Years of development have produced the A380’s intelligent galleys packed with computer-controlled cooling systems, steam ovens and smart energy management
At first glance, this could be a regular aircraft galley: a tidy but not overly spacious workspace stocked with trolleys and metal boxes, and done out in a pale shade of gray. But this is something else. The Lufthansa project management team and the engineers from Lufthansa Technik and Airbus will soon have spent half a decade planning it. How many ovens, how much refrigeration space, and how many coffee machines will an aircraft need to cater for over 520 passengers? How many trolleys, how much storage space? “We drew on all the experience we could,” says Frank Vetter, who’s responsible for developing the galleys for the Lufthansa group’s new flagship aircraft, the Airbus A380. The Lufthansa cabin crews were also consulted about ergonomic factors: workspace height and amount of counter space, rounded corners so that nobody gets hurt, and lighting in the all the right places. Every little detail counts.
We take a look behind the scenes. Roland Hengartner, CEO of Bucher Leichtbau, takes us on a tour of his factory in Fällanden near Zurich, in Switzerland. In one of the rooms, workmen are putting rivets into aluminum strips. “Riveting is an art; the province of traditional craftsmen!” Hengartner exclaims. The lightweight aluminum profile galley frames – those skeletons of light industry – look rather fragile, but are nevertheless put to a series of tough tests. The red aluminum latches on the front of the trolleys, for instance, must be able to withstand centrifugal forces of 16g. That‘s like holding on to a 100-kilogram trolley that suddenly feels like it weighs 1.6 tons.
Nothing here is left to chance. Without undergoing all the prescribed electrical tests, water tests, and noise and rattle tests, a galley has no chance of being certified. A confection test determines whether the chocolate melts when kept beside the oven. And the plastic-coated aluminum panels have to pass a fire test before they are installed. The galleys are based on 3D computer models and some 800 2D diagrams each. Specifications for individual aggregates fill thousands of pages, and test results fill a catalogue of regulations that’s about 800,000 pages long – a virtual bow wave of paperwork.
Some of the A380’s functions are true innovations, like the computerized cooling system complete with compressors and heat exchangers. It can even chill different galley compartments to different temperatures, or more precisely: 8 degrees Celsius for beverages and 4 degrees for the food, which is cooked in steam ovens at a gentle 130 degrees, so it looks appetizing and don’t dry out. Where necessary, dry heat of up to 170°C can also be activated. Coffee machines run on rails, making them much easier for technicians to access for maintenance and repair. Juice and other liquid residues are sucked into a waste disposal systems with a vacuum function, while solid waste is reduced to a fraction of its size in the trash compactor. In fact, these state-of-the-art galleys are almost one step ahead no matter where you look.
Installing the electrics is a particular challenge, given that the galleys alone have thousand of contact connectors. To keep track of what goes where, system technicians lay out the wiring harnesses on specially marked sheets of plywood with finger-length nails holding the cables in place. Routing the electric wiring and the cable harnesses is like traffic planning in miniature. Every galley requires 15 meters of feeder cable. Each cable and each part is numbered to indicate where it goes. Then there is the freshwater and wastewater piping, plus supply lines for cooling compressors, lighting, ovens, extractor fans, air conditioning and water fixtures, as well as time switches, computer screens and coffee machines. And that’s not all. The A380’s five galleys were designed to be communicate with each other and to save energy by regulating electricity.
Well packed and fully certified, the galleys finally travel north to Finkenwerder in Hamburg where they are installed and connected with the cabin, but not as firmly as one would expect. Shock absorbers are used so that the aluminum frames can adapt to the movements of the air-cushioned body of the plane. It doesn’t matter to them that the pressured cabin ever so slightly expands. Becoming an A380 galley really isn’t easy. After all, you try catering to the needs of over 500 passengers while jetting around the world at 900 kilometers an hour!