Building-up virtual prototyping capabilities to free aircraft development from physical mock-ups

Eight concrete examples of digitalization for sustainable aerospace design, manufacturing, and operations

by Slaheddine Frikha
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If you work in the aerospace sector, you’re most likely familiar with the latest reports published by analysts, which all converge on the same industry trends: sustainable aviation, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), hydrogen planes, electric aircraft, urban mobility, eVTOLs, etc. The message is clear: it’s time for a green push, and this, throughout the complete supply chain. But how can aerospace OEMs and their suppliers achieve this ambitious goal as they are still trying to recover from the pandemic crisis?

What you may not realize is the key role digitalization plays in achieving sustainability goals… Its role is so critical that to keep leading the industry, and to keep leading the change, our customer Rolls-Royce vowed to become a “Digital First” company.

Advances in numerical simulation for the aerospace industry 

As I oversee the development of the aerospace business for ESI Group, I know how far predictive numerical simulation has come – from our solvers being used by a handful of simulation engineers working in R&D to delivering true enterprise solutions used by engineering teams at every step of the product development lifecycle and beyond; from design to engineering, manufacturing engineering and even maintenance engineering.

Often, what simulation can achieve seems invisible. Its contribution is absorbed, and melts into product development achievements: greater part quality meeting tolerances, faster turnaround for foundries and composite parts manufacturers, lower scrap rates, manufacturability despite new geometries, desired vibro-acoustic performance, virtually pre-certified products, fewer physical try-outs and prototypes, more efficient assembly steps, increased productivity and output, reduced maintenance costs, decreased industrial risks for operators… and the list goes on. It’s 2022 and it’s time for leading aerospace companies and their supply chain to realize the prime importance, the vital contribution of simulation to stay competitive and to develop the sustainable innovations that the world is waiting for.

This month, I wrote an article for SAE Aerospace Defense & Technology magazine (June 2022 issue) to give evidence, to encourage, and to inspire more aerospace manufacturers by sharing real-life achievements of digitalization, straight from our customers. Here’s my “Reader’s Digest” for you, enriched with some video footage to help you make even more sense of the diverse applications and the immediate value from a user perspective:

Eight aerospace companies reaping the benefits of digitalization
  1. Latécoère counts on the advanced virtual reality capabilities provided by IC.IDO to connect manufacturing engineering teams from around the world on the same virtual platform in order to secure “Right First Time” production and to train operators remotely, cutting down on travel emissions, yet providing a “learning by doing” approach.
  2. Aircraft Systems provider Collins Aerospace collaborates with ESI’s system modeling team to create the next generation of multi-domain agile engineering platform powered by our software SimulationX enabling real-time collaboration for product development.
  3. Power systems manufacturer Rolls-Royce uses our casting simulation software ProCAST for Product-Process co-design and to collaborate more efficiently with their supply chain towards greater quality parts, avoiding late design changes and eliminating scrap rates in a more sustainable manner.
  4. Saab Aerospace Systems relies on our composites manufacturing simulation software PAM-COMPOSITES to refine their injection strategies for the next generation aircraft doors, supporting the advanced manufacturing of ever lighter structures.
  5. Aerostructures manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems also uses PAM-COMPOSITES to achieve “first time right” zero-defect infusion of large aircraft panels, securing a premium quality, and mitigating financial and operational risks related to innovative manufacturing processes.

6. Engine nacelles provider Safran Nacelles applies the Virtual Reality software IC.IDO to review manufacturing process designs in an immersive, “real life” and human-centric way, achieving a 15% saving in their total tooling budget and shortening the timeframe for the design by 18 months (watch the video aside for an interview of Safran during the last Paris Air Show in 2019).

7. Dassault Aviation and Thales teamed up with us to sustain the development of “Aircraft Twins” as part of the Man-Machine-Teaming innovation program funded by the French Defense Department (DGA).

8. Finally, the seat supplier Expliseat achieved virtual pre-certification of their extra lightweight seats for several aircraft type, without resorting to any physical prototype, as they mastered virtual prototyping e.g. for precisely predicting passenger safety using our software Virtual Performance Solution. (Play the video aside for an extract of Expliseat's presentation at ESI LIVE France 2021).

Digitalization has progressed significantly across the aerospace value chain in the past few years. This month, McKinsey published a piece of research entitled “Building products in the digital age: It’s hard to ‘get smart’”, which stated that “getting smart – investing in innovation and R&D – is going to be the key differentiator for the market over the next three to five years [and that] digital manufacturing is seen as an area with the greatest opportunity ”. The pandemic operated as a catalyst, boosting new ways of working. If COVID affected air travel in an unprecedented way, on the other hand, it has offered aerospace companies the chance to somehow “reset” their culture and behavior and have been given the opportunity to start fresh on many product development and manufacturing topics as true “Digital Natives”. It’s as if the industry took a step back only to emerge more victorious.

At ESI, we have a mission to help aerospace companies in gearing their digital transformation, to be a partner they can trust to help foster innovations, such as the eVTOLS, that will without a doubt change the landscape of urban mobility. We are already helping the pioneers of that segment achieve their product performance and safety targets while meeting stringent noise regulations. Here is a video aside, featuring our latest demonstrator.

Meet ESI at the Farnborough International Airshow 2022

Next month, my colleagues and I will exhibit at the Farnborough International Airshow 2022. ESI Group will present on how virtual prototyping supports leading aerospace OEMs, as well as their supply chain, in the fast and cost-efficient delivery of quality products and disruptive innovations. Let’s meet at the France Pavillion where we will be part of the GIFAS (& “Pole AsTech”) area in HALL 1 – Booth APR.03. We look forward to discussing more with you in person!