Interview with Jonas Pielke: “My heated floor panel project lead”

A VINCORION young professional successfully guides a diverse team

VINCORION assigns responsibilities to young professionals early in their career. This is not an empty phrase in VINCORION recruiting ads but a living and breathing reality at our sites. Take, for example, Jonas Pielke, Program Manager for the Business Unit Aviation. Back in 2017 at the age of 26, he was appointed project lead for one of VINCORION’s lighthouse projects – development and manufacturing of heated floor panels for civil aircrafts.

When the first heated floor panel was ready for serialization for our initial customer Airbus, some innovative technical milestones had been achieved along the way. For the first time in civil aircraft, a PTC lacquer was used as a heating element, an efficient cut-proof surface was introduced and an ability to repair with a special resin was established. The result: the VINCORION corrosion resistant, damage tolerant, lightweight heated floor panel.

Find out more about the technical aspects of the heated floor panel here.

How did Jonas carry out this successful project? VINCORION Insights talked to Jonas about challenges, kickbacks, breakthroughs and finally serialization during his management of the heated floor panel project.

In 2017 you were appointed project lead for the development of the heated floor panel. How did that come about?

I would say the business unit management took a calculated risk appointing me as project lead for the heated floor panel as I only had moderate experience in managing own projects. Before this, I was on the other side of the table, namely in R&D project controlling. But I have a generally good understanding for technology and was eager to learn.

At the product level, what was the initial situation and motivation to start the project?

To simplify, former products primarily faced five issues. Corrosion, delamination, fire and smoke emission, a short meantime between failure (MTBF) and no option to repair the product.
We had a challenging task ahead of us. We took an iterative approach by focusing on one issue at a time, learning from dead-ends and developing workable partial solutions step-by-step. At the same time, I tried to keep morale high by maintaining a “can do mentality” among all team members.

Looking back at the track from the start to the finish line, how would you sum up the whole course?

You could split the project in three phases: First, the experimental phase with a high level of uncertainty. Second, the concretization phase and finally, the qualification and series start.

What were your main challenges and tasks during the first phase?

We chose an external engineering partner and teamed up with VINCORION operations and VINCORION development. So different corporate cultures had to be aligned. To be honest, there were clashes in the beginning. All of us were dealing with a completely new technology and a high level of risk regarding the technical solution. That’s why I first started to create a balanced understanding of the project goals among the complete project team. To sum it up, the first phase had a lot to do with team building and establishing a vision.

How did the first project phase evolve regarding technology?

Of course, everything happened within the scope of aviation development standards and processes. But especially during the first phase, we gave the go-ahead to experimental engineering trials. We established an almost garage-like atmosphere beyond written specifications and traditional engineering. One example was a hands-on, improvised aluminum core investigation in which we gained valuable insights into corrosion resistance of different aluminum grades – with a very simple test arrangement and easily available material. Another example was building and testing more than 75 different lay-up structures for the composite panel.

What were your main tasks during the second project phase?

For the second phase I managed the transition from experimental engineering trials to a series solution according to aviation development standards and processes. It was very valuable to have such a diverse team. Members who were focusing more on experimenting were complemented by members whose main task was operationalizing the engineering trials. This was mainly the phase between Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and Critical Design Review (CDR).

Can you describe decisive aspects from the third phase until the heated floor panel was ready for serial production?

The qualification phase of the heated floor panel still involved unforeseen technological challenges and setbacks. However, with our positive team spirit and innovative solution processes we succeeded in solving all these issues. Moreover, the extensive endurance testing over seven months paid off because it proved that the heated floor panel was indeed cut-proof, corrosion-resistant and very durable.

Can you give us more insights into the testing and documentation procedures?

We definitely did a lot more than what was legally required regarding engineering tests and trials.
To confirm the functionality of the PTC lacquer, we undertook operating tests with complete heater isolation to prove that our heating element would not overheat. To verify the stability and durability of the panel there were a variety of rigorous trials, for example a long-term climate chamber test ranging from -55° C to +85° C lasting more than five months. A mechanical endurance test of 1.2 million stamps on the same panel spot to simulate the exposure of human steps was also performed, as well as a food cart roller test. In the end, we created more than 3,000 pages of test reports and other verification documents.

Airbus is the initial customer for the heated floor panel. Which airliners of the Airbus aircraft range will be equipped?

In 2017, we started with the development project for the A330neo program. This was followed by the contract award for the A350 XWB among further design optimizations. The most current award is for the A321XLR with the first shipset aimed for spring 2021.

What does the future hold for the VINCORION heated floor panel?

Market possibilities are vast. Our heated floor panel can be employed in virtually all civil and military aircraft. All global aircraft manufacturers who are looking for more safety and comfort at the floor space near aircraft doors are potential customers. I am quite excited to see more and more VINCORION heated floor panels on board.

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