Simulating success in aerospace and automotive manufacturing

The use of high-performance carbon fibers in the past 50 years has revolutionized product design and manufacturing – from airplanes and automobiles to golf clubs and skateboards.

However, the barrier to expanding applications for the stalwart carbon composites and the advanced composite materials being developed now is an ‘outdated and overly conservative building-block approach’ to certifying these materials for use by requiring costly physical tests, said R. Byron Pipes, John L. Bray distinguished professor of engineering at Purdue University and a globally recognized polymer sciences researcher.

R. Byron Pipes says computational power will effect a paradigm shift in composites manufacturing. Pipes delivered the John R. and Donna S. Hall Engineering Lecture March 30.

“What [competency] has changed the most in 50 years? Computational power,” Pipes told the audience at the annual John R. and Donna S. Hall Engineering Lecture at the Vanderbilt School of Engineering on March 30.

In his lecture – “Simulation in Composites Manufacturing” – Pipes explored the integration of sophisticated models to provide a comprehensive simulation of composite materials from their “birth to death.”

Pipes describes today’s composite development as dominated by physical experiments and only aided by analysis. “We have the computational power to change this paradigm and replace thousands of (physical) tests with robust multi-scale simulation of manufacturing and performance,” he said. “Only then will we enable innovations in materials composition without repeated costly recertification.”

To do so will require a comprehensive set of simulation tools that connect composites from their birth in manufacturing to their lifetime prediction, Pipes said.

“We are still struggling with empirical-based manufacturing and (physical) testing-based certification,” he said. “It costs $100 million per material to qualify composites to fly on a new airframe. Once certified, materials changes are economically impossible.”

Replacing at least some of these physical tests with virtual simulations is emerging across the composites manufacturing spectrum. This is a promising method of documenting the effectiveness of new composite materials, advanced design tools and manufacturing processes faster and more cost-effectively, he said.

“You will never totally escape the need for (physical) testing to validate models, especially when human life is at stake, but we must address the issue of certainty in simulation results, or rather, how to manage uncertainty,” Pipes said. “Simulation tools can guide understanding of uncertainty in design and how it propagates.”

In 2013, Purdue founded the Composites Design and Manufacturing HUB (cdmHUB), a collaborative web interface platform designed to provide a platform for evaluation of composite available simulation tools. The platform will also educate users in the use of simulation tools.The goals are to work with industry, academia and government to put composites simulation tools in the hands of engineers, who will design future products that require the performance characteristics composite materials offer.

Another barrier in composites manufacturing:  The engineering workforce. Pipes said a very small fraction of our engineering graduates are receiving a ‘composites education.’

“One of our goals should be the education of a new generation of engineers with composites expertise.”

Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
Twitter @VUEngineering