How integrating the virtual and physical will make aerospace testing and certification smarter


by Eann Patterson, dean of the School of Engineering and AA Griffith Chair of Structural Materials and Mechanics

Smarter Testing is a three year, £10 million (US$14 million) project that has the goal of improving the efficiency of development processes in aircraft manufacturing. It aims to significantly reduce lead-time and costs by digitizing the aerospace testing and certification process more.

As well as the University of Liverpool the project involves the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, Airbus, CFMS Services, GOM UK and Dassault Systemes UK.

Our focus for Smarter Testing is on how to transfer test validation procedures that are proven in a laboratory into the industrial environment. Validation demonstrates that the results of simulations and predictions are reliable enough and is currently performed by manufacturers with expensive physical testing. Integrating physical and virtual tests as part of a digital thread is a vital step in making the aerospace testing and certification process more efficient.

Smarter Testing is building on the results of two European projects we recently led, MOTIVATE and DIMES. The research from those projects is helping to digitize the iterative development and testing process conducted during R&D and up to type certification.

MOTIVATE (Matrix Optimization for Testing by Interaction of Virtual And Test Environments) involved Airbus, Dantec Dynamics from Germany, Empa in Switzerland and the Athena Research and Innovation Center in Greece. The project developed methodologies to ensure tests produce the right data and enable you to know the measurement uncertainties.

A key technology developed for MOTIVATE was image decomposition, a feature recognition technique similar to that used by facial recognition systems. It enables us to quantify the differences between fields of information from tests such as digital image correlation and thermoelastic stress analysis with FEA (finite element analysis) models.

DIMES (Development of Integrated MEasurement Systems) developed a way for test engineers to measure and track damage that occurs to a test article during structural testing. Currently this is checked by stopping the test and observing the test article using the human eye.

The DIMES infrared and visual measurement system is integrated into the test article and enables engineers to track the damage that happens during a structural test without stopping the test. The system has been tested in the lab, in a ground test on a cockpit and is about to be tested by Airbus engineers at Filton on a wing.

The next step through the Smarter Testing project is to combine these two methodologies into Airbus processes for testing and validation of their computational models. Airbus wants to be routinely using them in an industrial setting by the end of the project. The company predicts that massive reductions in time and cost will be possible with their introduction and the highest quality and safety standards will be maintained. Although not a goal of this project, the quality of products could even increase because of the higher confidence we will have in the models.

The processes and technologies developed for the Smarter Testing project are a big step forward in digitizing the aerospace testing and certification process. We won’t be able to replace test rigs by the end of this project, but by aiming at the impossible, we might be able to achieve what seems improbable now.

Eann’s blog, Realize Engineering has been running for almost ten years and can be read here

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