Humans are pretty good at visualising what will happen if they change one part of a simple system but when that change impacts a large number of outcomes, it takes a computer to work out all the effects.
Engineering consultancy Frazer-Nash believes a software tool it has developed in collaboration with Airbus and EADS Innovation Works addresses this problem, and will help engineers figure out early in the design process which key parameters need to be fixed, and which ones can be dealt with later.
Frazer-Nash aerospace business manager Glyn Norris says the tool is meant to shorten design times by helping engineers make the judgement calls that define the basic configuration of a design at the concept stage. That is, he says, to help answer the question, "what would happen if we changed X"?
Frazer-Nash developed the visualisation capability around statistical data from its partners at EADS, and the system is being used by designers working on the Airbus A350 landing gear. However, Norris says the tool could be used on just about any part of an aircraft, or indeed any complex industrial design.
Later in an aircraft's life it should also be useful, he adds. The same sort of "what if" questions arise when considering the feasibility and cost of, say, stretching an aircraft to accommodate more payload or altering a wing or attempting other aerodynamic improvements.
Ultimately, says Norris, the idea is to "de-risk" the design process by ensuring the important and expensive parameters are established early, so that later work deals with relatively minor challenges of optimisation.