DIGITAL TWINS: MAKING DIFFERENCE IN AEROSPACE INDUSTRY

DIGITAL TWINS: MAKING DIFFERENCE IN AEROSPACE INDUSTRY

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DIGITAL TWINS: MAKING DIFFERENCE IN AEROSPACE INDUSTRY

The world has progressed remarkably in a past few decades in technology and computation. Digitalization has engulfed everything from nanostructures to immense aircraft structures. Human thirst for achieving the extremities of aviation and endeavor for unleashing the mysteries of space has brought ample research in the field of virtual tools like “the digital twin”.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A “DIGITAL TWIN”?

Digital twin is the virtual representation of real life working physical system in computerized systems or simply, the replica of physical products. In digital twin technology, the physical object in physical space can be modelled into a 3D model in virtual space with exactly the same shape, configuration, gesture, status and motion. The sensors are attached on the physical object and provide digital information to certain software’s or apps generated with PREDIX to create a “twin” which resembles the real object in every aspect, from microscopic to macroscopic.

HOW IT STARTED?

This concept was formerly coined by DARPA and manifested as PLM(Product Life-cycle Maintenance) tool by Dr. Grieves of University of Michigan. The concept has been proposed for NASA’s next generation fighter aircrafts and spacecrafts. In 2013, US Air Force Airframe Digital Twin Spiral 1 program was launched for improving individual aircraft tracking.

THE PARADIGM SHIFT IN AVIATION

Fig. B 0Source: httpswww.nasa.govaeronasa-aero-teams-study-wild-ideas.html
Fig. B 0Source: httpswww.nasa.govaeronasa-aero-teams-study-wild-ideas.html

How do aircraft engine parts perform over time, how often engines and airframe need to be serviced, which parts require inspection and maintenance, how prognostics control can be achieved, etc. are the major concerns of aerospace industry, which can be addressed by digital twin technology. The virtual twins reflect exact operating condition of an aircraft such as performance, behavior and failure modes. It also allows engineers to understand the history or past operation cycle, simulate the behavior of different systems and make predictions for the future.

Fig. Real aircraft monitored by it’s digital twin
Fig. Real aircraft monitored by it’s digital twin

Before the introduction of digital twins in aviation, different aspects of physics had different models like CFD for fluid dynamics, SDM for structural dynamics, SAM for stress analysis, FCM for fatigue cracking, etc. All these models are integrated into a single CFD digital twin, which provides better management of an aircraft throughout its lifetime.

For monitoring, different aircraft and engine manufacturing companies create digital twin of each engine or aircrafts they build.

Fig. Representation of physical and digital jet engine by General Electric
Fig. Representation of physical and digital jet engine by General Electric

In a nutshell, digital twins help to merge real flight features and conditions with its virtual clone. Digital twins are revolutionizing the aerospace industry, but there’s still a long way to go.

Article By: Dinesh Pant

Department of Mechanical Engineering, IOE, Pulchowk Campus

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