Zulu Pods, Inc. (ZPI) has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the Department of the Navy. The objective of the project is to develop new and innovative lubricating fluid supply/delivery system technologies for rolling element bearings in small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) engines and/or attritable/expendable weapon systems to replace current architectures – thereby reducing overall system weight, cost, complexity and maintenance requirements/burden due to fluid leaks and lubricant shelf life during extended storage.
While numerous efforts have been made into enabling oil-free technologies and alternative bearings, rolling element bearings utilizing fluid lubrication remain prevalent within U.S. Navy platforms. Fluid-lubricated rolling element bearings provide excellent load-carrying capacity, low friction operation and damping properties when properly lubricated. Novel delivery methods for lubricants could allow for realization of the advantages of rolling element bearings without the drawbacks of the supporting hardware typically required to provide lubrication supply.
Traditional flow-through and recirculating rolling element bearing lubrication systems which utilize pressurized oil and/or fuel require parts such as supply/scavenge pumps, reservoirs, sumps, plumbing/pipes, and seals, which can account for up to 30% of overall propulsion system weight, volume, and cost in small limited-life engines. In addition, the shelf-life limitations of lubricants used in these systems (such as oil, fuel-oil mixtures, grease) can lead to corrosion or increased maintenance actions during long-term storage. Innovative technologies which enable replacement of traditional lubrication schemes for small, limited-life engines and attritable weapon systems are being sought to reduce total system ownership cost.
The Zulu Pod is the world’s first modular fluid delivery system that combines the function of a reservoir, pump, and nozzle into a single, self-contained, self-pressurized and hermetically sealed packaged oil delivery system. The Zulu Pod is lighter, placed right in the working zone of the engine bearing or gear compartment, and meters the minimum amount of lubrication required for optimal performance. Zulu Pods can be used for primary lubrication on limited life engines, backup lubrication during a loss of lubrication event, or supplemental lubrication to extend oil interruption capability.
The award will allow ZPI to continue development and subscale testing of their pod technology in tandem with small engine Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to support technology transitions and future commercialization within both the military and commercial small UAV markets.