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Composite parts: commercialising the time and cost-estimation process

News International-French

10 Aug 2011

As air passengers call for flying more miles for the same – or lower – fares and as the environmental effects of powered flight become better understood, it has fallen to aircraft manufacturers to find high-tech solutions to meet the stringent targets set by airlines and regulatory agencies for reducing cost per air-mile and emissions. Airlines are also demanding more from their fleets, since they need to keep the aircraft airborne longer to gain additional passenger and freight revenues. This requires reducing the unavailability of aircraft due either to scheduled maintenance or to standby engineering issues. Aircraft manufacturers are also being pressured to reduce the real service-life cost of new aircraft.

(Published on April 2006 – JEC Magazine #24)




In the effort to drive down costs in all areas of the aircraft life cycle, lightweight materials such as composites are being used to produce innovative designs, reduced manufacturing and assembly times, and lower the cost per mile for fuel and maintenance.


Working with experts in composite technologies, Airbus is planning to design and build its next-generation aircraft utilizing high levels of advanced materials. For example, the decision to introduce a composite-based wing on the A350 – a first for Airbus civil aircraft – means that it will deliver exceptionally efficient design thanks to cutting-edge design and manufacturing techniques.


Adopting new composite technology raised further challenges for Airbus – one of these being the generation of accurate estimates for composite components, based on the limited historical data available. Airbus’s in-house experts were able to come up with an estimate solution that uses common shapes plus additional part-based information to allow their value-engineering team to start producing consistently realistic estimates for these newer technologies. Along with the growth of Airbus’ expertise, the internal solution has become increasingly complex to cover the wide range of components and materials that Airbus needs to estimate.





In brief.............
Adopting new composite technology raised further challenges for Airbus – one of these being the generation of accurate estimates for composite components, based on the limited historical data available.


As the rules for the estimation of composite materials were being defined and created, Peter Evans, a senior manager within Airbus, was also considering a solution for estimating a wider range of manufacturing processes and materials. As he saw it, given the compressed timescales for current projects, there was a need to enable speedy comparisons of competing technologies without having to create bespoke solutions.


A number of solutions were identified, one of which was Galorath’s SEER-DFM (Design for Manufacturability) application.


Following initial trials, Mr. Evans began negotiating with Galorath’s international managing director, Carl Dalton to create a collaborative environment that would allow Airbus to work directly with the Galorath solution development team. In that way, development could be enhanced by using both companies’ expertise, including the cost-estimating experience Airbus had acquired for composite parts.


There were risks on both sides in this collaboration. Not least, Airbus risked giving all of its hard-won expertise with little or no return, if Galorath were unable to deliver a solution that the broader user base within Airbus and its suppliers could adopt. Galorath risked building a much-needed module for its world-class product based on the requirements of a single company. Fortunately, both companies were able to agree on rules of engagement that cancelled these and other risks, and to move forward.


The significant benefits for both companies were well balanced: Airbus gained a standard set of tools that covered the majority of its component-estimation needs and a solution that was maintained and enhanced by a third party. Galorath and its customer base gained a proven shape-based composite estimation process that not only reduced the time required to create a composite estimate, but also complemented its own already successful ply-based composite module (developed as part of the U.S.-government-sponsored Composite Affordability Initiative).


Peter Evans and Carl Dalton were successful in encouraging an atmosphere of open-book collaboration for the two teams, with frank and open exchanges of information and opinion as the norm during its progress meetings. With the two companies working towards a single goal, both sets of engineers were able to create a state-of-the-art yet user-friendly estimation solution that is flexible enough to meet the needs of companies at all stages of the supply chain, from OEM to component manufacturer – and also manageable over the long term as the industry continues to improve on composite technologies.


The delivered solution uses shapes to drive the estimator though the process, thereby simplifying the task.


The following example shows a typical rib definition procedure.




The following two screen shots show typical outputs from SEERDFM.



The advanced-composite module has enhanced Airbus UK’s capability to compare alternative composite technologies with more conventionally manufactured components in much greater depth than was previously possible. In addition, the tool has been developed in a form that allows other companies to use the model and to utilize and maintain their own proprietary information. SEER-DFM is currently being used on a wide range of projects within Airbus, from research & technology to existing aircraft, enabling increased efficiency and consistency of estimation and evaluation.


Further developments for SEER-DFM have been discussed and the Galorath development team is working on the next release of the solution.