Since aerospace pioneered the use of high performance composite materials many decades ago, a number of other industries have begun to follow suit, perhaps most notably commercial automotive. However, while both industries are becoming increasingly reliant on composites, the emphasis within them is quite different. There is an opportunity for cross-fertilization between the industries, but in reality, aerospace and automotive are working under very different circumstances.
Automotive engineers talk in terms of weeks rather than years when it comes to bringing products to market. They put a strong emphasis on weight and cost reduction, and must accommodate the distinctive requirements of packaging and styling. They also have unique structural and crash requirements, and are not nearly as tolerant of “overdesign” as their aerospace counterparts.
There is an opportunity for cross-fertilization between the industries, but in reality, aerospace and automotive are working under very different circumstances.
But the differences go even further: Automotive composites typically have complex shapes and simple composite laminates (10-20 plies), while aerospace composites have relatively simple shapes (think of the fuselage as a tube) and more complex laminates (100-400 plies). Another key difference in the automotive industry is the role of packaging. During design, the shape of an automotive component can change several times, even within a week. This complicates the design process since the producibility and performance of composite structures is highly sensitive to changes in part shape and contours. Unless there is a tight integration between design, analysis, and manufacturing of composite structures, implementing these frequent changes can be painfully slow and adversely affect budgets and delivery schedules.
In order to overcome these challenges, automotive companies are partnering with material and equipment companies as can be seen by the partnerships between Audi and Voith, GM and Teijin, Daimler and Toray, and BMW and SGL. The goals of these joint efforts are to develop repeatable, cost-effective processes. But automotive companies not only require new processes, they also demand software that can be used by their engineers to design composite components that are light-weight, can be cost effectively manufactured, and provide the requisite structural performance.
What became clear from all of these experiences was that when it comes to designing and manufacturing composites, one size does not fit all industries.
As well as being an early entrant in the aerospace composites market in the mid 1990s (FiberSIM, our composites engineering software, was first used on the Sikorsky S-92 Helibus programme and on almost every major aerospace programme since), Vistagy was also an early entrant in other composites-intensive industries, such as wind energy, marine as well as automotive. What became clear from all of these experiences was that when it comes to designing and manufacturing composites, one size does not fit all industries.
This need for industry-specific solutions has led suppliers of composites engineering software to continue to evolve their products, addressing all emerging challenges with expanding capabilities to model the diverse set of materials and processes that are being employed and developed by the automotive industry.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Ed Bernardon is Vice President, Business Development at VISTAGY, Inc., a Siemens Business.
VISTAGY, Inc., a Siemens Business, is a leading global provider of industry-specific engineering software and services that create rich product descriptions for better-informed decision making early in the design cycle. The company enhances commercial 3D CAD platforms by applying specialized process knowledge and domain expertise to create solutions that solve some of the world’s most complex engineering problems. VISTAGY is a strategic partner to hundreds of leading manufacturers in the aerospace, automotive, and wind energy industries, including Faurecia, General Motors, the Lotus Renault GP Formula One Racing Team, and Lear. The company is headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA. www.vistagy.com.
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