31st July 2012 by Royston Jones
During a recent meeting with Chris Wilkinson, Engineering Director at Spirit AeroSystems, he kindly agreed to sit down for a short discussion (video below) regarding the use of simulation technology in the aerospace industry. Chris is a fascinating person to speak to about the future of design and is a firm believer that additive manufacturing and 3D printing is the inevitable future of manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing offers great potential for engineers as it can allow for the manufacturer of complex structural configurations. It provides the engineer with the freedom to determine the optimum structural configuration, removing often oppressive conventional manufacturing constraints. Traditional manufacturing sees a part machined out of a larger block with the majority of material being discarded (as much as 80% in some cases). As additive manufacturing builds components up in layers, waste material is avoided.
During our discussion, Chris revealed some of his experiences of simulation and optimisation technologies being implemented in his industry. What struck me is that, even with the industry push for lighter, more fuel efficient aircraft, optimisation technologies are often seen as specialist and functional tools used by a small collection of experts to fire fight problematic components. There is still a poor connection between design optimisation and the resulting business impact.
As the drive for ever more fuel efficient aircraft continues to gain momentum and the popularity of additive manufacturing increases, we may see a stronger alignment which will allow design optimisation to really make its mark at a business and not just an engineering level. Altair’s ‘Optimisation Centres’ are undoubtedly helping by focusing greater attention on strategies to minimise material use and their rapid expansion across OEMs in multiple industries is very encouraging.
The future of optimisation and its contribution to the wider design process looks bright, but it will take visionaries like Chris to champion the ‘design for manufacture’ future where optimisation is used as an enabler for business success rather than simply an engineering tool before its full potential is realised.