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Safety constraints are driving innovation in advanced material use

07 September 2021

Material forms the heart of any design. It determines a component’s cost, performance, durability and reliability, and passes on those properties to the wider product. Customer expectations and environmental imperatives are therefore driving greater scrutiny into how engineers can best exploit materials.

Take, for example, the UK aviation sector’s commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. To meet this ambitious target, which will require more lightweighting and design evolution than the industry has ever had to contend with, the old ways of understanding material performance will not work. Many engineers are looking to composites and reinforced thermoplastics as a way of increasing the rate of innovation while still complying with stringent safety regulations, but this is only feasible when paired with advanced modelling that allows you to make assumptions with the same confidence (or more) as a traditional steel element in FEA. 

The mixed-material internal structure of composites is what gives them desirable properties, but it’s also what makes their behaviour challenging to predict – they are not black metal. Exploiting materials to their full potential means understanding how they will behave when a product is shipped and in service, and many engineers don’t have access to that information. This renders it difficult to predict how they will affect the performance of each component and, in turn, how they will contribute (or not) to the safety and validation of a final product, such as an aircraft or vehicle. 

Even worse, the team that tests or validates materials traditionally works in silos, duplicating effort and inhibiting the sharing of valuable knowledge. Without a two-way flow of information across product development and production, we have seen our customers incurring expensive and time-consuming delays in detecting and correcting flaws. This can lead to overengineering parts – treating them as black metal and not fully exploiting the material’s potential for lightweighting – or failures in the manufactured structure. 

At best, this ad hoc nature of material design and testing could stifle innovation, hindering developments that could boost the industry as a whole – a crucial consideration as aerospace and automotive OEMs grapple with post-pandemic revenue recovery. The worst-case scenario is that this could lead to a critical flaw in a part having a domino effect across production. One flaw in the microstructure of an advanced material used for a safety-critical component could jeopardise the safety and performance of the entire structure...

Read the full article in DPA's September issue

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