting them into the meal cart automatically,“ explains the spokesperson.
Rather than replacing the crew, machines are being used to take the pressure off human resources so they can concentrate their efforts on making sure passengers have everything they need. I look forward to trying my first 3D-printed, freshly cooked meal in the air in the not too distant future. •