Editor's Note

Designing Aircraft in the Cloud: A Growing Trend for Aerospace Engineers

Dassault Systèmes claims that most of the world's largest aerospace manufacturers are now developing their next generation aircraft designs in the cloud. Pictured here is the use of Dassault's 3DExperience platform by Czech-based BRM Aero for the development of a light sport aircraft. (Dassault Systèmes)

Every aspect of next generation aircraft design can be accomplished today in the cloud, with engineers across hundreds of aerospace industry suppliers now using a common new set of all-digital tools in their development efforts to help advance manufacturing efficiencies.

Dassault Systèmes, a Dassault Group subsidiary, claims that every major aircraft maker today, ranging from Airbus, Boeing and Gulfstream to Lockheed Martin is using their digital design tools for the development of new products. The company's 3DExperience is a merging of all of their computer aided design tools into one platform to serve as one single source of truth along the product development lifecycle.

Engineers have been using computer aided design tools to develop complex structures, components and systems for decades. Now, the cloud has transformed the way these tools are managed on an interchangeable basis between parts suppliers, systems integrators, software developers and other stakeholders within the design and manufacturing ecosystem required to actually build a new aircraft, engine, system or component.

“From requirement to validation and verification. From bolt to aircraft. From concept operations. Cloud is not restricted to small or niche scenarios,” Frédéric Chauvin, A&D Industry Solution Experience Director, Dassault Systèmes told Avionics International.

Chauvin said the digital solutions provider’s aerospace and defense division has collected data on development times and life cycles based on actual usage patterns by some of its largest aerospace customers in recent years. Their analysis found that engineers spend about 30 percent of their time searching for the data that they need to work on through multiple databases, with “no digital continuity,” Chauvin said.

Traditional searches observed were mostly restricted to “full text” or “attribute” based search with limited capability to filter against images or videos. In 3DExperience, the search option is much more powerful as it knows a lot about the semantics of engineering, including lifecycle, configuration and three-dimensional spatial zones.

“An example on the simulation side is complex aerodynamics studies as well as structure, and other system simulations. It requires powerful processing capabilities that are now hosted on the cloud. You can launch the [computational fluid dynamics] CFD analysis from your mobile or tablet and get notified when the result is available. Latency and bandwidth are carefully handled to provide best performances for any situation. We have customers developing complete aircraft on the cloud with 4G cellular networks. They don’t even feel the need for high speed fiber network,” Chauvin said.

While Dassault Systemes did not provide detailed examples of how much data is actually being consumed, downloaded, transmitted or shared across their cloud, several examples were provided of how engineers can actually use elements of 3DExperience to digitally design new aircraft parts and components.

CATIA V5, a 3DExperience-based multi-platform software suite for computer-aided design, engineering and manufacturing now features a marketplace for 3D printed aerospace grade components. One CATIA V5 instructional video demonstrates how engineers modifying the engines for a generic flying wing drone aircraft can use Parts Supply, a 3DExperience service that features cloud-based access to 700 suppliers and over 30 million standard and 3-D printed aircraft parts.

Using 3DExperience, engineers can access 3-D printed parts and observe and understand how they would function within different installations on their aircraft or drone designs. Here, Dassault shows a generic flying wing drone's installations for a set of replacement screws attached to the drone's engine housing. Photo: Dassault Systemes

Through the Parts Supply service, the drone engineer could select a stainless steel hexagon nut and then use a drag and drop feature affix to attach it to the drone’s engine axis. That same service could also be used to observe how that same hexagon nut would look or perform while installed to replace every other possible installation location on the drone that it is approved for.

Other airplane manufacturers with next generation designs in mind such as Boom Supersonic are also 3DExperience users. Boom engineers used 3DExperience during the conceptual design phase and for structural analysis and systems architecture development for the XB-1, a sub-scale two-seater demonstrator aircraft designed that will allow the company to perform flight tests at Mach 2.2.

The XB-1, scheduled to roll out of Boom’s Denver, Colorado hangar in October and start test flights next year, featured an engineering effort that included a team of 86 engineers working with 286 partners to assemble 3,488 unique parts for the aircraft.

“Traditional aircraft development tools and methods require a high-end workstation, a dedicated work environment with high speed network, complex user experience to access the data in multiple repositories,” Chauvin said. “The cloud provides a massive simplification to bring all data at hand in a fraction of second with powerful and smart tools to design the aircraft.”

Chauvin also referenced Joby Aviation, one of Uber Elevate’s air taxi development vehicle partners, as a company that is using 3DExperience to address weight reduction and aerodynamic simulation associated with their future facing air taxi design. In June, Vertical Aerospace, a startup air taxi maker based in the U.K., announced plans to adopt the 3DExperience platform on the cloud to develop their all electric air taxi.

Vertical's aircraft under development, the Seraph, will carry up to three passengers at speeds of up to 50 mph.

“We were fortunate to have moved onto the 3DExperience  platform on cloud before we were remote working,” said Owen Thompson Cheel, Flight Systems IPT Lead, Vertical Aerospace. “The team has all they need to work from home and by using the platform on cloud we have been able to continue working with virtually no difference in performance.”

Some of the next-generation aircraft concepts envisioned at the world’s two largest aerospace manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, could benefit from the aerospace supplier digital development and design cloud-based development environment enabled by 3DExperience.

Airbus recently completed flight testing the Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovative Controls (MAVERIC), a “blended wing body” scale model technological demonstrator first unveiled at the 2020 Singapore Airshow. Data collected from flight testing MAVERIC will accelerate the company’s understanding of how new aircraft configurations could deliver environmental benefits. Tools featured within 3DExperience could allow all of the various stakeholders on the development of a project like MAVERIC to access all of the engineering documentation they require in the cloud.

“As you design a complex system such as an aircraft, it is very important to connect the disciplines. A change in a discipline, let’s say aerodynamics shape, will have broad implications in many ways including structure, weight, manufacturing, maneuverability and flight controls,” Chauvin said. “The cloud changes the game as it brings collaboration to the next level, and not only in the 3D design domain. It connects upfront with systems engineers, electronics and software engineers, downstream with manufacturing engineers and with many other disciplines such as project management, procurement, quality management, certification management.”

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