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Simulation is being adopted for some unique purposes in the aerospace industry, affecting every sector from manufacturing to pilot training.

The adoption of these new methodologies and technologies is enabling greater innovation, a more efficient supply chain, and reducing costs across the board.

In this article, we take a look at 3 very different ways that simulation is having a major impact on the aerospace industry and is likely to have an even greater impact as time and technology progress.

Virtual Reality Simulations and Pilot Training

The first thing anyone thinks (or at least I think) when talking about simulation is Virtual Reality (VR).

It wasn’t that long ago when VR was a thing entirely of science fiction, however, the technology is rapidly progressing, and whilst it has stumbled in consumer markets it has ultimately realised a vast potential for commercial applications.

When it comes to aerospace, VR is revolutionising training quite fundamentally. Pilots can now use flight simulators to get a detailed experience of interacting with a real aeroplane cockpit.

Using a simulator is safer for students, allowing them to replicate hazardous conditions and system failures without putting any real-life passengers at risk.

In addition, it saves on wear and tear of actual aircraft and engines and is more accessible than climbing into a real aircraft.

What this all comes down to at the end of the day though, is it reduces the cost for students, and for schools when training new pilots.

That is not to say that a flight simulator is in any way cheap, but as the technology progresses and becomes more accessible this cost is coming down.

Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM)

Additive manufacturing (AM) in aircraft allows manufacturers to speed up production and reduce the cost of the process.

At the same time, it allows for new designs such as lightweight honeycomb parts to be easily manufactured.

However, there are several issues that the market is currently faced with.

Firstly, to be able to develop new lightweight parts and fasteners you need to first be able to design and then simulate the stresses for those parts to ensure that they have adequate performance qualities like tensile strength.

Unsurprisingly though, the software for modelling is incredibly complex and there is a lack of skilled engineers to create the innovative designs that would make the process so valuable.

The second consideration is that the aerospace industry must and does hold each of its parts to the highest standards to ensure the performance and safety of the final aircraft.

This means that development of new designs and parts is slow, with continuous testing required. And then it has to get from R&D to production.

Despite these holdbacks, the likes of Boeing and Airbus are already beginning to use this manufacturing process in their supply chain to produce particular parts.

For example, cabin door handles or particular seat parts which need to be more regularly replaced – and don’t require the same stringent standards in production quality to be maintained.

When it comes to developing aerospace fasteners, the benefits of AM begins to look, at least on paper, very attractive.

An individual aircraft needs a million or so durable fasteners with high flexibility, low weight, and other aerodynamic requirements to withstand extreme forces. AM would allow for new lightweight design utilising new materials as well as fast and affordable production.

There is certainly space then for innovation using additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry.

We expect that as materials advance and software develops making this engineering process simpler, that we will see more parts produced utilising this unique manufacturing process.

Simulated Data for Better Predictive Maintenance

Aircraft today feed back a huge amount of data from each flight. The reasons for this is simple, it is possible to use predictive models to determine when a part is going to require maintenance before it even shows signs of needing to be replaced.

For example, each engine has hundreds of sensors feeding back gigabytes of data for each flight, which in addition to giving updated feedback on the engine parts is fed into a predictive model. This gives an idea as to when a part is likely to need replacing.

This allows for advanced planning of aircraft maintenance, as well as letting the maintenance crew know what parts they need to have at hand and when.

In turn, the system minimises the risk of a part failing whilst in use. It also reduces costs on parts, and ultimately reduces downtime for the aircraft.

To further improve the predictions and results that come out of these predictive maintenance models you can go one step further.

This is to run simulations of aircraft flights and add these simulated data sets into your previously collected real data to further refine the results and get more accurate predictions.

Summary

Simulation is already being used to reduce costs throughout the aerospace industry.

Excitingly though, it’s now beginning to be used to further improve aircraft by allowing for new unique lightweight part designs which just weren’t possible before.

On top of that, with the intelligent handling of data aircraft are not only becoming safer, but companies can more effectively handle the maintenance of their machines to optimise their efficiency.

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Here at JPAero we’ve been supplying aerospace fasteners to the aviation industry since 1958, and are members of the ADS SC21 Programme. To find out more about us or speak to a member of our expert team, get in touch today.

Image: Airman Magazine (Creative Commons)