Fidelis Industry Insights – FEA For Aerospace Custom Tooling – Structural

Fidelis Industry Insights is a series of blog posts aimed at pinpointing and highlighting where Fidelis, and the industry-leading SIMULIA software we provide, can revolutionize the way our customers and partners think about engineering and business in general. In the first installment, we take a look at the Aerospace Custom Tooling industry and learn how simulation fits into the mix.

What Is Aerospace Custom Tooling?

We’ve all been on a plane before (maybe not a spaceship – yet), but what does it take to build one? Well, the answer is Aerospace Custom Tooling. When you see any images of a Boeing or Airbus factory, there are tools as far as the eye can see… Platforms, ladders, lifting equipment, machines for moving large parts around and all sorts of other contraptions. And before any of these tools ever come to life, they start as a design, typically at a supplier of the OEM, and they must be ‘substantiated’ for their fitness for purpose prior to fabrication.

FEA for Aerospace Custom Tooling

Typically, these are one-off tools that are responsible for a very specific part of the aircraft manufacturing process and, as such, safety must be assessed and documented on a per-tool basis. Design aspects such as retractable and cantilever decking for platforms, extremely large payloads for movers and cranes as well as busy working environments mean that extra-special care must be taken and (usually) the work must be signed off by a professional engineer (PE).

Why Is FEA Becoming More Important

As aircraft and spacecraft become more complex, the need for efficiency and, most of all, safety is brought into sharp focus – and the tools we use to build them must follow suit. This often means that the traditional methods we used to analyze them also need a rethink.

FEA for Aerospace Custom Tooling

Prior to the advent of fast, efficient and extremely well validated FEA solutions, such as Abaqus, engineers in the custom tooling industry relied solely on hand calculations to substantiate their designs. While this is certainly a well-defined process and is, indeed, still applicable for some of the more simple tools today, deriving free body diagrams for large and complex tooling is extremely difficult and time consuming.

Until relatively recently, the big OEMs, such as Boeing, Airbus, Blue Origin, SNC etc. would still accept quite basic calculation packages in substantiation of their supplier’s tools. However, that is no longer the case and we have witnessed, first-hand, the shift in expectation from the end-customers. With the help of FEA, we can develop models that represent complex structures, loading and boundary conditions with relative ease. We can then use these analyses to extract member forces so that traditional codes and standards, such as the Aluminum and Steel Design Manuals, can be adhered to and consistency in analysis methodology can be maintained.

This hybrid method opens up the best of both worlds; the complexity is accurately captured by the FEA model and the PE and OEM stress lead can follow the book of calculations – just like they used to. Furthermore, augmenting these hand checks by comparing with FEA stress results generates increased confidence in the overall substantiation.

How Fidelis Can Help

As discussed above, over the past decade or so, we’ve seen a stark increase in the expectations of the end-customers. That’s music to our ears, since we take extreme pride in what we do and embrace the attention to detail that is required for this type of work. Many design and fabrication shops simply don’t have the capability in-house – either computational or manpower – to meet these expectations, and that’s where we come in!

At Fidelis, we develop full FEA models of our customer’s tooling and are able to carefully adhere to end-customer reporting expectations, which can oftentimes be very particular. We work directly with them to ensure that we’re on track every step of the way – from defining the initial load case battery to PE signoff. And to that end, we boast resources for all 50 states and all of Canada, meaning that no matter where your tools are going to end up, we’ve got you covered. This makes passing stress a breeze.

But it’s not only ‘passing’ stress that we’re interested in. We prefer to become an integrated part of our customer’s team, which, over time, usually leads to a transition in mindset from ‘the stress report is a necessary evil’ to ‘we can develop better products, more efficiently, with the help of simulation driven design’. That’s where we really start to add value and help drive substantial cost savings in terms of both time and material waste.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever been/worked with/worked for a custom tooling supplier of a big Aerospace OEM, you’ll know the pain that stress reporting can cause. Meeting expectations in a timely and efficient manner can put all sorts of undue stress (pun intended) on your engineering team. And over the past five years or so, those expectations have only gotten higher. Utilizing FEA (with Fidelis) can result in huge time savings over traditional analysis methods and, beyond that, allows for the adoption of true simulation driven design.

If you’d like to learn more about Fidelis’ capabilities in the Aerospace Custom Tooling space, or in any other capacity, don’t hesitate to ,reach out here! We can’t wait to work with you on your next big project!

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