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Virtual Testing of Aircraft Structures

Virtual Testing of Aircraft Structures

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CEAS Aeronaut J (2011) 1:83–103 DOI 10.



Virtual testing of aircraft structures
Morten G. Ostergaard • Andrew R. Ibbotson Olivier Le Roux • Alan M. Prior

Received: 28 April 2010 / Revised: 23 March 2011 / Accepted: 30 May 2011 / Published online: 26 July 2011 ¨ Ó Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. 2011

Abstract This paper will focus on the prediction of aircraft structural strength using virtual testing analysis methods. Virtual testing is a concept with several attributes and is to be understood as the simulation of aircraft structure using advanced nonlinear finite element analysis. It will involve the combination of analysis software, methods, people skills and experience to predict the actual aircraft structural strength with a high level of confidence. This is achieved through the creation and execution of a detailed nonlinear finite element analysis model of an aircraft structure, which represents as accurately as possible the actual physical behaviour when subjected to a wide range of loading scenarios. Creating a virtual representation of an aircraft structure presents the analysts with several significant challenges, including the creation of the complex finite element model that accurately represents the global aircraft structure, and then adding the significant detail in terms of material and construction required to make accurate failure predictions with confidence. An overview will be provided of the general principles used in the process of virtual testing of both metallic and composite aircraft structures. The paper will focus on the key

challenges and enablers for future successful virtual testing demonstrations in an industrial context. Keywords Virtual testing Á Aircraft structures Á Non-linear analysis Á Strength predictions Á Industrial requirements Á The wishbone analysis framework

1 Introduction Historically, the use of structural analysis in commercial aircraft design and certification has been focussed on linear finite element analysis for the calculation of internal load distributions and on the use of analytical stressing methods, both for initial sizing and then more detailed calculations for final certification. This stressing approach, when combined with structural testing both to demonstrate the aircraft structure integrity and to demonstrate the adequacy of stressing methods, has proven itself to be highly reliable in the development of safe aircraft structures. The above approach is based on demonstrating the adequate strength of the aircraft structure, which is ensured through conservative assumptions in both the methods and material properties used. In recent years, advanced nonlinear analysis methods have been used increasingly to obtain more accurate assessments of the actual strength of aircraft test structures, both for risk mitigation prior to test and subsequent to a failure event [1]. Nonlinear finite element analysis has been employed with great effect to increase confidence in the large-scale and expensive structural tests that are required before certification, as well as to understand in more detail the likelihood, causes and consequences of structural failure. There is an important distinction between predicting actual and adequate structural strength. For the design and

M. G. Ostergaard (&) Á A. R. Ibbotson Airbus in the UK, Bristol BS997AR, UK e-mail: morten.ostergaard@airbus.com A. R. Ibbotson e-mail: andy.ibbotson@airbus.com O. L. Roux Airbus in France, 31060 Toulouse Cedex 9, France e-mail: olivier.le-roux@airbus.com A. M. Prior ` Dassault Systemes Simulia Limited, Warrington WA3 7PB, UK e-mail: alan.prior@3ds.com



M. G. Ostergaard et al.

certification of aircraft structures, adequate and conservative strength assumptions must be employed, irrespective of the methods used; whereas, for predictions of the actual strength of an aircraft structure, the analyst must make use of methods that are as accurate as possible. Due to the highly competitive nature of the aircraft manufacturing industry and the need to meet customer expectations in terms of efficiency, aircraft structures are highly optimised for weight and strength. Most of an aircraft structure is typically constructed of thin-walled stiffened panels. Predicting the strength and failure mode of such structures which, especially for metallic structures, are often designed to allow buckling, presents the analyst with many challenges. Failure can occur due to buckling alone, but it is usually the consequences of buckling that can lead to critical failure modes in joints and materials and interactions between these failures. In addition to the complex design and nonlinear deformation behaviour of the aircraft structure, the analyst is also faced with the problem of understanding and analysing both metallic and composite aircraft constructions, where each new type of material presents new and different challenges with respect to detailed failure predictions [2, 3]. The increased use of composite materials has presented the analyst with a raft of new difficulties, largely due to the highly complex failure modes of composite materials and associated adhesive joints [4]. The analysis of composite materials has undoubtedly also increased awareness of the many uncertainties that can exist in component manufacture, uncertainties which may significantly affect the reliability of actual strength predictions based on analysis methods. It is inevitable therefore that today composite structures are designed with more conservatism than metallic aircraft structures. Advanced nonlinear analysis has in recent years been used very successfully to predict the actual strength of metallic and composite aircraft structures in Airbus. Examples of detailed nonlinear finite element models of composite fuselage and wing box structures are shown in Figs. 1 and 2. To provide a structured overview of virtual testing, the following topics will be discussed in the following sections: (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) (f) (g) Best practice in virtual testing Analysis software Multi-scale analysis Composites Modelling details and structural idealisations Detailed failure predictions Analysis framework for virtual testing using nonlinear analysis (h) Implicit and explicit finite element methods

(i) Robust analysis (j) A380 wing certification (k) Summary The principles outlined in this paper will be illustrated using the A380 wing certification experience, where advanced nonlinear finite element analysis was used successfully in the process to certify the wing structure. More recent models used to support Airbus aircraft programmes will illustrate today’s best practice in Airbus and the rapid and organic evolution in the nonlinear analysis technology made possible through innovative approaches and improved software and hardware capabilities.

2 Best practice in virtual testing Finite element models used for virtual testing can be extremely complex. The application of best practice is therefore paramount in order to instil confidence at all levels. The analyst must be confident in the methods and software being used; the principal FEA engineer must be confident in the skills, expertise and experience of the analysts; and the aircraft manufacturer (and ultimately the Airworthiness Authorities) must be confident that the virtual testing approach is valid and safe and therefore can be used for the purpose of demonstrating the actual strength of the aircraft structure. In principle, confidence must be ensured in all of the following three areas: 1. 2. 3. analysis software, methods and analysis processes, people skills and experience.

It might be argued that the most important of these confidence factors is the skills, expertise and experience of people, without which the process would not work and the detailed analysis understanding could not be gained. However, the functionality of the analysis software is also critical and confidence must exist in the methods and analysis processes used. The analysis software must be both capable and feature rich to enable the analyst to predict actual strength for a wide range of potential failure modes. In addition, the solver must be highly efficient, given the tendency in recent years towards increasingly large analysis models. Computations running over several days on high-performance computing platforms are now commonplace. It is of fundamental importance, and an airworthiness authority requirement [5], that the analysis methods and processes used have been fully validated against test data from similar aircraft structures and materials. As for conventional stressing techniques, the methods used for virtual


Virtual testing of aircraft structures Fig. can exhibit significant variability in the actual lay-up and 123 . from component or system level (e. to detailed coupon level (e. For virtual testing purposes.g. material specimens and fasteners). in particular. a close correlation between methods and test data must be demonstrated. In order to build confidence. It should be noted that virtual testing is and always will be an approximation to reality. variations in manufacturing processes. and a range of assembly tolerances that will give rise to built-in stresses and variability in stiffness and strength. 1 Detailed nonlinear FE model of composite fuselage structure 85 Fig. wing or fuselage sections). the nonlinear finite element methods must be fully validated against test data at all levels of the testing pyramid.g. Composite materials. where actual strength predictions are considered. 2 Detailed nonlinear FE model of composite wing box structure testing based on nonlinear analysis must also be demonstrated to provide accurate predictions of actual behaviour for various levels of structural testing. Actual aircraft structures will always have imperfections in materials.

which provides an incremental-iterative solution to a quasi-static loading problem. All modelling and analysis methods used must be fully validated against structural testing. This validation will need to address the increased levels of structural complexity and the full range of materials in use today and in the near future. For virtual testing of a baseline structure. debris impact and crash. identified as being potentially strength-critical. This multi-scale approach requires a Level 1 prediction of the behaviour of the complete structure through a nonlinear finite element model. which means that simulations can include nonlinear material responses (plasticity. uncertainty and variability need to be added—they do not arise naturally. the direct sparse solver remains the standard solution for this type of finite element model. nonlinear boundary conditions (contact). The progression to detailed and advanced nonlinear finite element methods has allowed some of that conservatism to be addressed. At each level of model refinement. though these are carried out less frequently. Analytical or conventional stress analysis methods are usually based on a set of assumptions with respect to structural behaviour. damage and failure). large rotations and displacements). The validation of numerical models of materials and structures at detailed structural levels is more efficient and less costly than validating against more complex structural tests. and less able to reflect the details of the actual structural design. A significant challenge in the coming years will be to validate all aspects of virtual testing methods against all levels of structural testing. Dassault Systemes SIMULIA. This will only be possible through the continued application of best practice principles. such as a Type Certificate Aircraft. loading and constraint systems. 4 Multi-scale analysis In the context of virtual testing of aircraft structures. Direct solvers have proven to be more effective than iterative solvers for the solution of this type of ill-conditioned system. element types and even material and joint models might be employed. The thin-walled. subsequent strength assessments should then take into account the likely variation in properties and construction. Modern finite element analysis methods are general-purpose and highly flexible. In a virtual testing program. the term multi-scale analysis describes the process of sequentially coupling different analysis models at different scales and levels of fidelity. However. Ostergaard et al. They also require that the results are treated as approximations with a degree of conservatism. The direct solver technology provided with Abaqus/ Standard has improved significantly in recent versions and. G. and nonlinear geometric effects (stress-stiffening. quality of the laminate. The tools allow for a wide range of nonlinear finite element analysis. These variabilities lead to uncertainty regarding the actual response of the structure. 3. It is important to understand that. This means that less validation against actual test data will be required at complex and large-scale structural levels than is the case for analytical methods. stiffened structure common to modern aircraft is prone to buckling and also exhibits highly nonlinear material behaviour together with rapid changes in both geometry and boundary condition due to mechanical contact. Modelling detail is increased as successive analyses ‘zoom in’ on structural regions. the underlying principle is to maintain a consistent interface and link between the different modelling scales used. the analysis model would normally be constructed to the nominal geometry and property. such as transient dynamic events. today. including birdstrike. By validating the fundamental modelling and analysis methods. Providence. This is one of the most important advantages of advanced nonlinear finite element analysis compared to conventional stressing methods. USA). Tests on several identical physical structures would not result in identical results. as illustrated in Fig. This is then used to define the driving boundary conditions for the next models at the more refined modelling scales. (i. The majority of analyses are carried out using the implicit FE method. These assumptions make conventional methods less flexible.e. ` products (Abaqus software. however. these ‘building blocks’ can be used to construct full models of most types of aircraft structure. There are some applications where explicit solutions are appropriate. unlike traditional modelling techniques. where direct links between model scales are provided using built-in detail meshes or super-elements.86 M. to the extent that they can be used for reliable up-front predictions of structural testing and. can be considered for use in the certification of aircraft structures. the multi-scale 3 Analysis tools The virtual testing methods and simulations discussed and presented in this paper are carried out using the Abaqus 123 . the idealisation principles and the models for materials and joints). from coupon to component and full aircraft scales. ultimately. different modelling idealisation principles. There are advantages in offering both implicit and explicit solvers with the same model definition used for both analysis techniques for complex failure simulations of static test structures. The objective should be to increase progressively the level of confidence in virtual testing methods.

A fundamental requirement for this analysis approach is that the Level 1 model must be capable of predicting the overall nonlinear behaviour and have sufficient detail to calculate the local nonlinear behaviour. it is the second approach that has by far the most significance. The purpose of the global model is purely to provide the definition of boundary conditions for lower scale models. instead. This presents a very significant challenge to the analyst. However. from a virtual testing point of view. so that at each modelling scale the results are screened in order to identify regions for subsequent strength analysis. the bigger the lower scale sub-models must be to ensure that the correct loading is applied to the area of interest. Fig. nonlinear deformation due to structural eccentricities. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. It is important that the Level 1 model is nonlinear. and the computational resources. are used to predict zones of interest for more detailed analysis. As a general guideline. Here the analyst must ensure that local stiffness change due to local damage and failure propagation does not invalidate the sub-modelling analysis process. the structural domain covered by these must ensure that the interfaces between the Level 1 model and subsequent sub-models are sufficiently away to avoid influencing the accuracy of analysis predictions. The first (predetermined) multi-scale analysis approach can be used only where the critical area of interest is fairly well known. For this approach. and locations of joint failure. This approach is also of use when the Level 1 model is used to define input data to other simulation techniques such as parametric modelling or analytical methods. such as panel buckling. 3 Multi-scale analysis processes 123 .Virtual testing of aircraft structures 87 analysis process discussed in this article are based on submodelling technology available in the Abaqus software. This is a particular concern where the analysis objective is to predict the propagation of structural damage and failure. The geometrical size of a family of sequentially refined sub-models used within the multi-scale analysis process is directly linked to the accuracy of the Level 1 model. but can benefit from a relatively coarse Level 1 model. enabling far-reaching future opportunities for integration of CAD and CAE processes. (b) The high level analysis results. it is not necessary to have a predetermined understanding of the critical structural response. the coarser the Level 1 model. Previous work using a linear Level 1 model has shown that the assumptions and approximations inherent in the linear approach will not provide a sufficiently accurate base level from which to launch more detailed nonlinear analysis models. using the Level 1 model. This technology enables model data to be transferred between modelling scales through a parent–child type relationship. screening methods are applied to the analysis results in a systematic process in order to identify the critical structural regions to be analysed subsequently in more detail. However. the analysis software. In principle two different approaches exist: (a) The analysis zooms in on predetermined structural zones that are then modelled to the required detail (such as in the A380 wing example).

ply waviness. resin pockets. This enables areas with high interface forces in the adhesive joints to be identified so that more refined analysis can be carried out. inconsistent adhesive layer thicknesses. For example. New advanced constitutive models for laminated composites which include coupled damage and failure capabilities are being developed and may provide a framework for the screening process for material failure at global model scale. For local buckling to be predicted. it is therefore necessary to include fasteners (including pre-tension) and mechanical contact in order to accurately simulate 123 . Engineering judgement and best practice is therefore required. Ostergaard et al. it is not sufficient to make an accurate representation of the in-plane stiffness of an aircraft panel: the local and global torsion and bending stiffness of the panel must also be represented accurately.88 M. Fig. 6 Modelling details and structural idealisations The importance of the detailed modelling techniques to be used. in particular. for detailed failure predictions. where they can be used to consider through. is still to be demonstrated. it is essential that the support provided by stringers to suppress skin buckling is modelled accurately. 5 Composites For composite aircraft structures in particular. Many of the failure mechanisms that occur in composites are so localised that it is not possible to capture them at a global model scale. The finite element model must represent as closely as possible the actual structure being investigated. Material models available today that are based on physical composite failure modes and fracture mechanics principles are computationally too expensive for use at most model scales. the manufacturing processes used today will introduce variability in the composite lay-ups in terms of resin/fibre volume fractions. 4 Use of Abaqus cohesive contact modelling The following example (Fig. The maturity of reliable composite failure modes for all modelling scales and. The adhesive joints are modelled using the cohesive contact capability and the fasteners are modelled using the mesh-independent fastener feature available in Abaqus/Standard. but are necessary for the accurate simulation of complex failure modes at lower scale levels. etc. and all approximations and idealisations must be carefully considered. even at the Level 1 modelling scale. G. 4) illustrates the use of screening processes to check for interfacial forces in adhesive joints between stringers and skins in a detailed virtual testing process applied to a composite wing structure. Such factors must be considered in the analysis either through the imposition of conservative assumptions or the use of ‘robust analysis’ methods.thickness failure and in-plane interaction modes. it is important to consider the uncertainties introduced as a result of manufacturing processes. These particular aspects of composite construction methods mean that the accurate prediction of the strength of composite structures will remain a significant challenge for many years to come. must not be underestimated: successful simulation in a virtual testing framework is entirely dependent on the way the structure is modelled and how the interactions between structural parts are represented. In addition. For metallic aircraft structures.

ribs and stringers Fig. This element is based on standard shell theory but has the 3D topology of a solid hexahedral element. Figures 5 and 6 illustrate the above principle. To some extent. C3D8I. In such cases.1 Elements Another challenge facing the analyst is the choice of element to use for a given analysis problem. For virtual testing of large-scale aircraft structures it is essential to ensure that such best practice is followed precisely and consistently. Fig. For most virtual testing purposes. shell and solid elements.Virtual testing of aircraft structures 89 buckling. 6. which can be assigned to the continuum shell element properties using the element thickness direction vector orientation (stack direction). the use of structure mid-planes for meshing. The continuum shell has been shown to be efficient when modelling composite parts from CAD geometry (CATIA V5) as this data contains all the lay-up information defined from the tooling surface. the number of elements in part segments such as stringer webs. The analyst must therefore deploy a consistent and wellunderstood strategy for meshing and modelling all the standard aircraft structures that will be encountered. which is applied irrespective of who built the particular model components. An element that is of particular interest for modelling composite structures from CAD geometry data is the continuum shell element (SC8R). 6 Stringers and skin mesh beam elements are of less practical importance. C3D10M and C3D10I are used mostly at the lower modelling scales. through the example of a composite wing top cover. because the bonds can be represented using geometrical constraints or cohesive contact models. subassemblies and components has been consistently checked against the best practice guidelines. the use of element off-sets. It is important to note the highly consistent meshing approach. This offers certain advantages when checking and visualising complex assemblies of aircraft structure parts. Existing constraints on solvers and high-performance computing mean that there is always a compromise between model refinement and analysis efficiency. it will not be possible to assign any level of confidence to the final results unless the modelling approach for all the systems. Continuum solid elements. flanges and between stringers. 5 Wing box—lower cover removed. The Abaqus software includes efficient and robust element types such as S4 and S4R which are recommended for most applications of nonlinear analysis on aircraft structures. the adherence to best practice for meshing and modelling quality can only be controlled through the rigorous application of detailed specifications and stringent quality checks. in particular when defining and checking contact interactions. At one extreme the mesh might be too coarse to capture any useful response. where the objective is to determine the accurate strength of the aircraft structures. 123 . such as C3D8. composite structures that are adhesively bonded are easier to model and to analyse. particularly where many individuals in several teams and even external suppliers are involved. and at the other the model may be too large to run on even the largest computers. Numerous studies must be carried out to fully define the best practice for modelling these structures. Shell elements have many different formulations and not all are suitable for nonlinear calculations. It is the responsibility of the analyst to fully understand the level of certainty associated with a given strategy to be used for the idealisation and modelling of an aircraft structure. so that the solution of the large-scale and multi-scale analysis program can be completed effectively. even at global model scales. The best practice will define the types of element to be used. The principal choice is between beam. Although the final assembly and execution of the largescale models will typically be carried out by highly experienced analysts.

A future challenge to both the aircraft manufacturers and the suppliers of the analysis software is to make such processes as automatic as possible. and provides a relatively straightforward approach. However. More complex physically based material models are available. predicting the initiation of failure is adequate. This approach is an approximation to the physical response of the material. A generalized framework for damage and failure modelling is built into the Abaqus tools (Fig. which is in any case available in most commercial modelling packages today. The successful implementation of best practice principles also requires modelling of CAD parts based on appropriate idealisations. It is accepted that currently some modelling techniques are more mature than others and that more confidence exist in those failure models used with metallic components than those in composite aircraft structures where significant development and research still is to be carried out. but allows for relatively straightforward fitting to test data and can be implemented in such a way as to minimize mesh dependence. taking into account ductile or brittle damage and failure. have progressed in recent years. Fig. some components made of high-strength aluminium may have orthotropic properties because they are milled from rolled billets which have an orientated grain structure within the material. 18–20]. the purpose of the virtual testing and multi-scale analysis processes is to enable reliable strength assessments to be made. Capabilities to model material behaviour beyond initial yield.90 M. 123 . can lead to a variation in yield stress in the principal material directions that can be accounted for using Hill’s plasticity model (a non-cylindrical 3D yield surface) rather than a standard von Mises plasticity model that is based on the assumption of isotropic material properties. which is used for aluminium wing spars. 8 Continuum shell stringer detail This section will discuss the usage of material and joint failure models. 7. and this requires accurate. This requires much more than just automatic mesh generation. reliable and robust failure models for materials and joints. G. followed by some form of degradation in the yield stress which is accompanied by a reduction in elastic modulus.1 Material damage—metals The modelling of the elastic–plastic behaviour of metals is well established and most modern simulation tools offer a variety of plasticity models for specific applications. This processing method. for example those that include a consideration of 7 Detailed failure predictions As outlined in the previous sections. In addition. which are consistently applied. Figures 7 and 8 show the usage of continuum shell elements for modelling of composite aircraft structures. effort and cost involved in creating fit-for-purpose virtual testing models. more recent failure modelling capabilities like the X-FEM method is allowing for more accurate simulation of the propagation of failure within a material [13. 9). It allows the definition of a damage initiation state. this capability is potentially providing a bridging capability across different types of materials and failure modes. For example. There is a substantial time. For most static strength analyses. down to a failure state where the material can carry no further load. Fig. Ostergaard et al. 7 Stringers on panel Another notable advantage with the continuum shell element is that it makes the transition between shell-like structures and continuum solid elements relatively straightforward. This is advantageous when using Abaqus/ Standard sub-modelling methods for multi-scale analysis.

7. but where it is not possible to model every rivet as a 3D component. Additional failure mechanisms include the fracture of the bond between the fibre and the matrix. however. leaving the fibres intact and able to carry tensile load. the more parameters are required and the more difficult it is to obtain the necessary data from material coupon tests.Virtual testing of aircraft structures 91 Fig. or kept as a distinct set of ply properties. a plasticity response and. it is inevitable that the more complex the model becomes. Rivets are relatively straightforward to model in a finite element analysis: they are often idealized to a simple constraint between two plates. so some form of coupling is needed to simulate the effect of the ends of the fastener (bolt head or nut) on the surrounding material. The latter approach aids ply-based post-processing and also offers the extension of ply-by-ply damage modelling during a nonlinear solution. materials and orientations at each ply. 14. Again. 9 Abaqus damage and failure framework void nucleation and coalescence for ductile failure. the delamination effect has to be taken into account separately. obtaining accurate test data can lead to a more sophisticated and accurate model enabling reliable failure assessments to be made. a cohesive contact formulation. This complex set of potential damage and failure mechanisms could in theory occur simultaneously in any number of combinations. 7. However. At a high level. This means that the inter-laminar bond strength must be modelled explicitly. 15. The initiation and evolution of material damage in laminated composites is highly complex. It depends not only on the behaviour of the individual constituents but also the interfaces between them. or fracture mechanics techniques such as the virtual crack closure technique (VCCT) [7–9]. This makes it very difficult to produce a constitutive model that is capable of simulating the overall behaviour. However. therefore. as well as the delamination of adjacent plies. the majority of non-metallic materials are laminated composites of carbon-fibre and the modelling of such materials is still very much an area of development. A result of these difficulties is that the development of comprehensive constitutive models for laminated composites continues to attract significant effort in academia. no stiffness of their own. damage initiation and damage evolution to failure. but likely to buckle under compressive load. Modern analysis tools include capabilities to construct large numbers of fasteners 123 . either in a compressive buckling mode or as a tensile failure. with no preload.3 Joint damage—fasteners For metallic airframe structures. the rivet can be modelled as a point-to-point connection with relatively complex behaviour. either with cohesivetype elements [6. Similar techniques have been used for many years in the automotive industry for the simulation of spot-welds. 16]. and no potential for damage or failure.2 Material damage—non-metals For aerospace applications. Damage can occur in the fibres themselves. it is difficult and expensive to derive appropriate parameters for a delamination model from a suitable test. Analysis models of laminated composites are usually built-up in modern pre-processing tools that are capable of constructing complex lay-ups with different thicknesses. a point-based connection may not be sufficient. A combination of axial. the most common fastener is the rivet. ultimately. 17]. The overall behaviour can be implemented through the generalized framework of damage initiation and evolution to failure as described above. For some types of fastener. because many structural models employ plane stress shell theory. constitutive models can include most of the fibre and matrix failure modes [10–12. These can either be condensed into a single equivalent anisotropic elastic behaviour. and very difficult to test the material in order to derive suitable parameters for the constitutive model. where it is important to consider the state of the connection as the load increases. shear and bending loads can be included in the failure envelope for this type of constraint. Currently. A natural extension to this approach is to model the rivet as a point-to-point constraint but to augment the behaviour with some elastic stiffness. This is useful for models that might contain many thousands of rivets. Compressive or tensile damage can also occur in the matrix surrounding the fibres.

even this level of correlation is unlikely to be sufficient. Ideally. but it is not always straightforward to separate the normal and shear responses. fastener rotation. either via an extension to a basic contact algorithm. The elements are 3D continuum. A common area for attention is at stringer run-outs where failure may also be driven by high interfacial shear stresses in the adhesive joint. At its simplest. and including the coupling between the bolt head and plate material where appropriate. or through the use of some kind of zero-thickness cohesive-type element. with aircraft manufacturers carrying out more extensive investigations into the correlation with test and software developers seeking more efficient ways to replicate the physical behaviour. G. At a more detailed level. This can be effective. It is not uncommon to see a transition in the failure mode of a joint as the angle of loading varies from normal to pure shear. In general this is adequate for all but the most detailed analyses. Notably. unless the specific combination of fastener and plates is correlated carefully with test. The adhesive joint might also be modelled as a layer of material which has a finite thickness and which has its own constitutive law that includes an elastic–plastic response with failure. since the elastic stiffness of a thin adhesive layer is unlikely to be a key variable in the overall structural response. Much has been achieved in recent years. pull-through etc. leading to fastener failure in tension through to failure of the local material around the hole. particularly in areas where ‘peeling’ can be initiated. This methodology is based on linear fracture mechanics theory and can be used to predict the stability of existing cracks in adhesive joints and for simulation of crack propagation but will not cope with more complex failure propagation like crack ply-jumping or complex failure interaction between adhesive joints and adjacent adherents. but has several potential difficulties.92 M. which in the physical bond are very closely coupled. Ostergaard et al. the holes and perhaps even the tools used in the riveting process itself can be used to simulate the local behaviour under various loading conditions. In general.4 Joint damage—adhesives Adhesive joints are becoming more common in aerospace structures because of the increasing use of laminated composites. as well as on the form of the loading.. Also the material behaviour of the adhesive layer can be extremely complex—the strength properties of the adhesive may vary significantly with the thickness of the layer and may also be highly dependent on the curing process. so that the bond between the surfaces can be progressively weakened under increasing load. because additional failure modes can arise. Another analysis method available in Abaqus for analysis of failure propagation in adhesive joints is the VCCT. The failure of the adhesive bond requires a modification of the standard tied constraint. depending on the level of fidelity required in the particular simulation. the hole and the parent material is a complex system. while in others the adhesive is used to augment a joint fastened with bolts. inserts and pre-loads. As with other forms of fastening. As a consequence. it is not possible to include effects such as pre-load. the study of the fastener behaviour should include pure shear. For more complex cases. pure tension and various combinations of loading angle in between. the detailed modelling of fastener failure continues to evolve. The complexity is increased yet further if a single fastener is used to join more than two plates. Such approaches can be correlated to peel tests. However. it is important to consider the possible failure of adhesive joints. but may need to be thin in comparison to other structural dimensions. In some cases the joint is made entirely with adhesive. The combination of the fastener. Such models are important for correlating the fastener failure envelope described previously with physical test results. based on the fastener ‘map’ for the structure. the analyst can employ a range of techniques to model the effect of the adhesive bond. full 3D continuum models of riveted joints. The behaviour can depend on the relative strengths of the fastener and the surrounding material. an adhesive joint might be considered as a tied surface constraint with zero thickness between the tied surfaces. In general. which presents problems both in meshing and in obtaining a converged finite element solution. hole-deformation. these properties are defined through a traction–separation law with a damage phase evolving into failure. including the rivet. at varying levels of complexity. For complex fasteners which might have countersunk heads. The most straightforward approach is to use another form of the generalized damage framework described previously: the bond has an elastic stiffness which is applicable up to a limit value of stress or strain. 7. the method can be used with significantly larger element sizes at the crack front compared to cohesive element methods typically requiring much smaller element 123 . it is not easy to develop an analysis approach that can produce reliable results for a finite thickness adhesive modelled with continuum elements and a full constitutive model. at which point the properties are degraded down to ultimate failure. for zero-thickness adhesive bonds. An important consideration is the degree to which the high-level constraint method can take into account the local behaviour of the joint. The layer is then modelled as a 3D continuum using conventional solid finite elements. the plates. with notable success in several large scale simulations.

the interaction between failure modes. and concludes with a coupon test of an actual aircraft structure. A fundamental requirement is to demonstrate that the detailed analysis and modelling methods employed will provide consistent accuracy and correlation with test results at all three levels of structural complexity. extends to a more complex 7-point bend test where the initial flaw in the bondline is subjected to complex loading and mixed mode crack behaviour. where the Benzeggagh–Kenane (BK) mixed mode fracture criterion is often used [21]. 8 Analysis framework for virtual testing using nonlinear analysis The preceding discussion on detailed methods leads to the requirement to ensure that the modelling and analysis methods are fit-for-purpose and validated against test. In practice this means that for detailed failure predictions in the multi-scale analysis framework. To build confidence in each of these analysis categories. Again. 2. using the example of adhesive joint modelling.Virtual testing of aircraft structures 93 sizes to provide accurate results but cannot be used to predict the initiation of failure. The analysis framework is named after the shape of the wishbone found in common birds. Several types of interaction models are available in Abaqus for both cohesive contact and VCCT analysis methods. fastener modelling. validated methods from the lower arm of the wishbone must be used. or mode openings I. a range of structural coupon tests with increased complexity must be carried out and close correlation with analysis models must be demonstrated. For an accurate assessment of adhesive joint damage and failure. It is vital to ensure that at the point of confluence between the upper and lower arms of the wishbone analysis framework there is a consistent set of analysis and modelling methods and processes that are used. mesh topology and density. 3 with the methods validation framework in Fig. 10 provides a general analysis framework for advanced nonlinear analysis of aircraft structures. 10. The topic can therefore be addressed through the following three nonlinear analysis building blocks: 1. such interactions must be well correlated against test data. Fig. material modelling (metallic and composite). Combining the multi-scale analysis process as shown in Fig. 11. 3. adhesive joint modelling. This implies using exactly the same type of element types. II and III must be included in the analysis. This methods validation framework is illustrated in Fig. as depicted in Fig. The process starts with simple coupon tests where the actual loading and crack opening mode is well understood. methods and properties at each level of coupon test/analysis correlation. 10 Methods validation framework 123 . By ‘validated’ we mean that the methods have been demonstrated to provide accurate results at different structure complexity levels.

The explicit technique provides an improved understanding of the effect of initial local failures which might result only in local load 123 . Ostergaard et al. certain cases where explicit finite element analysis methods are of significant importance in static type calculations and where implicit and explicit methods can be used together. using compatible material. It can be difficult to use implicit solvers to model the progressive damage and failure of both materials and joints. logical and unified basis for exploitation and deployment of the virtual testing technology in an industrial context. Examples include: (a) manufacturing process simulations. The wishbone analysis concept has proven to provide a robust analysis framework for the development and deployment of advanced nonlinear analysis methods and processes. 9 Implicit and explicit finite element methods Implicit nonlinear finite element analysis methods are currently the standard for static virtual testing simulations. 12 for a metallic box beam structure used for the testing of wing compression panels [22]. the analysis framework provides a structured. do not have any such instability issues. Abaqus/Explicit can be used to understand the likely failure sequence and final result after the initial failure has been predicted using Abaqus/Standard. Explicit methods are normally too expensive computationally for use in quasi-static type analysis problems. (b) residual strength calculations where the static strength of impact damage initially can be assessed using Abaqus/Explicit for impact damage and subsequently using Abaqus/Standard for residual strength. Furthermore. In order to enable this integrated analysis framework to be developed and deployed. It is possible to simulate the structural failure by taking the implicit solution close to the predicted failure load level and. there is a requirement for it to be based on the consistent use of a common. In the near future. fastener and contact models in both solvers. If dynamic effects and numerical noise are to be eliminated then run times become unmanageable. on the other hand. because of the instabilities and bifurcations that can occur in the solution. There are. This is illustrated in Fig. and perhaps more importantly. explicit finite element methods are likely to play an increasingly important role in the simulation of progressive structural failure events. feature-rich analysis tool that in turn creates the opportunity for future analysis developments and wide collaboration with external partners to Airbus. 11 General analysis framework—the wishbone M. Explicit solvers.94 Fig. however. (c) simulation of failure propagation and assessment of local failure. G. to import the solution to Abaqus/ Explicit in order to complete the ultimate failure prediction. The Abaqus software has interfaces between the implicit and explicit solvers that enable the same analysis model to be used for both types and analysis. Some form of damping or stabilisation is frequently required.

variation in material properties and imperfections arising from the assembly process. and also because the physical structure will have some variability in both properties and state. particularly if the effects of plasticity. best practice principles must be followed in the modelling process. from location to location within the structure. nor does increasing the precision of the input data. Uncertainty arises because many aspects of the real structure. The more complex the model. Another major consideration for the analyst is the level of uncertainty in the model. There is little benefit in modelling the failure of fastened joint more accurately. If the baseline analysis model is not fit 123 . damage and failure. This is usually achieved by running several analyses to explore the effects of uncertainty. It is unlikely that an analysis model could be constructed that replicates the true property and state of the physical structure at every point. This high level of sensitivity to key failure parameters means it is very important to carry out a range of analyses to fully explore the effect of variability. However. 12 Box-beam test and analysis 95 redistribution effects rather than catastrophic failure of the aircraft structure. damage and failure are included. when increasing the accuracy of analysis models it is necessary. even if that data could be measured in the first place. be it based on stochastic or other types of probabilistic methods or simple sensitivity studies.Virtual testing of aircraft structures Fig. does not necessarily by itself improve the accuracy of the simulation. Therefore. 10 Robust analysis It is important to understand that increasing the complexity of material models by adding capabilities to simulate plasticity. together with the dimensional tolerances. or if fully known. The baseline analysis model should be constructed to nominal. rather than running one single deterministic analysis. if the starting point of the analysis differs markedly from the initial state of the real structure. and the initial ‘state’ of the assembly. Therefore. it is important to note that before considering any type of robust analysis. including material properties. as far as is practical. in some cases. actual geometry data and actual measured material and fastener properties. The preceding sections have highlighted the importance of using appropriate test data. appropriate levels of abstraction. Simulation of a structural test up to and including damage and failure requires extensive modelling of the behaviour of both materials and joints. the more data is required to represent the complexity and the more correlation work is needed. to take into account initial stresses arising from component manufacture and assembly. it is important for the analyst to take account of uncertainty and variability in the simulation work. Unfortunately. small variations in material properties can have a significant effect on the response of the model as well as the actual structure. dimensions. Another consequence of the addition of more complex failure behaviour is that the initial state of the structure becomes more important. Simple sensitivity studies can be used to gain adequate insight into the likely sensitivity of the structural response and failure mode to variations in properties and geometric imperfections. Improved simulations arise through careful construction of a realistic analysis model that represents as closely as possible the real structure under real-world conditions. and correlating models against experiment before embarking on predictive virtual tests. cannot be known with absolute certainty. and from batch to batch.

but relatively coarse. This was required in order to introduce the loading correctly into the detailed model of the section where the failure was expected to have initiated (a zone of approximately 3 rib bays and from rear to front spar). at the same location. This was then used to drive the boundaries of the detailed model at the in-board and out-board cut-sections. 11 A380 wing certification Advanced nonlinear finite element analysis methods were used to solve several issues during A380 certification.000 fasteners (rivets and bolts) were included in the model using the Abaqus mesh-independent fastener element as depicted in Fig. For the top cover about 8. the detailed model had to include additional structure away from the zone of interest. The ultimate design load is defined as 1. In order to illustrate the scales of deformation involved in this test. Every structural part within the zone of the wing box was modelled from nominal CAD geometry. The mechanical contact between skins and stringers and between top cover and rib feet was also modelled. 18 and 19 show the meshing details used for spar and rib panels. 17. G. MSC Software Corporation. a large investigation was launched to identify the reason for the wing failure and to design a structural modification to achieve the certification of the A380 aircraft structure. bounded by both spars and with a span of 7 rib bays. CA. Extensive material coupon testing was carried out to fully characterise the properties for the upper skin and stringer materials in particular. 13. Fig. it was decided to create a detailed nonlinear finite element model of a section of the A380 wing box. 13 A380 wing in test structure for purpose. This figure also shows that due to the coarseness of the global wing model. Likewise Figs. so it was decided to translate a global. linear MSC Nastran model (MSC Nastran. it is interesting to note that the maximum deflection of the wing tip at ultimate load level is approximately 8 m. The Abaqus model of the detailed wing box section is shown in Fig. 16. 14 Sub-model with loading pads Fig.5 times the maximum load that the aircraft structure will experience during in-service flight conditions (in turn defined as the Limit Load). Santa Ana. The global analysis process used is illustrated in Fig. mostly using Abaqus shell elements (S4 or S4R). Material and fastener properties were modelled using actual measured properties for the wing structure. Detail coupon tests were machined from the test structure and used to characterise the stringer 123 . 14 and includes all discrete load inputs (rubber loading pads) within the domain of the wing box section. Ostergaard et al. The most significant was to identify the root cause of the wing structural failure during the final ultimate static test trial in Toulouse in 2006. Very little information was available about likely cause or location of the failure other than that the failure was unlikely to have occurred in the lower cover as this was largely intact at the end of the test. Despite the fact that the test was so close to demonstrating the ultimate load strength capability. Amongst other efforts launched. The aircraft wing test structure is shown in Fig. Significant effort was put into meshing the upper skin and stringers as consistently as possible using best practice modelling techniques as illustrated in Fig. Both wings broke simultaneously. at about 3% below the ultimate design load. USA) of the wing structure into an Abaqus finite element model suitable for nonlinear analysis. then not even the most advanced probabilistic methods will deliver adequate results.96 M. There was no detailed nonlinear model of the complete A380 wing structure available. 15.

The coupon test programme also allowed the physical nonlinear shear and tension stiffness characteristics of the rivets to be determined. rib-feet and Stringers and rivet properties as shown in Fig. 18 Spar and detail meshing Fig. 20. it is a fundamental requirement that all analysis methods are fully validated against test data. These were subsequently included in the detailed wing box model together with an interaction to describe the relationship between the shear and tension failure behaviour. 16 Rivets between skin and stringers Fig. 17 Mesh of cleat. Extensive correlations were therefore carried out between measured and calculated wing deflections 123 . 15 Analysis process— global and sub-model of wing 97 Fig.Virtual testing of aircraft structures Fig. As explained in previous sections. Detailed Abaqus models were used to correlate the analysis properties against the coupon test data using the same modelling and meshing strategy as used in the detailed sub-model of the wing box structure.

22. It illustrates that the global wing model provides an excellent representation of the global wing stiffness. rib web and stiffeners Fig. 20 Rivet shear and tension coupon modelling. Rib-Foot & Boom data. measured strain levels at all strain gauge locations in the wing box section of interest and other information available such as known permanent deformation. G. plus photo of test rig 123 . test and analysis comparison Fig.98 M. 19 Mesh of rib-foot and beam. which enables a Rib-Web 8000 Front Spar Vertical Deflection Vertical Displacement (mm) 7000 6000 5000 4000 3000 ES deflection at 1. 21 Front spar vertical deflection.45LL Abaqus global FEM Nastran global FEM 2000 1000 0 0 5000 10000 15000 20000 25000 30000 35000 40000 Stiffeners Distance along wing from wing -root (mm) Fig. Ostergaard et al. All strain gauges used on the test structure were modelled explicitly as depicted in Fig. Figure 21 shows the correlation between the measured wing deflections along the wing front spar and the results of the global nonlinear finite element model that was used to drive the detailed sub-model.

Once it had been established that the detailed wing box model was fit for purpose. 3% above the actual wing structural failure load level.Virtual testing of aircraft structures Fig. Overall. all the available evidence verified that the detailed sub-model and global wing nonlinear finite element model represented the actual A380 wing box structure very well and that the detailed model could be used to calculate the nonlinear deformation behaviour.e. 26 at ultimate load level. does calculate the buckling correctly and is able to predict the strain levels very well in the outer skin surface as well as on the stringer free flange. including the effects of post-buckling. after that point the model is not capable of capturing the detailed local post-buckling response. The strain gauge correlation clearly shows that the global finite element model is capable of calculating the skin strain levels accurately up to the point where significant buckling occurs in the top cover. 23 Outer skin strain correlation—global FEM Fig. 22. 24) show an example of correlation against strain gauges for the global and detailed model. It should be noted that due to the highly complex buckling taking place in the top cover near ultimate load. This is shown in Fig. the detailed strain correlation is sensitive to the actual location of the strain gauge and some deviation from intended location is possible during installation. Every possible stress concentration in the structure modelled was identified and investigated using refined meshes and detail. 123 . However. The following two figures (Figs. located on the outer skin surface and stringer flange as shown in Fig. all evidence suggested that the rupture had occurred in the top cover as this was where the highest stress and plastic strain levels were present. however. However. respectively. The top cover was subjected to extensive skin buckling resulting in very complex post-buckling behaviour. 22 Modelling method for strain gauges 99 Fig. the investigation focussed on the identification of the root cause of the structural rupture. i. The detailed sub-model. 23. 24 Outer skin and stringer strain correlation—detailed submodel straight forward correlation between measured and calculated strain levels. 25 for one of the rib panels. An example is shown in Fig.

Fig. 25 Local stress concentration on rib stiffener M. Screening all the fasteners in this region for shear and tension loads.100 Fig. 26 Top cover buckling. At the onset of initial skin buckling. Ostergaard et al.449 Limit Load) and for one zone in the top cover in particular. The analysis carried out confirmed that global panel buckling (from rib to rib) would occur at ultimate load exactly. as shown in Fig. 27 Detail of top cover buckling at 1. which was as predicted by the conventional stressing methods used for design of the structure. As it was now confirmed that the root cause could not be explained by material rupture or global buckling. 29. it became evident that the local skin buckling resulted in additional nonlinear shear and tension forces in Fig.5 9 LL the rivets. 27 using a scale factor equal to 5. It can be seen that initially the shearing force carried by the rivet is increasing linearly with the load as the rivet resist in-plane shear forces in the panel (wing torsion) and that the tension force is constant and equal to the small preload defined in the rivet model. Additional shearing forces in the rivets are also 123 . Figure 28 shows that as a consequence of the skin buckling. the attention was now focussed on the rivets and bolts used in the top cover. G. very localised separation or gapping occurred between skin and stringers (shown at 1. the local buckling results in separation forces between skin and stringers. sub-model The buckling calculated is shown in more detail in Fig. which can be seen as a sudden increase in the rivet tension.

The importance of confidence and best practice associated with a virtual testing approach has been discussed. 29 Tension and shear forces for failed rivet observed after onset of buckling. 28 and illustrates the level of detail considered and captured in the analysis. the many different analyses and sensitivity studies carried out during the intense investigations. damage evolution and ultimate failure requires careful consideration of the behaviour of the underlying materials as well as of the joints and fasteners between components. was therefore designed to avoid the separation and the rivets were replaced locally with bolts. Modern FE tools are capable of 123 . in this paper. on one stringer.4 Load (LL) Fig.01 Tension Force (N) Shear Circular Interaction Onset of local skin buckling 1 0.2 0 0.4 0. This was in good agreement with the actual wing rupture at 1. The construction of FE models to include plasticity.6 0. depending on the rivet position in relation to the local buckles in the panel.0 0.459 Limit Load.8 1.44 X LL 1. These local changes in curvature will sometimes increase the rivet shear forces and sometimes reduce them.44 to 1. damage initiation. It is not possible to fully detail. However. 28 Contact opening in stringer attached flange 101 Tension and shear forces for a failed rivet 1.4 Rivet failure at 1. with particular focus on detailed failure prediction methods for materials and fasteners. It clearly shows that the local buckling resulted in gapping between skin and stringer. A general framework—the wishbone—for working with multi-scale analysis methods and the various challenges facing the analyst have been presented. A design modification.2 1. Circular interaction 12 Summary This paper has provided an overview of the virtual testing technology of aircraft structures in Airbus subjected to static loading conditions.2 0.4 0.6 0. it is important to state that advanced nonlinear finite element analysis had been used successfully to identify and explain an extremely complicated industrial structural analysis problem and to contribute to the process to achieve the certification of the A380 wing structure. Not only was it possible to identify the cause of the rupture but it was also possible to fully understand the underlying issues that had to be considered for the structural modification to demonstrate adequate strength.459 Limit Load. Screening all fasteners showed that more than one rivet. was predicted to fail at about 1. No other plausible failure mode was predicted below 1.0 1. Figure 30 shows the local panel deformation in cross section A–A indicated in Fig.8 0. The preceding section provides only a brief description of the analysis models and processes used to identify the reason for the A380 wing structural failure.59 Limit Load and the root cause of the rupture had therefore been identified as being caused by rivet failures. which are caused by the complicated buckle patterns resulting in curvature changes both span-wise and chord-wise in the top cover panel.Virtual testing of aircraft structures Fig. using straps along the stringer feet both sides.2 1.

efficient multi-scale analysis methods and screening processes to identify critical structures. the size of the models that can be handled in a nonlinear finite element approach can be increased by between 1 and 2 orders of magnitude. The EU FP7 research project MAAXIMUS (more affordable aircraft structure through extended.102 Fig. the software developers and academia with significant challenges. In recent years. but increasing the level of complexity requires additional parameters. A number of key enablers have been identified in order to improve virtual testing capabilities still further. • • fit-for-purpose detailed failure models for materials and joints and in particular for composite materials. the difficulty of obtaining and correlating complex material behaviour. with due regard to the derivation and validation of model data and the trade-offs of complexity against efficiency. However. such as the A380 wing certification described in this paper. G. The Giga-DOF model (10^9 DOF) is the figure being used as a target for the developers in the project. including various European universities. 30 Cross-section showing fasteners M. There are therefore significant trade-offs to be considered in relation to the expediency of running many relatively simple analyses. and the potential risk of generating misleading results from apparently advanced simulations that have not been properly validated. Many of the analysis short-comings discussed in previous sections are addressed in the frame of MAAXIMUS. the use of nonlinear FE analysis can have a significant impact on the development and structural strength assessment of advanced aircraft structures. in order to make progress on the above key enablers. significant progress has been made in exploiting virtual testing methods for the solution of complex industrial structural issues. it must be acknowledged that virtual testing methods of composite aircraft structure are still being developed and will continue to provide the analyst. simulating complex damage processes. Ostergaard et al. there is no doubt that when used carefully. which has both Airbus and Dassault Systemes SIMULIA as partners [23]. robust quality processes. • Airbus has developed strong partnerships with both software providers and research institutes. 123 . based on continuous improvements to highperformance-computing capabilities. automatic composite property and lay-up capabilities from CAD to CAE. It is expected that within the timeframe of the project. These include: • • • • detailed modelling and meshing methods. integrated. automatic meshing and modelling methods from CAD definition based on consistent meshing rules. large-scale computations and increased use of detailed modelling. However. which need to be obtained from tests and correlated against experimental results. and mature numerical sizing) is an example of a major project designed to make progress on virtual testing ` methods.

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