Thought Leadership

Applying generative design to aerospace

By Quinn Foster

Generative design is a burgeoning concept in the field of engineering that carries exciting potential. The idea of having an algorithm generate numerous design permutations in a short period of time is sure to sound enticing for engineers in any industry. One industry especially ripe for generative design’s assistance, however, is aerospace. Aircraft and spacecraft are already incredibly complex machines interwoven with advanced systems designed to interact with each other in very specific conditions, but aerospace companies must also be constantly innovating to stay ahead, whether to adapt to the climate crisis or push deeper into space. Generative design can be an instrumental tool for achieving that innovation.

A market for generative design

The increased speed of design is perhaps the most obvious benefit generative design provides, and one that will prove crucial to the entire product lifecycle. When a generative design algorithm receives the requirements it needs for a part or system, it will create many—even hundreds—of different options in a short span of time for engineers to work from. These requirements include geometric constraints and allowances, but can also include non-geometric concerns like materials, fuel efficiency, and emissions. This is crucial for aircraft and spacecraft, which consist of complex, overlapping systems like electrical circuits and thermal protections where even the slightest error between systems can lead to cascading failure. Getting the designs of these systems faster allows engineers to focus on other critical parts of the development process, as well as getting the product through testing and verification—and therefore to the market—faster. By automating the design process with generative design, aircraft and spacecraft can take to the skies earlier.

Generating greener aircraft

The application of generative design will also be useful in transforming the aerospace industry to better combat climate change. As climate disasters continue to worsen across the planet, aviation companies are looking to develop new aircraft that produce fewer emissions, that might mean improving fuel efficiency or turning to zero-emissions power sources. These methods are easier said than done, however. For example, electric aircraft that use batteries are a popular idea, but current battery technology is too heavy to provide the power necessary to get larger aircraft off the ground. Other technologies, meanwhile, like green hydrogen fuel, are costly to produce and are decades away from achieving widespread use. Generative design can be applied to explore the demands each technology requires—whether it’s for more efficient engines, batteries with better power-to-weight ratios, producing more green hydrogen per unit of energy, or other ideas—and find optimal solutions. Using the generative power of algorithms, aviation companies can speed up their transition to sustainability.

New aircraft, new looks

Similar to generative design defining new function in aircraft, it can be used to explore new aircraft forms as well. Companies are researching new shapes to build aircraft that diverge from the traditional “tube-and-wing” approach, such as the blended-wing-body. The reasons for these new shapes range from desiring more fuel-efficient aerodynamics to improving the usage of internal storage space. This is a perfect application for generative design, which can take all the necessary requirements (geometry, materials, emissions, etc.) and balance them to produce the parts and airframe necessary for the optimal aircraft shape. An algorithm can help narrow down the ideal shape options for engineers, allowing them to get to work on production.

Generative design is the future

Aerospace is a critical industry as the need for environmentally sustainable air travel grows and the exploration of space continues, but it has been slow to accommodate for the demands of the world and market. New methods of engineering must be implemented to transform the industry and hasten the production of new aircraft and spacecraft. Generative design can be the solution to these problems thanks to its ability to rapidly provide a multitude of designs to engineers, giving them more time to integrate systems and explore new concepts like sustainable power sources and different aircraft shapes. If applied correctly, generative design can lead to a new generation of the aerospace industry.

Siemens Digital Industries Software helps organizations of all sizes digitally transform using software, hardware and services from the Siemens Xcelerator business platform. Siemens’ software and the comprehensive digital twin enable companies to optimize their design, engineering and manufacturing processes to turn today’s ideas into the sustainable products of the future. From chips to entire systems, from product to process, across all industries, Siemens Digital Industries Software is where today meets tomorrow.

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