In November I went to Zurich twice: once for the workshop that I wrote about last week [see ‘Fake facts and untrustworthy predictions’ on December 4th, 2019]; and, a second time for a progress meeting of the DIMES project [see ‘Finding DIMES’ on February 6th, 2019]. The progress meeting went well. The project is on schedule and within budget. So, everyone is happy and you are wondering why I am writing about it. It was what our team was doing around the progress meeting that was exciting. A few months ago, Airbus delivered a section of an A320 wing to the labs of EMPA who are our project partner in Switzerland, and the team at EMPA has been rigging the wing section for a simple bending test so that we can use it to test the integrated measurement system which we are developing in the DIMES project [see ‘Joining the dots’ on July 10th, 2019]. Before and after the meeting, partners from EMPA, Dantec Dynamics GmbH, Strain Solutions Ltd and my group at the University of Liverpool were installing our prototype systems to monitor the condition of the wing when we apply bending loads to it. There is some pre-existing damage in the wing that we hope will propagate during the test allowing us to track it with our prototype systems using visible and infra-red spectrum cameras as well as electrical and optical sensors. The data that we collect during the test will allow us to develop our data processing algorithms and, if necessary, refine the system design. The final stage of the DIMES project will involve installing a series of our systems in a complete wing undergoing a structural test in the new Airbus Wing Integration Centre (AWIC) in Filton, near Bristol in the UK. The schedule is ambitious because we will need to install the sensors for our systems in the wing in the first quarter of next year, probably before we have finished all of the tests in EMPA. However, the test in Bristol probably will not start until the middle of 2020, by which time we will have refined our algorithm for data processing and be ready for the deluge of data that we are likely to receive from the test at Airbus. The difference between the two wing tests besides the level of maturity of our measurement system, is that no damage should be detected in the wing at Airbus whereas there will be detectable damage in the wing section in EMPA. So, a positive result will be a success at EMPA but a negative result, i.e. no damage detected, will be a success at Airbus.
The DIMES project has received funding from the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 820951.
The opinions expressed in this blog post reflect only the author’s view and the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
I spent a lot of time on trains last week. I left Liverpool on Tuesday evening for Bristol and spent Wednesday at Airbus in Filton discussing the implementation of the technologies being developed in the EU Clean Sky 2 projects MOTIVATE and DIMES. On Wednesday evening I travelled to Bracknell and on Thursday gave a seminar at Syngenta on model credibility in predictive toxicology before heading home to Liverpool. But, on Friday I was on the train again, to Manchester this time, to listen to a group of my PhD students presenting their projects to their peers in our new Centre for Doctoral Training called Growing skills for Reliable Economic Energy from Nuclear, or GREEN. The common thread, besides the train journeys, is the Fidelity And Credibility of Testing and Simulation (FACTS). My research group is working on how we demonstrate the fidelity of predictions from models, how we establish trust in both predictions from computational models and measurements from experiments that are often also ‘models’ of the real world. The issues are similar whether we are considering the structural performance of aircraft [as on Wednesday], the impact of agro-chemicals [as on Thursday], or the performance of fusion energy and the impact of a geological disposal site [as on Friday] (see ‘Hierarchical modelling in engineering and biology‘ on March 14th, 2018) . The scientific and technical communities associated with each application talk a different language, in the sense that they use different technical jargon and acronyms; and they are surprised and interested to discover that similar problems are being tackled by communities that they rarely think about or encounter.
At the end of last year my research group had articles published by the Royal Society’s journal Open Science in two successive months [see ‘Press Release!‘ on November 15th, 2017 and ‘Slow moving nanoparticles‘ on December 13th, 2017]. I was excited about both publications because I had only had one article published before by the Royal Society and because the Royal Society issues a press release whenever it publishes a new piece of science. However, neither press release generated any interest from anyone; probably because science does not sell newspapers (or attract viewers) unless it is bad news or potentially life-changing. And our work on residual stress around manufactured holes in aircraft or on the motion of nanoparticles does not match either of these criteria.
Last month I was at the Photomechanics 2018 conference in Toulouse in France. Photomechanics is the science of using photons to measure deformation and displacements in anything, from biological cells to whole engineering structures, such as bridges or powerstations [see for example: ‘Counting photons to measure stress‘ posted on November 18th, 2015]. I am interested in the challenges created by the extremes of scale and environmental conditions; although on this occasion we presented our research on addressing the challenges of industrial applications, in the EU projects INSTRUCTIVE [see ‘Instructive update‘ on October 4th, 2017] and MOTIVATE [see ‘Brave New World‘ posted on January 10th, 2018].
It was a small conference without parallel sessions and the organisers were more imaginative than usual in providing us with opportunities for interaction. At the end of first day of talks, we went on a guided walking tour of old Toulouse. At the end of second day, we went to the Toulouse Aerospace Museum and had the chance to go onboard Concorde.
I stayed an extra day for an organised tour of the Airbus A380 assembly line. Only the engine pylons are made in Toulouse. The rest of the 575-seater plane is manufactured around Europe and arrives in monthly road convoys after travelling by sea to local ports. The cockpit, centre, tail sections of the double-deck fuselage travel separately on specially-made trucks with each 45m long wing section following on its own transporter. It takes about a month to assemble these massive sections. This is engineering on a huge scale performed with laser precision (laser systems are used to align the sections). The engines are also manufactured elsewhere and transported to Toulouse to be hung on the wings. The maximum diameter of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, being attached to the plane we saw, is approximately same as the fuselage diameter of an A320 airplane.
Once the A380 is assembled and its systems tested, then it is flown to another Airbus factory in Germany to be painted and for the cabin to be fitted out to the customer’s specification. In total, 11 Airbus factories in France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom are involved in producing the A380; this does not include the extensive supply chain supporting these factories. As I toured the assembly line and our guide assailed us with facts and figures about the scale of the operation, I was thinking about why the nuclear power industry across Europe could not collaborate on this scale to produce affordable, identical power stations. Airbus originated from a political decision in the 1970s to create a globally-competitive European aerospace industry that led to a collaboration between national manufacturers which evolved into the Airbus company. One vision for fusion energy is a globally dispersed manufacturing venture that would evolve from the consortium that is currently building the ITER experiment and planning the DEMO plant. However, there does not appear to be any hint that the nuclear fission industry is likely to follow the example of the European aerospace industry to create a globally-competitive industry producing massive pieces of engineering within a strictly regulated environment.
There was no photography allowed at Airbus so today’s photograph is of Basilique Notre-Dame de la Daurade in Toulouse.