Integrating design and manufacturing for composites

  • 03-May-2010 02:23 EDT
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This fuselage panel was designed with Vistagy’s FiberSIM software for a fiber-placement manufacturing system using the software’s automated deposition design option. Corner treatments such as bird beaks correspond to the machine’s minimum course length limits.

Composites require extremely tight integration between design and manufacturing, according to Steve Peck, Director of Product and Market Strategy for Aerostructures at Vistagy. “How a composite component is made is a key determinant in that component’s engineering properties," he said. "The design process has to take into account all the relevant material and machine constraints, or the performance of the finished piece may deviate from specs.”

Vistagy develops and markets software that is integrated into the major 3-D CAD systems—CATIA, NX, and Pro/E—to capture engineering intent and explore design alternatives, taking manufacturing implications into consideration. The company’s AeroSuite includes FiberSIM, which embodies simulation and performance optimization and addresses laminate and ply definition, flat pattern generation, and other manufacturing needs; SyncroFIT for designing and manufacturing airframes and large aerostructures, joint and assembly definition, procurement requirements, and manufacturing states; Quality Planning Environment, which uses data from CAD, FiberSIM, and SyncroFIT to generate inspection data and first-article plans; and custom consulting services.

“We’re working to enhance the way data flows from design to manufacturing,” said Peck. “Right now, for example, FiberSIM takes advantage of APIs [application programming interfaces] in CAD systems and appears to the designer simply as a tool within, say, CATIA. Data is captured in XML and can be transformed into specialized formats required, for example, by Mag’s fiber-placement or tape-laying machines. It’s an export that’s read directly into the machine’s programming environment.”

Vistagy’s enhancements are aimed at improving communication from design to manufacturing and from manufacturing back to design.

“We’re putting a great deal of effort into ways to improve a designer’s level of confidence that the as-built product matches the design,” he said. “Critical aspects of manufacturing have to be available to design to ensure accurate simulation. For example, designers need to consider machine characteristics, such as minimum course capabilities, or how a metal-to-composite stack-up will be drilled, and even the condition of supply for purchased components.”

The key, said Peck, is to “exploit the benefits of composites in terms of cost and weight. Manufacturing predictability has to be built into the data-intensive process as components are designed.”

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