Airbus and NPL leading transition to 'digital testbed' for aerospace manufacturing
22 April 2021
The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), working in partnership with an industrial-academic consortium, have collectively secured a £15m grant to deliver a ‘Smarter Testing’ programme sponsored by the Aerospace Technology Institute. The programme will use existing physical test programmes to explore how novel inspection techniques can be used to predict product performance and identify failures early.
Generating trust in data and confidence to make decisions is dependent on a good understanding of the measurement system that created it. In the real world, this will affect the cars we drive, new fuel-efficient aircraft and the manufacturing of medicines. The regulation and certification of these things requires a new understanding of how the data can be used, trusted and how to assure its traceability.
As part of this three-year programme, NPL will be working with Airbus Operations Ltd, CFMS Services, GOM UK Ltd, Dassault Systemes UK Ltd and The University of Liverpool. The data generated during this work will be used to develop the expertise, algorithms and frameworks needed to be able to replace the physical testing with simulation and modelling.
We are entering another period of historic universal change and its catalyst are the advances in communications and connectivity in areas such as additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems. The transition to an industrially digitalised manufacturing landscape will see a step change in the volume of data used in manufacturing. As people and processes become increasingly reliant on data to inform decisions, trust in the data will become a critical issue.
For a long time, designers and manufacturers have relied on data-driven modelling and simulations for product design but there is now an increasing drive for businesses to use data-driven simulations to replace physical test. This method offers many significant advantages including time and cost savings, increasing the pace at which engineers can innovate and unlocking the complexity of proving that a product, system, or service meets the intended performance, ultimately increasing the competitiveness of UK industry.
NPL will play a critical role in developing the expertise and standards that enable data to be trusted and used with confidence. This will cause the creation and adoption of the technology as well as the skills needed to innovate and compete within digitalised manufacturing supply chains. This in turn will lead to the creation of new and higher skilled jobs that address the productivity challenge, strengthen UK supply chains, and increase competitiveness for business in the global market.
As the UK’s National Metrology Institute, NPL will provide the ground truth for data as it is generated and has an expert Data Science team working to create the standards, techniques and frameworks to allow the confident use of data and enable the UK to harness digital infrastructures.
Using its world class test laboratories, developing novel test standards and applying advanced data science techniques, NPL will provide a critical link between the product developers and the data analysts, generating the trust needed to move increasingly towards data driven simulation for product development, text and ultimately certification.
Having the confidence in data used, being able to explain decisions made by artificial intelligence and having trust in the outcomes of simulations that replace physical tests is fundamental to the successful adoption and exploitation of this technique.
Gareth Edwards, Strategy Lead for Industrial Digitalisation, NPL, said: “NPL is delighted to be working at the heart of this critical project to increase the trust and confidence in data driven design and development. For over 120 years, NPL has been the last word on accurate measurements and understanding how things work, so that industry can have the confidence to accelerate innovation. It is now applying that expertise to helping industry make the best use of data as it moves from a world where only physical test and validation is accepted to one where cyber-physical information is the norm. The direct benefit of NPL’s work will be the creation and adoption of the technology, skills and understanding needed to innovate and compete within digitalised product development supply chains. This will lead to the creation of new and higher skilled jobs that address the productivity challenge, a strengthening of supply chains within the UK and an increased competitiveness for businesses in the global market. We look forward to working with our partners to bring this to life.”
Airbus’ Steve Raynes, Head of R&T Business Development, said: “The opportunity this project presents is huge. It will be a real step-change in the way we approach an extremely costly and time-consuming part of a vital aspect of aircraft manufacturing.
“Simply put, we’re going digital across a number of aerospace testing and certification processes. When you consider that to date, a lot of this work has been done on huge physical test rigs which have to be built and maintained, you can easily see how having a digital representation in place of some physical testing can help save time and money.
“This part of the aerospace industry is extremely specialist and we’re delighted we’ve been able to put together the best team possible to deliver the project aims.”