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Fewer Parts, Costs Less, Flies Better
Design Software Benefits a Student Aviation Project
By Christopher Hardee
To that end, the students started using a “secret weapon” from the larger aerospace industry — Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA), a software suite pioneered by Boothroyd Dewhurst of Wakefield, R.I. While giants like Boeing have used the software for years, Embry-Riddle team’s use demonstrates how much progress can be made even by students in creating products that are lighter, cheaper and easier to manufacture. Graduate student Christopher Hockley brought the competitiontested monocopter to a DFMA course, taught by mechanical engineering professor Sathya Gangadharan, looking for ways to improve it. “This DFMA course is reality based and bridges the gap between academics and industry,” Gangadharan says. “A lot of times when students and practicing engineers do a design, they don’t look at the practical aspects or cost implications of manufacturing the product.” For the course, students have to select a product that has between 15 and 30 components and then use DFMA to come up with modified designs. These new designs explore alternative materials and manufacturing processes which, in the end, allow the teams to preserve or improve features and functionality while reducing part count and cost. Gangadharan heard about DFMA software three to four years ago and first taught a course on the subject last year.
ince the time of DaVinci, inventors and engineers have wrestled with aviation design challenges. Here are a couple for today: Build a flying machine that imitates the aerodynamics of a maple seed, and fly a small unmanned vehicle inside a closed structure. Both challenges have been successfully solved with one design — a biologically inspired, robotic monocopter. The aircraft that accomplished these aviation feats was designed and built by a team from Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University of Daytona Beach, Fla., and competed in AUVSI’s 19th International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC). This year’s mission rules required an aerial robot to be launched from a mother ship outside the target building, enter through a one-meter square window, search an 18- by 33-meter building until it finds a blue LED gauge and create a map of the building while searching. The system had to then transmit the map, the location of the target and the target imagery back to the mother ship using the Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems (JAUS) protocol. A team from MIT won the competition, but Embry-Riddle’s unusual design placed third and won the coveted “Most Innovative Air Vehicle” award (for more information, see the September 2009 issue of Unmanned Systems).
Going to Market
Beyond the competition, however, the team is considering commercializing their vehicle for the toy and hobby market, which required a rethinking of the design.
Samaras in Flight
By choosing the nature-based monocopter design — which mimics the aerodynamics of a winged maple seed, or samara — the students gave themselves an additional challenge. But the Embry-Riddle team was successful and helped finally crack a 60-year-old engineering aviation challenge: to create an aircraft that copies the seemingly simple, yet effective, aerodynamic flight of a maple seed. Such seeds use a spinning rotary motion (auto-rotation), which generates a leading-edge vortex to reduce air pressure over the seed-wing and create lift. This evolutionary aerodynamic solution serves as a dispersal mechanism to ensure propagation of new trees as far from the parent tree as possible. Scientists report that the slowly falling seeds can be carried more than a mile by favorable winds. However, samara-derivative aircraft, as well as monocopters in general, have not gained much attention or acceptance, so there was very little existing design information — fewer than 10 papers on powered monocopters. As a result, the team was really on its own when it came to design and materials. They were also working in the dark when it came to cost, assembly and manufacturing considerations as they prepped for the IARC event.
(left to right) Dr. Sathya Gangadharan, Lafe Zabowski, and Christopher Hockley from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University test fly the samara-inspired monocopter. Photos courtesy Parker Group Inc.
Unmanned systems — april 2010
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viding engineers with a structured way to examine process technology and material choices in order to anticipate manufacturing costs early in the product development life cycle. while 25 percent larger. Hockley evalu- pro- DFMA and its History in Flight Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) software first took off in 1983. holistic system.500. In 1995. the aircraft. Using DFMA. the scorecard of DFMA averaged project results reads like this: 42 percent reduced labor cost. the improvements it delivers are dramatic and consistent.08. This kept manufacturing costs low to begin with. Unmanned systems — april 2010 39 . for a total cost per product of $13.” As a result.55. Using a projected product life volume of 100. By asking the right questions up front.88. was to streamline assembly by reducing complexity and part count.org for assembly.000 and a batch size of 12. contained 42 percent fewer parts and was 1. eight of which were provided by outside sources. Of the remaining 10 parts to be manufactured. 54 percent fewer parts and 60 percent shorter assembly time. fuselage bottom and the wing — were the most expensive and. the piece part cost was $4. albeit sometimes under the radar. Detroit’s Big Three were early adopters. Hockley ran a DFMA analysis of the original design and determined that the cost of tooling was $2.5-ounce monocopter. Despite the fact that the baseline design had relatively few parts and that the manufacturing methods were already relatively simple. fuselage and wing design Asking Questions Early Design for Assembly (DFA) software guides engineers to simplify a design using queries — such as whether parts move with respect to one another or whether they can be made of the same materials — the answers to which lead to reduced part count and cost. and all were of similar size except for the wing. three of them — the fuselage top. weighed 184 grams (6. And the aerospace giants followed not far behind. all leading to cost savings. Functional efficiency. the company’s redesigned Apache attack helicopter saw significant manufacturing and assembly enhancements. refining the Design Following the DFMA analysis in which the processes and components representing the greatest waste were identified. “so when it came time to put it together. all of the cost implications of designs can be taken into account. as mapped out by Boothroyd Dewhurst founders. Competition version of the robotic monocopter showing original fan. Across product generations. representing the greatest room for improvement of any design-to-cost variable. McDonnell Douglas rolled out the Super Hornet fighter aircraft. of most interest. we didn’t have a clue. Design for Manufacture (DFM) software complements DFA. What’s striking about DFMA is that.” says Hockley. Of the 10 manufactured parts. The student team’s SamarEye monocopter design was 71 centimeters (28 inches) long.5 ounces) and had 18 parts. six were extruded and four were thermoformed. fewer parts and ease of assembly are the goals. some critical thinking was obviously needed to improve assembly and manufacturing and to see the aircraft not as a collection of separate parts but as an integrated. as common injection molding and thermoforming equipment could be purchased with only the dies varying. The mission remains the same today. cost-effective products. for example. the analysis demonstrated that there was still room for improvement.000 pounds lighter than specification. Manufacturing knowledge and reduced costs are the payoffs here. 45 percent lower product cycle time. therefore. DFMA was quickly embraced by major manufacturers in a variety of industries because of the competition from Japan for highquality. After the competition. As Read us online at auvsi. The DFMA course provided the perfect vehicle for rethinking the design. In the early years. more than 50 percent of the total product cost resulted from this activity. Similarly. Despite the aircraft’s light weight and comparatively weaker materials. rather than popping up later after the design has been locked in. the baseline design was structurally strong and had an ample factor of safety under typical operating conditions. 50 percent decreased total product cost. from a supersonic fighter jet to a 6. manufacturing time for the competition vehicle took much too long — approximately 40 manhours — and hot glue in large quantities was the fastener of choice.“We only thought about how to make the individual parts. as well as to lighten the manufacturing load by analyzing processes and material choices — all early in the design process. 28 years after its launch. Its flight plan.25 and the assembly cost was $7. as did a number of projects at other major aerospace companies where specific results were closely guarded.
the wing — the single largest piece — was made out of an expanded polystyrene thermoplastic (used as floor insulation) while the fuselage was made out of a PETG thermoplastic (used for clamshell packaging). “These changes not only removed a number of components. “DFMA lowered part count and improved FEA performance of the design by eliminating the stress at joints and fasteners. USB2. parts consolidation is a reduction in part interfaces. fuselage and main gear into one injection-molded polystyrene foam piece. gyro g sensitivity and non-linearity • Improved performance under vibration – sensors oversampled at 30 kHz and digitally filtered. Big Ideas. assembly labor time and cost reduction of 74 percent. 3DM-GX3-25™ enables the next generation of unobtrusive wearable tracking devices and miniature unmanned vehicles and robots. In the modified design.® 3DM-GX3-25™ Miniature Attitude Heading Reference System With versions weighing only 11. It also helped to reduce the overall weight of the monocopter — an important outcome when dealing with UAVs — by validating lighter materials that are easily moldable and lower in cost. Gangadharan says. “DFMA is the perfect tool for accomplishing this. eliminating five manufactured parts.” In the case of the SamarEye. “Consolidation of parts.000 for a production run of 12. In the baseline design. Time is Money “In the redesign. deltaAngle & deltaVelocity. acceleration & angular rate and magnetic field • User selectable output rates up to 1000 Hz Lowest p o consump wer tion in its class Visit us online at www. Gangadharan is a champion for the lessons that DFMA can teach the next generation of engineers. and more specifically in the UAV market. overall product cost reduction of 51 percent. Another benefit of Little Sensors. and a grand total savings of 625 days and $717. coning and sculling integrals computed at 1 kHz • RS232.500. “but reduced the number of operations required in assembly. according to Hockley.org 5/8/09 4:16:50 PM .com or call 800.5 grams. Hockley says he is excited by the final DFMA results for his class project: piece part cost reduction of 25 percent.” he said. and simplify the storage of parts on the shop floor.indd 1 Unmanned systems — april 2010 Read us online at auvsi. rotation matrix. Reducing parts and streamlining the assembly process can cut manufacturing costs in a number of ways. it is becoming increasingly important to maximize functionality while minimizing cost.3878 40 UnmannedSystems HalfHoriz.449.” Hockley says.” Hockley says.” With commercialization of the monocopter in mind. I cut the parts down from 18 to 13. additional iterative FEA simulations were required to ensure that the aircraft could withstand all loading scenarios. “In the aerospace industry.” Gangadharan adds. which improves quality by helping eliminate stress at joints and fasteners.microstrain. which measures structural performance] — an outcome that often gets overlooked by designers and analysts.Dfma… contInUeD ated the design to see where improvements could be made. Such savings are huge — when you need to keep an eye on what rings up at the register — and can be the difference between commercial success or failure.” Christopher Hardee is a science and technology writer based in New England. “It can reduce the number of molds required for part production. This consolidation was the result of combining parts that shared materials or did not have motion relative to one another. “improves FEA [Finite Element Analysis.” he says.” With the switch in materials from the stronger PETG to the weaker polystyrene. Features and Benefits: • Fully temperature compensated from -40ºC to 70ºC • Calibrated for sensor misalignment. with the main spar and fan housing molded in place.0 and TTL serial communication interfaces • Outputs Euler angles. decrease the type and quantity of machinery required. the team decided to combine the wing.
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