UAVs manufacturers need to get it light

By JeffGr

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon.

In honor of the Farnborough International Airshow that is taking place in the United Kingdom, my topic this week will be about aerospace. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have been in the news a lot lately. Whether deployed in a war zone as part of a stealth effort to gather intelligence or take out enemy combatants, or used domestically to patrol borders or do something as mundane as monitor shipping traffic, UAVs are incredibly versatile, cost-effective, and represent a fast growing part the aerospace market.

John O’Connor, who is the director of product & market strategy for aerospace in the Specialized Engineering Software business segment of Siemens PLM Software, says this uptick comes as the value of incorporating remote sensing technologies and weapon systems into pilotless aircraft has become more obvious. The benefits that come from long flight times, keeping humans out of harm’s way, and flexible mission duration make UAVs suitable complements to a variety of military, national security, and research activities. More of John’s insights are found in the whitepaper he penned.

Addressing weight and cost are critical to achieving the advantages that UAVs can deliver, but realizing them and improving upon current designs represents a significant challenge.

The airframe of a high altitude UAV represents about one-third of the gross vehicle take-off weight for the aircraft. Any diminishment in the weight of the airframe translates directly into a bigger sensor or weapon payload as well as longer flight duration. This leads design engineers to specify the use of high performance composite materials, such as carbon fiber, to lighten the structure while preserving requisite strength and stiffness.

Because of the specialization needed to work with composite materials, the manufacture and overall development is often outsourced to the supply chain. The suppliers doing this work are frequently experienced in composite development. In fact, much of the large UAV composite manufacturing in the past decade has been performed by just the few experienced companies. They have lasers, cutters and other composite manufacturing automation systems as part of their operation. These manufacturing systems need structured, specific data to run efficiently.

Pictured is an example of a wing skin being designed with Fibersim software during a CAD modeling session.

One solution for reducing cost and weight in the development of UAVs is the use of dedicated software, which delivers specialized capabilities for defining the composite structure of an airframe. By organizing the composite information in an intuitive, logical system, the developer is better equipped to understand the effect of design choices on weight and cost and can easily update the design when necessary. This specialized composite definition can be shared with a variety of analysis tools to simulate the performance of the structure and validate that it will meet specification.

Further, specialized composite design tools enable the communication of accurate and up-to-date composite definitions in formats customized for manufacturing systems, which translates into a more efficient (and cost-effective) downstream manufacturing process.

Example of a composite belly fairing being designed with Fibersim software during a CAD modeling session.

Fibersim from Siemens PLM Software is a powerful solution for creating optimal designs which leverages the engineering and manufacturing systems that are in place. Fibersim standardizes and automates the development process for the composite structure in UAVs, helping to achieve lighter weight designs at lower cost. Manual tasks are reduced or completely eliminated, helping to increase the overall quality of the final product. All of this happens in accordance with the design-to-manufacturing release cycle common to UAV companies and supplements existing tools and processes. The result is more efficient and robust processes that produce higher performance UAVs at lower cost.

To learn how Fibersim enables aerospace firms to capture the essential details of a composite design, making simulation and verification via analysis more accurate and straightforward, please read John’s white paper entitled, Bridging the gap between design and analysis advances aerospace composites.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at