Many research programmes have been derailed by the pandemic which has closed research laboratories or restricted groups of researchers from working together to solve complex problems. Some research teams have used their problem-solving skills to find new ways of collaborating and to continue to make progress. In the DIMES project we have developed an innovative system for detecting and monitoring the propagation of damage in aircraft structures, and prior to the pandemic, we were planning to demonstrate it on a full-scale test of an aircraft fuselage section at Airbus in Toulouse. However, the closure of our laboratories and travel restrictions across Europe have made it impossible for members of our team based in Liverpool, Chesterfield, Ulm and Zurich to meet or travel to Toulouse to set-up the demonstration. Instead we have used hours of screen-time in meetings to complete our design work and plan the installation of the system in Toulouse. These meetings often involve holding components up to our laptop cameras to show one another what we are doing. The components of the system were manufactured in various locations before being shipped to Empa in Zurich where they were assembled and the complete system was then shipped to Toulouse. At the same time, we designed a communication system that included a headset with camera, microphone and earpieces so that our colleague in Toulouse could be guided through the installation of our system by engineers in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Amazingly, it all worked and we were half-way through the installation last month when a rise in the COVID infection rate caused a shutdown of the Airbus site in Toulouse. What we need now is remote-controlled robot to complete the installation for us regardless of COVID restrictions; however, I suspect the project budget cannot afford a robot sufficiently sophisticated to replace our Most Valued Player (MVP) in Toulouse.
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.
Image: Our Most Valued Player (inset) installing a point sensor in the front section of a fuselage at Airbus in Toulouse under the remote direction of engineers in Switzerland and the UK.
One of the benefits of supervising research students is that you can read a large number of scientific papers by proxy. In other words, my research students read more papers than I would ever have time to read and then they write reviews of the scientific literature that allow me to quickly gain an understanding of research in a particular field. Every now and again, a student refers to a paper that raises my curiosity to read it for myself. One of these was a paper published by Waldo Tobler in 1970 in which he describes the computational modelling of urban growth in Detroit, Michigan. Although, I used to live in Michigan, it was not the geographical connection that interested me but his invocation of the first law of geography: ‘everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things’. Professor Tobler was writing from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor which he used in an example by highlighting that the population growth in Ann Arbor from 1930 to 1940 depended not only on the 1930 population of Ann Arbor, but also on the 1930 population of Vancouver, Singapore, Cape Town, Berlin and so on. Perhaps if he had been writing in 2020 he would have suggested that the rate of infection from coronavirus in Ann Arbor depends not only on the number of cases in Ann Arbor, but also on the number of cases Taipei, Milan, Toulouse, Dublin and so on.
Some posts arise spontaneously, stimulated by something that I have read or done, while others are part of commitment to communicate on a topic related to my research or teaching, such as the CALE series. The motivation for a post seems unrelated to its popularity. This post is part of that commitment to communicate.
After 12 months, our EU-supported research project, MOTIVATE [see ‘Getting Smarter‘ on June 21st, 2017] is one-third complete in terms of time; and, as in all research it appears to have made a slow start with much effort expended on conceptualizing, planning, reviewing prior research and discussions. However, we are on-schedule and have delivered on one of our four research tasks with the result that we have a new validation metric and a new flowchart for the validation process. The validation metric was revealed at the Photomechanics 2018 conference in Toulouse earlier this year [see ‘Massive Engineering‘ on April 4th, 2018]. The new flowchart [see the graphic] is the result of a brainstorming [see ‘Brave New World‘ on January 10th, 2018] and much subsequent discussion; and will be presented at a conference in Brussels next month [ICEM 2018] at which we will invite feedback [proceedings paper]. The big change from the classical flowchart [see for example ASME V&V guide] is the inclusion of historical data with the possibility of not requiring experiments to provide data for validation purposes. This is probably a paradigm shift for the engineering community, or at least the V&V [Validation & Verification] community. So, we are expecting some robust feedback – feel free to comment on this blog!
Hack E, Burguete RL, Dvurecenska K, Lampeas G, Patterson EA, Siebert T & Szigeti E, Steps toward industrial validation experiments, In Proceedings Int. Conf. Experimental Mechanics, Brussels, July 2018 [pdf here].
Dvurcenska K, Patelli E & Patterson EA, What’s the probability that a simulation agrees with your experiment? In Proceedings Photomechanics 2018, Toulouse, March 2018.
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.