virtual engineering gives Airbus jumbo more lift

Virtual engineering design, spearheaded in the automotive industry, has now been
deployed in the aircraft industry with startling success. Dean Palmer reports

Virtual engineering design, spearheaded in the automotive industry, has now been deployed in the aircraft industry by Altair Engineering with startling success. The leading edge wing section of the massive new Airbus A380 incorporates an innovative design developed by BAE SYSTEMS' Aerostructures business using Altair's computer aided engineering (CAE) software. The result has been an enormous mass saving of 500 kg from a small part of the wing assembly and the delivery of the product within a very tight time schedule. "The increasingly aggressive weight targets and shortening development timescales in the civil aircraft industry require a new approach to aircraft design," said Royston Jones, Managing Director of Altair Engineering Ltd. "At Altair we have developed a suite of highly sophisticated computer aided engineering software, including the Altair OptiStruct optimisation tool, which we have applied with great success for clients in the automotive industry and a range of other sectors worldwide. This application, in what will be the world's largest commercial airliner, the Airbus A380, demonstrates the power of our software and our innovative approach. Our concepts and technologies are also relevant to designers across many sectors and in the coming months, we will be introducing our approach to designers in the defence, white goods and packaging industries." Altair's OptiStruct CAE software significantly reduces the need for the production of working prototypes throughout the design process. Instead it develops computer prototypes which can be subjected to virtual tests - giving accurate results rapidly and enabling cost savings. Conventional design processes tend to consume much time at an early stage studying different design alternatives. In contrast, OptiStruct CAE software performs a topology optimisation - a mathematical technique that produces an optimum shape and material distribution for any structure within a given design space. With this, the wing designers at Aerostructures were very quickly able to establish an initial design with optimal load paths. This topology design was then refined using detailed sizing and shape optimisation techniques. The Altair OptiStruct approach, proven with clients in the automotive industry, quickly generated optimised components for stiffness, stress and vibration designs for the Airbus wing section. Following delivery to Airbus at Broughton, Wales, the structure is assembled together with the other A380 wing components into complete wings and transported to the final aircraft assembly line in Toulouse, France. The 555-seater, fuel-efficient airliner will be the world's only twin-deck, four-aisle aircraft and is expected to enter service in 2006.