Volume 03, Issue 11
Exploring better, faster ways to design
BY TOM KOEHLER
Mathematics and computing technology researchers at Boeing Phantom Works have developed advanced design tools for use with computer simulations that can dramatically improve the quality of future aerospace products and services, and reduce design cycle time.
According to the researchers, this new "design space exploration" technology provides never-before-possible capability for Boeing engineers to analyze a wide range of design parameters, explore many more design alternatives efficiently, and select the best compromise among competing design objectives.
The software tool suite developed by Boeing, called Design Explorer, is based on mathematical concepts pioneered in the 1990s in collaboration with Houston-based Rice University. It already has been used for numerous Boeing design tasks involving high-lift aerodynamics, forming of aircraft wing skins, multidisciplinary wing planform design, engine duct seals and other products.
"The goal is to help engineers understand what's going on in design space, which is the whole collection of possible designs," said Steve Keeler, Geometry and Optimization manager in Phantom Works' Mathematics and Computing Technology organization.
"Which design variables have the greatest impact on performance? What's keeping us from reaching a particular design objective? Design Explorer lets the engineer systematically examine a huge number of possible designs," Keeler said.
Engineers need to use simulation and analysis codes with the highest possible fidelity, which means more computing cycles, Keeler said. But Design Explorer, he added, "reduces the computational burden by squeezing the maximum information out of each run of the engineers' codes."
In a design space exploration experiment planned for this year, Phantom Works and Commercial Airplanes researchers will use NASA's new Project Columbia supercomputer. The supercomputer will help analyze the complex aerodynamic interplay between a nacelle (the housing on the outside of an airplane engine) and an airplane wingsomething the company has not been able to fully simulate before.
Last year, Boeing, through its Intellectual Property Business organization, licensed the Design Explorer software to Phoenix Integration, an aerospace industry leader in software integration and optimization. Phoenix Integration is actively marketing Design Explorer tools to minimize R&D expenses, help get products to market faster, and allow engineers to test and evaluate many designs and alternatives.
"Boeing benefits from its partnership with Phoenix Integration through a better system for delivering the Design Explorer software and other capabilities within Boeing, as well as licensing revenue," said Jerry Brown, program manager of the Boeing Integrated Vehicle Design System, part of the Phantom Works Lean & Efficient Design thrust.
Another vision for the technology involves applying it to business development, Keeler said. The idea is to provide business analysts and others the ability to explore business and technical parameters simultaneously, and enable decisions to be based on a much more sophisticated understanding of the interplay among complex factors. This would allow earlier and better collaboration in the development of a product that meets everyone's needs.
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