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Modelling takes off

Optimising an airplane wing with composite and metal structure

Whether out of necessity brought on by mounting physical testing costs, or simply as a result of increased experience, aerospace is embracing simulation. Beth Harlen reports


s a child, aeroplanes always held a certain fascination for me as I could never quite grasp the ‘magic’ that enabled them to take flight.

As an adult, I must confess that I still don’t thoroughly understand the mechanics or the underlying equations that define the physics, but it is easy to recognise the incredible sophistication of these systems. And in that sophistication lies the challenge. Aerospace is competitive and the drive to optimise current designs, and indeed innovate new ones, is hitting the same stumbling block present in many other industries: that physical testing can be prohibitively expensive, especially where a system of this scale is concerned. Simulation technologies offer an obvious solution, but a hesitation still exists regarding their use. According to Altair Engineering’s Robert

Yancey, an aerospace executive recently remarked that because it is so expensive to qualify the composite materials used on current aircraſt, the company is scared of switching materials due to the extensive cost that will be entailed if it has to do so again for the next plane. Tis reluctance is despite the fact that it sees many advantages in the


new materials being developed. Tis use of complicated composite materials on aircraſt is, however, at least in part, driving the use of simulation as aerospace companies begin to realise that if they can figure out how to use simulation to reduce the amount of physical testing, both on a plane and material level, it will allow them to take advantage of any new materials becoming available.


‘On the new airplane programmes using

a significant amount of composites,’ adds Yancey, ‘there were problems that could not have been solved without simulation. Tat not only helped increase its use in the aircraſt design process, but enabled companies to gain confidence that simulation would provide important answers that could solve the problems they were facing.’ Beyond that, he says, is an increasing realisation in

the aerospace community that simulation needs to be able to replace many of the physical tests. Te introduction of composite materials has amplified this extensively, because composites mean a rise in the material variables that need to be tested. In addition to this increased acceptance,

the ways in which simulation technologies are being exploited are also changing. According to Yancey, there is a definite interest, and indeed need, within aerospace for more multi-discipline analyses. ‘Traditionally, there have been islands of simulation activity and there is a growing trend to couple these aspects – for example, coupling aerodynamics with structural analysis, or thermal heating with structural analysis. Tat technology has been around on the university research level for a number of years, but is now making its way to commercial applications,’ he says.

Powering up Trends like the coupling of activities are aided by the increase in computing power now being made available to simulation programs. While this provides the opportunity to run an increasing number of complex simulations, it also leads to one of its problems: growing datasets. Michael Papka, director at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, is acutely aware of this issue and explains that it is causing two main difficulties for research scientists: too much

Altair Engineering

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