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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 teams 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 dont 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 AUVSIs 19th International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC). This years 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-Riddles 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.


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We only thought about how to make the individual parts, says Hockley, so when it came time to put it together, we didnt have a clue. As a result, manufacturing time for the competition vehicle took much too long approximately 40 manhours and hot glue in large quantities was the fastener of choice. After the competition, 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, holistic system. The DFMA course provided the perfect vehicle for rethinking the design.

Competition version of the robotic monocopter showing original fan, 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. Functional efficiency, fewer parts and ease of assembly are the goals. Design for Manufacture (DFM) software complements DFA, 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. Manufacturing knowledge and reduced costs are the payoffs here. By asking the right questions up front, all of the cost implications of designs can be taken into account, rather than popping up later after the design has been locked in. The student teams SamarEye monocopter design was 71 centimeters (28 inches) long, weighed 184 grams (6.5 ounces) and had 18 parts, eight of which were provided by outside sources. Of the remaining 10 parts to be manufactured, six were extruded and four were thermoformed, and all were of similar size except for the wing. This kept manufacturing costs low to begin with, as common injection molding and thermoforming equipment could be purchased with only the dies varying. Despite the aircrafts light weight and comparatively weaker materials, the baseline design was structurally strong and had an ample factor of safety under typical operating conditions. Using a projected product life volume of 100,000 and a batch size of 12,500, Hockley ran a DFMA analysis of the original design and determined that the cost of tooling was $2.55, the piece part cost was $4.25 and the assembly cost was $7.08, for a total cost per product of $13.88. Despite the fact that the baseline design had relatively few parts and that the manufacturing methods were already relatively simple, the analysis demonstrated that there was still room for improvement. Of the 10 manufactured parts, three of them the fuselage top, fuselage bottom and the wing were the most expensive and, therefore, of most interest. As
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for assembly, more than 50 percent of the total product cost resulted from this activity, representing the greatest room for improvement of any design-to-cost variable.

refining the Design

Following the DFMA analysis in which the processes and components representing the greatest waste were identified, Hockley evalu-


DFMA and its History in Flight

Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) software first took off in 1983. Its flight plan, as mapped out by Boothroyd Dewhurst founders, was to streamline assembly by reducing complexity and part count, as well as to lighten the manufacturing load by analyzing processes and material choices all early in the design process, all leading to cost savings. The mission remains the same today. In the early years, DFMA was quickly embraced by major manufacturers in a variety of industries because of the competition from Japan for highquality, cost-effective products. Detroits Big Three were early adopters. And the aerospace giants followed not far behind, albeit sometimes under the radar. In 1995, for example, McDonnell Douglas rolled out the Super Hornet fighter aircraft. Using DFMA, the aircraft, while 25 percent larger, contained 42 percent fewer parts and was 1,000 pounds lighter than specification. Similarly, the companys redesigned Apache attack helicopter saw significant manufacturing and assembly enhancements, as did a number of projects at other major aerospace companies where specific results were closely guarded. Whats striking about DFMA is that, 28 years after its launch, the improvements it delivers are dramatic and consistent. Across product generations, from a supersonic fighter jet to a 6.5-ounce monocopter, the scorecard of DFMA averaged project results reads like this: 42 percent reduced labor cost, 45 percent lower product cycle time, 50 percent decreased total product cost, 54 percent fewer parts and 60 percent shorter assembly time.
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Dfma contInUeD ated the design to see where improvements could be made. In the baseline design, 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). In the modified design, the team decided to combine the wing, fuselage and main gear into one injection-molded polystyrene foam piece, with the main spar and fan housing molded in place. These changes not only removed a number of components, Hockley says, but reduced the number of operations required in assembly. With the switch in materials from the stronger PETG to the weaker polystyrene, additional iterative FEA simulations were required to ensure that the aircraft could withstand all loading scenarios. parts consolidation is a reduction in part interfaces, which improves quality by helping eliminate stress at joints and fasteners. Consolidation of parts, Gangadharan adds, improves FEA [Finite Element Analysis, which measures structural performance] an outcome that often gets overlooked by designers and analysts. With commercialization of the monocopter in mind, Hockley says he is excited by the final DFMA results for his class project: piece part cost reduction of 25 percent, overall product cost reduction of 51 percent, assembly labor time and cost reduction of 74 percent, and a grand total savings of 625 days and $717,000 for a production run of 12,500. 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. Gangadharan is a champion for the lessons that DFMA can teach the next generation of engineers. In the aerospace industry, and more specifically in the UAV market, it is becoming increasingly important to maximize functionality while minimizing cost, he said. DFMA is the perfect tool for accomplishing this. In the case of the SamarEye, Gangadharan says, DFMA lowered part count and improved FEA performance of the design by eliminating the stress at joints and fasteners. 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. Christopher Hardee is a science and technology writer based in New England.

Time is Money
In the redesign, I cut the parts down from 18 to 13, eliminating five manufactured parts, Hockley says. This consolidation was the result of combining parts that shared materials or did not have motion relative to one another. Reducing parts and streamlining the assembly process can cut manufacturing costs in a number of ways, according to Hockley. It can reduce the number of molds required for part production, decrease the type and quantity of machinery required, and simplify the storage of parts on the shop floor, he says. Another benefit of

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