How Aerospace and Defense (A&D) Companies Get More Value from Simulation

By MichelleBoucher

While product complexity is a growing concern for many industries, aerospace and defense (A&D) companies produce some of the most complex products in the world. Engineers must deal with all sorts of factors which drive complexity, including long development cycles, thousands of components, and multiple engineering disciplines. With so much complexity, it is interesting to note what A&D companies report as their top development challenges. In our recent Tech-Clarity study, Addressing the Bottlenecks of FEA Simulation we looked at the top challenges facing companies as they develop products. You can hear more about this study at an upcoming webinar on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 2:00 PM ET/ 11:00 AM PT.

Figure 1 shows how A&D companies responded compared to all respondents. 

Fig 1 blog 5 top dev challenges2.jpgFigure 1: Top Product Development Challenges

While all companies struggle with responding to frequent changes, even more A&D companies report it as a top challenge. Given the amount of product complexity, it’s not surprising that frequent commercial aircraft.jpgchanges are a problem. However, simulation can help with better insight into product performance to guide design decisions. More informed design decisions can help reduce the number of changes later on.

Mitigating the risk of new designs is an even bigger issue for A&D companies than for other industries. Compliance and FAA certification contribute to the challenges associated with new designs. Plus, unlike some other industries, a defect can be catastrophic. Again, simulation can help to catch problems that could complicate compliance or certification. By catching problems early on in a virtual environment, simulation can also help improve quality and reduce the risk of new designs.

Finally, verifying requirements have been met is another big challenge. Predicting product behavior is very difficult, especially when dealing with products as complex as what A&D companies produce. This is a key area where simulation can help. Simulation can be used to verify requirements throughout the aircraft alabatros airplane.jpgdesign process. Verification along the way helps to avoid finding bigger problems later on at the end of the development cycle.

With the opportunity for simulation to help with some of the biggest development challenges A&D companies face, let’s take a look at how A&D companies can get even more value from simulation. To do this, we will identify which parts of the simulation process take the most time. Figure 2 shows how much time A&D companies spend on each phase of the simulation process.

Fig 2 blog 5 breakdown.jpgFigure 2: Breakdown of Simulation Process for A&D CompaniesAll industries report that preprocessing takes the most time, but even more so for A&D companies. (For more information on what all companies report, as well as the definitions of the different phases of simulation, please see the post titled, Announcing New Research on FEA Simulation Bottlenecks.)

What parts of preprocessing consume the most time? Figure 3 shows that cleaning up the geometry takes up close to half of the preprocessing time for A&D companies.

Fig 3 blog 5 breakdown preprocess.jpgFigure 3: Breakdown of Preprocessing Time for A&D CompaniesWith geometry cleanup taking so much time, let’s take a look at where the geometry comes from (Figure 4).

Fig 4 blog 5 geometry source.jpgFigure 4: Source of Geometry for A&D CompaniesBased on Figure 4, A&D companies need better ways to work with IGES and STEP files, in addition to multi-CAD data. What’s especially striking is that 40% report they cannot even use existing CAD data and create geometry from scratch. In fact, Figure 5 shows that the time wasted re-creating CAD geometry is the top challenge A&D companies face when defining the geometry for the simulation model.

Fig 5 blog 5 geometry challenges.jpgFigure 5: A&D Top Challenges Defining Simulation Model Geometry

After defining the geometry for the simulation model, the next step involves setting up the model for simulation. Figure 6 shows some of the top challenges A&D companies report for this part.

Fig 6 blog 5 model challenges.jpgFigure 6: A&D Top Challenges Defining Simulation Models

Figure 7 shows some of the top ways A&D companies solve these challenges.

Fig 7 blog 5 solve challenges.jpgFigure 7: How A&D Companies Solve Top Challenges

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Fifty-three percent (53%) of A&D companies report that using simulation tools that support multi-CAD helps, with another 13% wanting to implement this. With so many A&D companies needing to work with IGES, STEP, and multi-CAD data, a simulation tool that will work with the multi-CAD data easily can help to reduce the time wasted on recreating CAD geometry.

With so many A&D companies reporting that the time required to define assembly contacts is a top challenge, it makes sense that A&D companies say that using tools that automatically detect and define assembly contacts saves time. When dealing with thousands of components, defining the assembly contact for each component can be incredibly tedious. While many say it helps, another 27% say they would like to implement this.

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Another top preprocessing challenge is the time it takes to run all the desired simulation iterations. Setting up for each iteration is very time-consuming. To overcome this, many A&D companies have found it helpful to use a simulation tool that has the ability to re-mesh the model with new parameters. This way they can preserve the work they already did, but test the impact of different changes to different parameters. In addition to the 53% who already find it helpful, another 33% would like to implement this.

For more insights and findings from this study, you can download the complete report here (free of charge, registration required). I will also be sharing findings from this study at a webinar on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 2:00 PM ET/ 11:00 AM PT. You can register for this event here. I will be joined by Mark Beyer from The Spaceship Company (Virgin Galactic) who will share further insights on the use of simulation at his company.

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